Experts: Mexico jeopardizes justice in missing students case

Sep 29, 2022, 1:16 AM | Updated: 5:26 pm
A youth paints "We are missing 43. Justice," on a police barricade placed in front of the National ...

A youth paints "We are missing 43. Justice," on a police barricade placed in front of the National Palace during a march for the missing 43 Ayotzinapa college students in Mexico City, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, on the day of the anniversary of the disappearance of the students in Iguala, Guerrero state. Three members of the military and a former federal attorney general were recently arrested in the case, and few now believe the government's initial claim that a local drug gang and allied local officials were wholly to blame for seizing and killing the students on July 26, 2014, most of which have never been found. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

(AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A group of international experts investigating the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in southern Mexico denounced the attorney general Thursday, saying he engaged in “improper interference” and created “obstacles” to justice, apparently in a rush to show results.

The Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts was created by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the Sept. 26, 2014, abduction and forced disappearance of students from the Ayotzinapa teachers’ college in the state of Guerrero.

Group members at a news conference also raised doubts about some evidence included in a report last month from the government Truth Commission investigating the case.

They also said there is additional evidence of the close relationship between the military and a local drug gang that have both been implicated in the students’ disappearance in the city of Iguala.

They spoke just two days after the special prosecutor who had led the government’s investigation since 2019 resigned.

The experts said Omar Gómez Trejo quit after his independent work was blocked by Attorney General Alejandro Gertz Manero. Ángela Buitrago, one of the experts, said Gómez Trejo was not willing to follow orders “that have no justification.”

Among examples of the purported “improper interference,” the group mentioned the cancelation without explanation of 21 arrest orders announced previously by the Attorney General’s Office, including for 16 members of the military. Claudia Paz, another of the experts, said the withdrawal of those arrest orders did not conform with the rule of law.

The experts also said the rush to charge former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam, who was in office when the students disappeared, with manufacturing the previous administration’s account of what happened could ultimately jeopardize the case against him.

Such practices lead one to think “there was an attempt to synchronize judicial times with political times … that came from the attorney general of the republic,” said Francisco Cox, another member of the group. He added that the current administration appeared to put more value on arrests than in arriving at convictions.

The evidence of close contact between the military and the local drug gang in Iguala continues to grow. However, group members said they continued to be denied military intelligence, even though President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ordered the armed forces to give them full access to the archives.

Paz said come of the evidence implicating the military came from the United States in the form of intercepted communications obtained for a case in Illinois dealing with drug trafficking from Iguala to Chicago.

Among them were 12 conversations about jobs done together by criminals and military personnel or meals organized by criminals for members of the military. Some of the military members mentioned in those conversations are in custody — there are four — but others are not.

The Truth Commission’s report in August included new information about the military’s involvement in the disappearances, including screen captures of messages indicating that military personnel allegedly gave the order to kill some of the students and hid their remains.

The experts on Thursday raised doubts about those messages, which they said were written very differently from those intercepted by U.S. authorities. They said they had asked an independent expert to analyze all of the information, which was only shared with them recently.

Alejandro Encinas, head of the government’s Truth Commission, said later Thursday that analysis of evidence is always part of the process. He also said that “no one has pressured me” and that “there are not political times” in the case, adding that the issues raised by the independent experts can be addressed.

He did not address the criticism of Gertz Manero, saying questions about the Attorney General’s Office would have to be addressed to him.

López Obrador has minimized the participation of the military in the disappearance and says that only a handful of military personnel were responsible, not the institution.

He supported the cancellation of the 21 arrest orders and said Thursday that those criticizing the government must think “it is going to generate a rebellion in the army.”

The expert group’s mandate is scheduled to expire Friday. They asked that it be extended — something they said the government supports. They also called for the independence of the special prosecutor’s office to be respected.

They said they would present more information in a month when they have the results of the expert’s evaluation of the new evidence.

“When you touch the justice (system) you cause great harm to the country,” said Buitrago.

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Experts: Mexico jeopardizes justice in missing students case