IACHR Renews Role in Mexico Case of Disappeared Students

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Latin America’s top regional human rights body has approved further measures to track the Mexican government’s progress in its ongoing investigation of an emblematic mass disappearance case, but the latest move is unlikely to produce the answers the victims’ families have long hoped for.

In a document (pdf) published on July 29, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) announced that it will name at least two special advisors to monitor the investigation into the September 2014 disappearance of 43 students in the town of Iguala in Guerrero state.

The Mexican government has claimed that corrupt local police kidnapped the students and handed them off to a drug gang, who killed the young men and burned their bodies. However, human rights groups at home and abroad and a panel of independent, international IACHR experts who conducted their own investigation of the case have cast doubt upon the validity of the government’s investigation and some of its central assertions about what happened.

The IACHR’s special advisors will be charged with ensuring that the Mexican government is complying with its obligations under international agreements to carry out a complete and thorough investigation of the mass disappearance. The IACHR statement says they will have “full access to the necessary information in the files and other sources of information corresponding to the case” and that they will cooperate with the government in order to complete their work.

A rapporteur for the commission will also make at least three visits to Mexico to monitor progress on the case, and may issue public statements regarding his or her findings.

The IACHR also noted that thus far, “the actions adopted by the state authorities still have not produced concrete results or positive advances that would permit the location” of the missing students. The organization called on the Mexican government to “redouble its efforts to implement all necessary measures in order to determine the whereabouts or the fate of the young men.”

Family members of the victims of the mass disappearance expressed cautious optimism about the new measures. Felipe de la Cruz, a spokesman for the family members, said he considered the new measures satisfactory, but others said they represented only a small step forward in the continuing search for their sons.

InSight Crime Analysis

The disappearance of the 43 students provoked widespread outcry in Mexico, as the case was seen by many as emblematic of what some experts describe as the country’s “security failure.” The fact that Mexico’s government has not yet determined the students’ whereabouts or their ultimate fate — nearly two years after the incident — has further undermined the credibility of the country’s law enforcement and judicial institutions, which already had a poor reputation both at home and abroad.

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Considering that the independent group of experts commissioned by the IACHR — an autonomous body of the Organization of American States — has been the source of some key advances in the public’s understanding of the case, further involvement by the organization is likely to contribute to a more thorough and complete understanding of what happened.

The Mexican government likely agreed to the new measures in an attempt to deflect widespread criticism of its handling of the case. However, the independent experts who attempted to support the official investigation before said their efforts were hindered by Mexican officials and that they were subjected to a “smear campaign” channeled through national media.

Sources close to the case consulted by InSight Crime noted that those experts also had access to the government’s documentation, so there is little in the new agreement to suggest the IACHR will make major breakthroughs or that they can expect more cooperation from the Mexican government.

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