Human rights organizations and the parents of Mexico’s 43 missing students have criticized the government’s efforts to prematurely close the case on the young men who were abducted by corrupt police officers in the southern state of Guerrero last September.
Until now the students from the Ayotzinapa teachers college had officially been classified as missing, but Mexico’s Federal Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam, claimed in a press conference on Tuesday that his office now has “legal certainty” that they were murdered by members of the Guerreros Unidos drug gang.
The government has 487 strands of evidence that “have allowed us to… come to the conclusion beyond a doubt that the students were abducted and killed, before being incinerated and thrown into the San Juan river, in that order,” Murillo said.
This explanation did little to convince the many critics who have pointed out an array of inconsistencies in the official account of events. Moreover, it is unclear how there could be complete legal certainty over who killed the students or disposed of their bodies when not one suspect has been tried or convicted of such crimes.
Students’ parents remain defiant
In response to Murillo’s press conference, the families of the missing students issued a 10-point statement outlining the inconsistencies and unanswered questions in the official account.
There is insufficient scientific evidence to prove that bodies were burnt in a landfill site in Cocula, they noted, and independent forensic experts have only been able to identify the remains of one of the 43 students.
Furthermore, more than a dozen of the chief suspects remain at large, including the former Iguala police chief and several senior members of Guerreros Unidos.
The authorities have also failed to explain who was responsible for murdering and removing the face of Julio César Mondragón, another student who was found dead the morning after the abductions.
Arguably the greatest point of contention is the fact that the official account of events is heavily reliant upon the testimony of alleged gang members, who could well have been coerced into saying what the government wanted.
“A criminal’s word cannot be worth more than ours,” said Carmen Cruz, mother of missing 19-year-old Jorge Cruz.
“We repudiate the way the attorney general today tried to brazenly close the case,” added the parents’ spokesman, Felipe de la Cruz. “We’re going to continue this struggle until the final consequences and until they show us what happened in a scientific manner.”
NGOs doubt government account
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also challenged the Mexican government’s stance.
Human Rights Watch’s Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, told MVS Radio that it was “difficult to trust” Murillo’s account “because you know that in Mexico confessions are obtained through coercion, torture, irregularities, pressures.”
Murillo’s conclusion was “premature and risks curtailing a full and thorough investigation into this tragedy,” added Amnesty International.
“If the attorney general hopes that this announcement will draw a line under this tragedy then he is wrong. There are still many, many questions left unanswered, including the possible complicity, by action or omission, of the army and other authorities in the attack against these young student teachers,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
Nationwide protests continue
The case of the missing students has galvanized Mexican civil society and another wave of mass demonstrations took place across the country on Monday to mark the four months since their disappearance .
President Enrique Peña Nieto has often appeared eager to downplay or even bury the case in a bid to limit the damage it has caused to his reputation, even imploring the Mexican people to “get over it” last December.
Hours after Murillo’s press conference, which many Mexicans interpreted as an attempt to draw a line through the case, Peña Nieto wrote on Twitter, “It’s painful to accept it. We’ve been through moments of deep sadness. Ayotzinapa hurts us all.”
That tweet was met with an avalanche of angry responses from citizens accusing him of insincerity and trying to co-opt the families’ suffering.
Mexico, it seems, is not willing to forgive, forget or move on until justice is done.