By Sarah Stein Kerr and Laura Salas
September 26th marks the the year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 student teachers from the Mexican state of Guerrero. In July 2015, WITNESS representatives took part in a convening of independent media outlets at the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College, the student teacher’s school in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. 10 months following the events, mainstream media coverage on the case had dwindled. The Mexican government’s investigation had concluded that the student’s had been kidnapped and killed by a drug gang at the orders of local officials with political motives, a story that both the student’s families and many in the general public Mexican found suspicious due to inconsistencies in the evidence and supposed timeline of events.
Earlier this month, an independent group sent by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (ICHR) released a report on their investigation into the case. Their team found that the government’s investigators had lost key pieces of evidence, failed to fully investigate important leads, and had not provided sufficient scientific proof to support their conclusions. These events supported the belief held by many independent media outlets that commercial media had virtually reproduced the government’s version of events without question since the moment the Mexican student teachers disappeared.
For the group of experts from the IACHR, the government’s story – that the 43 student teachers were killed by a group of assassins and their remains incinerated in a garbage dump in the municipality of Cocula, Guerrero – was proved to be untenable. The scale and sophistication of attacks required complex levels of communication and coordination infrastructure that do not correspond to the capacity of armed groups in the area. There is no history in Guerrero of an operation of this magnitude, in terms of the scale of murder, disappearance, or the concealment of human remains in graves. This has lead many to the conclusion that another actor with more resources, knowledge, and a greater ability to execute this attack must have overseen the operation. Independent media outlets have consistently pointed the need to investigate possible links to the military as it appears that all levels of police and the army were informed in real time of what was occurring on the evening of September 26, 2014.
From Sept. 23-25, 2015, there will be collective coverage for the first anniversary of the disappearances put together by a group of independent media outlets. The coverage will include 43 hours of radio broadcast to accompany a fast by the relatives of the missing youth. This effort by free and community media outlets is another action put together to push for the truth surrounding what occurred. Along with other key efforts, including the independent report from the IACHR, they are challenging the government’s commitment to bury the reprehensible acts that took place in Ayotzinapa.
UPDATE (9/28/2015): Two groups who attended the independent media convening in Ayotzinapa, Cacto Productions (Mexico) and Prensa Opal (Chile), have produced a short video filmed in Ayotzinapa. It is currently available in Spanish: MÉXICO: A UN AÑO DE LA DESAPARICIÓN DE LOS 43 ESTUDIANTES DE AYOTZINAPA.
UPDATE (8/30/2018): Forensic Architecture teamed up with the Equipo Argentino de Antropologia Forense (EAAF) and Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh) to create an open source platform mapping out the narratives of the Ayotzinapa abductions. Tools like these are not only important to the field of open source investigations, but as a way to coordinate efforts between civil society and the public in maintaining pressure on governments and bringing justice of the disappeared. Available in Spanish and English.
Featured image: A poster of the missing students in the cafeteria at the Raul Isidro Burgos Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero. Photo by Sarah Stein Kerr.