Mexico: Smear campaign against IACHR experts

Fabrizio Lorusso –  LAPRESS – 4/7/2016 -Government announces it will not renew mandate of international experts investigating disappearance of students from Ayotzinapa.

The human rights crisis in Mexico is dire. According to official figures, there are more than 27,000 people that are missing and although the case of the 43 students from Ayotzinapa managed to break the media silence on this situation, it is a thorn on the side of the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto.

One year and a half after the “Night of Iguala,” in which the municipal police of Iguala and Cocula, in the state of Guerrero, extrajudicially executed six people, abducted 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa and handed them over to suspected drug traffickers on Sept. 26, 2014, the whereabouts of the missing students is unknown and the government shows eagerness to shelve the case.

The Mexican State has not acknowledged its responsibilities despite rigorous journalistic investigations based on visual evidence and eyewitness accounts showing that there was an operation carried out by the authorities against the students. The same was reported by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), a highly qualified team of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that provides support to the official investigations, in its report of September 2015.

The report described a “massive, rising, disproportionate and senseless” aggression in which not only municipal agents and members of the Guerreros Unidos (United Warriors) drug cartel participated in, but also the armed forces and federal police, who were tolerant and acted negligently in relation to the crime. The report also showed that the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) rejected the line of investigation related with one of the five buses that were taken by the students and apparently was transporting heroin without the students’ knowledge. The attack against them, in that case, may have been motivated by the cargo.

The GIEI asked to interview the soldiers of the 27th Battalion in Iguala who were present during the chase, but the government did not allow this to take place and so far it has defended the actions of the Army, while the PGR has denied the involvement of federal authorities and has not opened an investigation.

The work of the GIEI and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) debunked the “historical truth” about the facts presented in January 2015 by former Attorney General, Jesús Murillo Karam, who argued that the students were burned in the landfill of Cocula and their remains thrown into the San Juan River.

Support to experts
The attempt to prematurely close the case failed and the official investigation was riddled with inconsistencies and irregularities. The whereabouts of the students is still unknown, and the demands from civil society for the truth and justice have not been satisfied.

On Mar. 22, relatives of the 43 students requested an extension of the mandate of the GIEI to continue with the investigation of the case. The Interior Minister, Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong, has reiterated that the work of the experts will end on Apr. 30 and there will be no extension granted.

“Instead of arguing the term we need conclusions,” Osorio Chong said in an interview with Radio Fórmula. “We have not found a different line of reasoning from the one that has been studied by the PGR.”

On the other hand, Emilio Álvarez Icaza, Executive Secretary of the IACHR, has shown to be open to a new mandate and will discuss the matter with the government during the hearings of the 157th period of regular sessions of the IACHR that ends on Apr. 15.

“We have received communication from organizations representing the students requesting a continuation, but no notification from the Mexican government,” Álvarez said.

The Citizen Council for Public Safety and Criminal Justice filed criminal charges on Mar. 15 against Álvarez Icaza for alleged fraud against the Mexican State. The president of this pro-government civil association, José Antonio Ortega, claims that there is economic prejudice related to the work of the GIEI, as the IACHR, according to Ortega, did not respect the commitment to send “honorable people as experts to Mexico,” being that “the five members of the GIEI are just the opposite.”

In addition to accusing the Colombian prosecutor Angela Buitrago, Guatemalan prosecutor Claudia Paz y Paz and Spanish physician Carlos Beristaín, members of the GIEI, of having committed serious human rights violations, Ortega argues that the team “has not fulfilled the commitments that the IACHR agreed to with the Mexican government (…) the ‘experts’ have not made the slightest contribution regarding the localization of the disappeared and to clarify the facts.”

The IACHR expressed “dismay and considers unacceptable the opening of a preliminary investigation based on this reckless and unfounded allegation.”

After the reactions to the allegations, the PGR determined on Apr. 5 not to pursue any criminal action against Icaza.

New technical report
However, the media and judicial pressure against Icaza and the GIEI is added to the “merciless smear campaign from a position of strength and the media” as has denounced Omar García, an Ayotzinapa student survivor of the attack.

In this context, the PGR released the third technical report on Apr. 2 on the fire in the landfill of Cocula, conducted by the Collegiate Group of Experts appointed last February by the attorney general. The study, still not completed, indicates “sufficient evidence” that there was a “large controlled fire and at least 17 adult humans were burned in that location.”

In a statement, the GIEI denounced the violation of the confidentiality agreement it had with the PGR, regretting “this way of changing the dynamics of dialogue and consensus” and the “unilateral decisions” taken on the dissemination of the document.

Argentine forensic experts of EAAF commented that “there is no conclusive answer” regarding the incineration of the 43 students. Their expert opinion, filed on Feb. 9, confirmed that there were bones in the landfill belonging to 19 people. However, it is impossible to determine the dates of the calcinations that probably refer to different events. Until today only the remains of the student Alexander Mora have been identified, but they were found in a bag on the banks of the San Juan River, and not in the landfill. This new expert opinion of the EAAF “neither confirms nor denies the hypothesis of the PGR.”

In the last five years there have been more than 300 missing people and the existence of dozens of mass graves recorded in Iguala, and the search committee for the “Other Missing” was created as a result.

The relatives of the 43 Ayotzinapa missing students have announced the resumption of street demonstrations in Mexico City and Guerrero starting in April.

In statements to the media, Vidulfo Rosales, spokesman for the relatives, said that “the study [conducted by the PGR] is lacking. The government of Enrique Peña Nieto insists that the Ayotzinapa case goes unpunished. In light of this, we have already taken the necessary measures and corresponding steps to voice our rejection.” —Latinamerica Press.

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