Government investigations into the 2014 disappearances have been repeatedly criticised as rushed and unreliable.
A group of international experts says the Mexican government falsified its investigations into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students, releasing video footage that appears to show the military planting evidence at the scene where authorities later said the students were killed.
The experts said the Mexican government, from the start, withheld or falsified evidence as it probed what happened to the students, who vanished after they were detained by local police in Iguala in the southern state of Guerrero. The teaching students had been taking part in an annual tradition in which they commandeer local buses and drive to Mexico City to mark the anniversary of the 1968 Tlatelolco student protest massacre.
Mexican authorities later said the students appeared to have been handed over to a local drug cartel and were most likely killed. Most of the students’ bodies have never been found, though burned bone fragments have been matched to three students.
“It was falsified from the first day to the last day,” said former Colombian prosecutor Angela Buitrago, who is part of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights group supporting the investigation.
The experts obtained government drone video that appears to show Mexican marines and police, shortly after the students vanished, climbing around the area where authorities have maintained the students were killed. In one instance, marines are seen standing in an area of Cocula rubbish dump where federal investigators later found bullet shells. The video also shows military personnel apparently setting white bags on fire.
Buitrago said investigators, prosecutors, and military personnel altered crime scenes and records as they rushed to resolve the crime, which launched protests across the country and international condemnation that dogged the administration of then President Enrique Pena Nieto.
A 2015 investigation assembled by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had previously said the scenario put forth by the government – that the students had been killed and burned in the garbage dump – was “scientifically impossible”, although experts have subsequently questioned those findings.
Suspects arrested in the wake of the disappearances, and later released, have also previously alleged torture by police and the military.
The latest update comes as Mexico awaits the extradition of Tomas Zeron, who was the head of the federal investigation agency at the time of the abduction and oversaw the criminal investigation and forensic work related to the case. He fled to Israel in 2019.
Zeron is being sought on charges of torture and covering up the disappearances.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced a new investigation into the disappeance of the student in 2019, with officials vowing to “start again” and “remove all the irregularities…that were committed”.