GENEVA (15 March 2018) – There are strong grounds to believe that some of the people detained in Mexico during the early stages of the investigation into the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa in 2014 were arbitrarily detained and tortured, and that these serious violations were in turn inadequately investigated and even covered up, a report by the UN Human Rights Office said on Thursday.
The report, “Double Injustice – Human rights violations in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case”, examined information relating to 63 individuals out of a total of 129 people prosecuted in connection with the students’ disappearance. Based on the judicial files, including medical records of multiple physical injuries, and on interviews with authorities, detainees and witnesses, the UN Human Rights Office has solid grounds to conclude that at least 34 of these individuals were tortured.
The report highlights “an almost uniform modus operandi” regarding how people were arbitrarily detained and tortured to extract information or confessions, and the significant delays in bringing them before a public prosecutor, often placing them outside the protection of the law.
In many cases, “implausible and self-contradictory justifications” were given to explain the detainees’ injuries, including that they had harmed themselves, were injured before their arrest, were drunk or had suffered “falls”. The report also highlights that supposedly “free and spontaneous” self-incriminating statements were provided by detainees who had multiple injuries, documented by medical examinations.
The report states that the documented cases of human rights violations took place after 5 October 2014 when the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic (OAG or PGR in Spanish) took over the investigation from prosecutors in the state of Guerrero, where the students’ disappearance happened. The arrests were all carried out by personnel from the OAG, the Federal Police and the Mexican Navy.
The report calls for any evidence in the Ayotzinapa case for which there are credible indications that it was obtained under torture to be excluded or declared null and void, in line with Mexico’s General Law on Torture and with international law.
It also urges the OAG to conduct investigations within a reasonable time limit and identify those responsible for the arbitrary detentions, torture and other human rights violations. The OAG’s internal oversight office appeared to make a genuine effort in 2016 to address some of the violations, the report notes. However, this internal investigation was subsequently thwarted by the replacement of the officials committed to this effort, and to date there has been no prosecution and sanction for the acts of torture or other human rights violations.
“The findings of the report point to a pattern of committing, tolerating and covering up torture in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case. This not only violates the rights of the detainees, but also the right to justice and to truth for the victims of the events of September 2014, their families, and for society as a whole,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
The report calls on the Mexican State to develop the National Programme to Prevent and Punish Torture. It also urges the Mexican Congress to adopt legal reforms to effectively guarantee the independence, autonomy and professionalism of the OAG, including internal oversight bodies and accountability processes. The Mexican State should also implement the High Commissioner’s recommendation to create an advisory council to combat impunity.
The report does not address the issue of who forcibly disappeared the 43 students and killed six other people. However, by shedding more light on some of the flaws of the early stages of the investigation, it aims to contribute to the search for truth regarding those disappearances.
“Ayotzinapa is a test case of the Mexican authorities’ willingness and ability to tackle serious human rights violations. For some three and a half years, the victims’ families have been fighting for the right to know what happened to their loved ones. I urge the Mexican authorities to ensure that the search for truth and justice regarding Ayotzinapa continues, and also that those responsible for torture and other human rights violations committed during the investigation are held accountable,” Zeid said.
During the night of 26 to 27 September 2014, a large group of students from a teacher training college in Ayotzinapa, travelling on five buses which they had seized to attend a demonstration in Mexico City, were attacked in the town of Iguala in Guerrero State by municipal police. Forty-three students were forcibly disappeared; six people, including three students, were killed, and 40 people injured. The role of various security forces in these events is under investigation.
The then Attorney-General declared on 27 January 2015 that the case was solved - that municipal police had handed over the students to a criminal gang, who killed them, burned their bodies at a rubbish dump, and then threw their remains into the nearby San Juan River. In November 2014, the Government of Mexico and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights established a group of experts, known by its Spanish acronym as GIEI, to follow up on the investigation. The GIEI’s final report in April 2016 concluded that forensic evidence did not support the claim that all the bodies had been incinerated at the said location.
According to available information, to date no one has been sentenced in connection with the Ayotzinapa case, and 33 of the 34 individuals whose cases are described in the report remain in detention.
2018 is the 70th anniversaryof the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Upfor Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.