More than two years have gone by since forty-three students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College (Escuela Normal Rural de Ayotzinapa) in Mexico went missing after being attacked by Iguala’s municipal police force in what allegedly was a coordinated operation with members from Guerreros Unidos, an organized crime organization that operates in the state of Morelos and the state of Guerrero in central Mexico. The case remains unresolved and plagued with inconsistencies.
The lack of resolution has thus far led to three investigations: one by the office of the Attorney General of Mexico —the only one to be officially recognized by the government—one by a group of experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and another by specialists from the Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropology. Below is a brief overview of the timeline of the investigations and a comparison of the conclusions.
Timeline of the investigations:
- September 26, 2014: Students from Ayotzinapa Rural Teacher’s College are attacked by corrupt police forces from Iguala in the state of Guerrero. The attack leaves a toll of six dead, twenty-five injured, and forty-three missing students.
- October 4, 2014: The Attorney General formally takes over the investigation.
- October 29, 2014: President Enrique Peña Nieto meets with the parents of the victims and promises to intensify the search for the missing students.
- October 3, 2014: The families of the victims, the government of Mexico, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights sign an agreement giving the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights a mandate to conduct an independent investigation of the disappearance of the forty-three students.
- November 7, 2014: The Attorney General declares the forty-three students dead after having arrested three members of Guerreros Unidos who allegedly confessed having murdered and incinerated the bodies of the forty-three missing students in the dumpsite at Cocula.
- January 27, 2015: The Attorney General officially declares the “historical truth,” that the forty-three missing students were murdered and later incinerated at the Cocula dumpsite.
- March 1, 2015: The group of experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arrives in Mexico to initiate its investigation.
- September 6, 2015: After several months of investigation, the group of experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights publishes its first report in which the group rejects the “historical truth” established by the Attorney General and denounces a series of irregularities in the investigation.
- February 9, 2016: The Argentinian Team of Forensic Anthropology does not find any scientific or biological evidence proving that the bodies of the forty-three missing students were incinerated at the Cocula dumpsite.
- February 28, 2016: A new agreement between the government of Mexico and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights leads to a new investigation in the Cocula dumpsite. The team leading the investigation comprises six members chosen by agreement between the Attorney General and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
- April 1, 2016: The results of the new investigation are published. According to the report, at least seventeen people were incinerated at the Cocula dumpsite. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights refuses to sign on to the new report, arguing that it was published without their consent.
Conclusions of the investigations
Office of the Attorney General
In November of 2014, the Attorney General of Mexico established the “historical truth” in the disappearance of the students from Ayotzinapa. According to Attorney General, the 43 students of Ayotzinapa were kidnapped and later taken to the Cocula dumpsite where they were executed and then placed in a pile where their bodies were incinerated. According to the General Attorney, the remains of the incinerated bodies were later dumped in river.
Experts from the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights
In both its initial report published on September 6th of 2015 (Informe Ayotzinapa) and the follow up report published on April 24th of 2016 (Informe Ayotzinapa II), the interdisciplinary group of experts rejected the conclusion that the 43 missing students of Ayotzinapa were incinerated in the Cocula dumpsite.
According to Dr. José Torero, an expert in fire safety and resilience from the University of Queensland initially consulted by the interdisciplinary group of experts, the evidence proves that the bodies could not have been incinerated using tree branches from the surrounding area and gasoline to start the fire. (According to the suspects interrogated by the Office of the Attorney General, that’s what they used to set up the fire in which the bodies of the forty-three missing students were incinerated).
Argentinian Team of Forensic Anthropology
The Argentine team found no evidence that the 43 bodies of the missing students were incinerated in a large fire. No signs of exposure to high temperatures and damage were found in the surrounding areas, which would be consistent with a large fire. The Argentine team pointed out the discrepancy in the expected level of damage and the actual level of damage found in the dumpsite.
The Argentine team also raised red flags regarding the discontinuity in the chain of custody of the Cocula dumpsite. Since it was allegedly a crime scene, the site should have been under special protection to preserve any material evidence. Nonetheless, the dumpsite was open to the public from the moment the Argentine forensics recollected samples from the site in October of 2014 until at least late November or early December of that same year. The team concluded that these irregularities casted serious doubts on the evidence found on the site.