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Ayotzinapa: how not to fail the victims again

MEXICO CITY (APR) .- Time passes and we still have no certainty about the whereabouts of the 43 students of Ayotzinapa. Parents, relatives and companions continue standing, marching and demanding answers from the Mexican State, as they have done since September 26, 2014. No one but them knows what every day and night of these 57 months represents. Only they and the organizations that accompany them know what it has cost to travel the road to truth and justice. Today we witness a turn of the screw in history that can be substantial for the cause.

The puzzle that never fit

To date, the supposed historical truth of Jesús Murillo Karam, continued by Arely Gómez , has fallen apart. That was fabricated from unsupported versions, sowing of evidence by the AIC itself and practice of torture, as documented by the Reports of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [1]. All the efforts and the time invested to simulate, deceive and obstruct access to justice, distorted in origin.

Thanks to the participation of the GIEI -of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights- several of the missing pieces of the puzzle were found. Only through their work was it possible to know, for example, the impossibility that a fire occurred in the Cocula dump, the sowing of evidence by the then PGR, the existence of a fifth bus and the active participation of federal and state authorities in the facts.

The GIEI was set up as an extraordinary research mechanism, which with the permission of the Mexican State managed to advance several research lines and build the theory of the case. It had the support of forensic experts, who facilitated the work of scientific analysis. However, the scope of their findings and their technical work were uncomfortable for the State. In its final report, presented in April 2016, the GIEI indicated delays, obstructions and blockades by the Mexican government. Its members, even, were part of the list of victims of Pegasus malware, in the case called # GobiernoEspía.

With everything and these pitfalls, the case of the disappeared students has become something bigger: a symbol of state violence, but also a turning point in the defense of rights. There is a before and after to events in Iguala, the mobilization of diverse groups and organizations, the support and participation of international agencies and the empathy of many other groups that equally demand answers from the State and to justice from those responsible.


It is not a minor matter that, thanks to the strength of the movement, the Federal Executive promised to give it due attention. Since last December, with the entry of the new sexennium, the creation of the Presidential Commission for Truth and Access to Justice in the Ayotzinapa Case was announced. Its creation meant at least a respite, a gesture of hope, the possibility of building a space for dialogue, renewing research, seeking international technical assistance and providing support to victims.


The Commission was installed in January of this year, made up of Federal Government officials, mothers and fathers of the disappeared students and representatives of civil society organizations. So much distrust of the authorities has been sowed in these years, that only with concrete advances can a balance be made.

The Unit can transform something more than the Ayotzinapa case

On June 26, two relevant news items were released. On one hand, the creation of the Special Unit for Investigation and Litigation for the Ayotzinapa Case, as a specialized cell to investigate and prosecute the crimes related to the case. On the other hand, that same day the appointment of Omar Gómez Trejo as its head was announced.

Both facts deserve analysis. Recall that the Organic Law of the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic (FGR) established a flexible model, in which, based on priorities or specific needs, it is possible to create investigation and litigation units for criminal phenomena or specific cases. These units can be created within the specialized prosecutor's offices provided for in the law, or depending, directly by the attorney general.

In principle, it is positive that this unit responds directly to the prosecutor, since the latter must ensure that he has all the necessary resources to carry out his work. This opens a window of opportunity and renewal for the FGR, since through the unit it will be able to show a strategic operation, with rigorous investigation and coordination with the necessary experts and intelligence services.

On the other hand, the designation as head of the former technical secretary of the GIEI - and someone who knows the case widely - seems to us, rightly so, because Gómez Trejo will not require a learning curve: he has accompanied the research from the beginning. Nor will it be necessary to build a bridge of communication with the victims to ensure their participation in the investigations, since it already exists.

However, this is not enough. Gómez Trejo must plan a research strategy and integrate a highly professional and competent multidisciplinary team. The unit for the investigation and litigation of the case must carry out a thorough analysis of all the preliminary inquiries and related research files, as well as define or continue certain lines of research.

The planning must include both the investigations related to the events that occurred that night, as well as those derived from the participation, alteration or concealment of evidence; among them those also related to the practice of torture and the manufacture of guilty parties. Likewise, the unit must establish a student search plan, which can be enriched with the development of research, but which in turn must have its own definition and progress.


As established in the book Crimes of State [2] , criminal investigation - in cases of macro criminality such as what happened in Ayotzinapa, in which there is participation by public institutions - requires an analysis that goes beyond the individual to integrate coherently the context analysis.

This analysis will be of equal or greater importance to understand the aspects that gave rise to or allowed the facts, such as the relationships that the investigated crime maintains with others, the participation of those responsible in that and other facts, its relationship with the persons involved in other crimes, the behaviors that -through the institutional irregularity- allowed the execution of the crime, the use of structures, resources and institutional relations used for the operation of the criminal system, as well as the systematic and reiteration of the facts.

This new unit will have a much broader and more complex research agenda, so the context analysis will also include the study of patterns, understood as series of events that imply some degree of planning and control, with the aim of identifying networks and modes of operation that later allow to constitute guarantees of non-repetition.

It should be remembered that the creation of this unit occurs in the midst of a transition process towards an autonomous, professional and strategic institution. Mexico Evalúa established in our report From PGR to FGR: Guidelines for the transition, that the new design of the Office of the Prosecutor should prioritize the substantive functions and ensure an orderly transition. The definition of the research model will be crucial and will determine the starting point for the construction of a management and victim assistance model that guarantees true access to justice.

In this regard, the Office of the Prosecutor must ensure conditions of technical independence for operators, provide them with the necessary technological and intelligence resources, as well as the definition of a research model that addresses planning and prioritization policies in criminal prosecution. Under such considerations, the unit for the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case may represent a sample button regarding institutional transformation and the justice system, both in the organizational sphere and in the development of its functions.

Decisive elements for a new stage

This network of signals and opportunities can certainly mean a turn in the investigation of a case that exemplifies the serious violations of human rights that are committed and sponsored by the State itself. However, nothing can be taken for granted at this time. The conditions are given, but the work of the Investigation and Litigation Unit of the FGR, as well as that of the Presidential Commission for Truth and Justice in the case, must be of close coordination and collaboration.

Now is when we can talk about an institutional watershed, but this will require all the support from the Federal Executive and the head of the Attorney General of the Republic, issues that can be evaluated only with time. Access to information and all the necessary resources will be a necessary condition for the process, as well as the permanent dialogue with the victims and their representatives, who should be allowed to actively participate in the entire process.

Another necessary condition has to do with the international support and technical assistance that must be ensured in the framework of the work, both by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, whose work has been key to the progress of investigations and respect for rights. Finally, with this new conformation, the conditions are in place for the decisions to center on the victims and to break with the pattern of impunity.

*Chrístel Rosales is a researcher of the Justice Program at México Evalúa, a center of thought and analysis that focuses on the evaluation and monitoring of the operations of the Mexican government to raise the quality of its results.

[1] Reports Ayotzinapa I and II , Advances and conclusions on the investigation, search and attention to the victims presented by the GIEI; as well as Double injustice: report on human rights violations in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case, composed of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

[2] Ombudsman's Office for the Rights of Children. State Crimes: A focus for the investigation of new forms of crime . Yuli Pliego, Diana Mora and Margarita Griesbach. 2018


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