Human rights groups accused the Mexican government on Saturday of failing to allow a full investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students from a rural teachers' college in the state of Guerrero, an atrocity that remains shrouded in mystery.
A lack of cooperation by Mexican officials has impeded the investigation, according to an international group of experts conducting an investigation into the disappearances for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a branch of the Organization of American States (OAS).
“The conditions to conduct our work don’t exist,” one of the group of experts, Claudia Paz y Paz, the former Attorney General of Guatemala, told the paper.
The IACHR late last month denounced a "smear campaign" in Mexico against the work of the group of experts and the head of the commission. The Mexican government opposed the extension of the group's mandate to investigate, Pay y Paz said.
Mexican officials say they have fully cooperated with the experts.
The year-long investigation by the group of experts, which was agreed to by the Mexican government in November 2014, already highlighted irregularities in the official investigation last year.
Earlier this week Univision reported that Mexico's Attorney General's Office allegedly used torture and offered millions of dollars in bribes to manipulate the investigation, according to legal documents and letters by some of those accused of involvement in the case.
The torture allegations are expected to form part of the IACHR final report. On Saturday Univision also identified two federal policemen who allegedly participated in the disappearance of some of the students, further challenging the government's official version that local municipal officials were responsible.
Read full article in Spanish:
Un testigo identifica a los policías federales que participaron en la desaparición de los 43 de Ayotzinapa
The case of the students, and the efforts of their grieving families to discover the truth, has rocked the Mexican government. The handling of the case by officials, and suspicions of a possible cover up to protect the military, have deeply undermined its credibility in the human rights community.
"The lack of cooperation by the military raises very serious questions. It's not proof of guilt but if the government was really committed to the investigation they should order the military to help the group of experts," said Daniel Wilkinson, Managing Director of the Americas at Human Rights Watch.
The alleged torture victims identified the highest ranking abusers as former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam; the head of the organized crime section of the prosecutor's office (SEIDO), Gustavo Salas Chávez, and Tomás Zeron de Lucio, director of the office's Criminal Investigation Agency.
They were directly involved in alleged irregularities designed to prop up the official results of the investigation, known as the “historic truth,” according to the documents obtained by Univision.
The federal prosecutor's office told Univision that the allegations of torture against the three officials are being investigated.
Officials at the SEIDO and the Criminal Investigation Agency did not reply to requests for interviews for this story. Murillo could not be located for comment.
The latest evidence of abuse involves at least 14 men and two women arrested in the case who say they, and their relatives, were threatened with – and in some cases suffered – sexual violence, gropings, electric shocks to the genitals and penetration to force them to confess to their participation in the disappearances, implicate others and sign fabricated statements.
Federal police officers and Mexican Marines were identified as among those who carried out the abuses, with the alleged complicity of Zerón and Salas in at least two of the cases.
The victims were nine alleged members of a criminal organization known as Guerreros Unidos, including Sidronio Casarrubias Salgado, accused of being the group's leader in the region, Gildardo Lopez Astudillo, identified as his No. 2; and Felipe Rodríguez Salgado, and three men accused of killing the student teachers and burning their bodies, according to the documents.
Seven officers in the nearby Iguala and Cocula municipal police forces were also victimized.
The Mexican government's version of the Ayotzinapa case is that the 43 students were simultaneously kidnapped, murdered and their bodies burned in a local garbage dump. It accuses local authorities in Iguala and Cocula and members of Guerreros Unidos. Three independent scientific studies have refuted that version.
While the credibility of the accused men may be questionable due to their alleged criminal ties, Casarrubias was subjected to a psychological evaluation by human rights investigators, the documents show.
Casarrubias filed a complaint with Judge Carlos Alberto Sosa López in the State of Mexico's Second District Court, detailing the torture he allegedly suffered to force a confession. Once in prison, Murillo offered him almost $4 million (66 million pesos) to ratify the confession, he alleged.
The torture allegations are also being investigated by United Nations officials, according to public records viewed by Univision. Two letters sent in February and July of 2015 to the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto by five U.N. investigators show they began special inquiries into “serious” allegations of “arbitrary detentions, torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatments” of 13 suspects detained in the Ayotzinapa case.
“Without indicating any conclusion in the facts of the case, or on the arbitrary character or not of the arrests, we wish to express our serious concerns over the detention, torture – including sexual – and restrictions on the right to a defense suffered by Mr. Casarrubias,” read a letter signed by four senior U.N. human rights investigators, dated says the Feb. 25 2015.
“We also express serious concern over allegations that the torture and abusive treatments were designed to extract forced and fabricated confessions,” the letter added. “We fear that the use of these methods may not be an isolated case, and that the investigation into the disappearance of the 43 students in Iguala may also be based on information obtained through acts of torture.”
This investigation was carried out with the support of the Investigative Reporting Program at U.C. Berkeley and the Fund for Investigative Journalism