While bloody death tolls and ubiquitous violence are nothing new in a country that has seen an estimated 106,000 people killed in drug violence since 2006, the disappearance of 43 college students has shaken the country and spurred widespread protests across Mexico.
MEXICO CITY (AP) – Mexico's National Human Rights Commission is questioning the government's investigation into what happened to 43 missing college students who investigators say were killed and incinerated last September.
The commission on Thursday issued a list of 32 omissions in the investigation and recommendations that it said are vital to solving the case, even though the Attorney General's Office gave its comprehensive official version of what happened in January.
Its report lists key people and evidence, including a cellphone message from one student after he would have been kidnapped, that were never pursued in the Sept. 26 attacks in the southern city of Iguala.
"All of the things listed are not in the case file, and so in our view have not been done. And they are things very important to the case," commission President Luis Raúl González Pérez said.
The Attorney General's Office said only that it had received the report and did not comment on its criticisms. The agency reiterated that it is committed to an exhaustive and transparent investigation.
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The teachers college students from the state of Guerrero disappeared while commandeering transit buses for a protest in Mexico City. The Attorney General's Office says the students were arrested by local police and handed over to a drug cartel, which killed and incinerated them at a garbage dump. Their remains were allegedly put in garbage bags and dumped in a nearby river.
But the commission's report says the federal investigation had not developed profiles of each of the missing students that would include basic details such as blood type, fingerprints and distinguishing characteristics such as scars or tattoos, which it termed a "basic tool" of any search.
Many of the report's observations concern the collection and analysis of evidence from the garbage dump in Cocula and the San Juan river where allegedly bags of their remains were dumped. That part of the government's version has drawn the most criticism from families and other observers.
For example, the report lists a number of people known only by nickname who were allegedly involved at the dump, but who have not been arrested. It calls for the navy divers who recovered remains in the river to be interviewed. It recommends comparing the soil recovered in the bags of remains with soil from the dump to see if it matches. It says bullet casings recovered from the dump site should undergo ballistic testing to see if they match any recovered weapons. It suggests investigators have never established if the remains found at the river are human or animal.
The report recommends investigators identify and interview people who lived near where the attacks took place in Iguala — a seemingly basic step in an investigation — especially those who gave refuge to some students. It says authorities never did forensic tests on clothing found near the buses where the attacks occurred.
The report also says the students' families never received proper medical and psychological support and still live amid the same crime and insecurity that led to the disappearances, which the attorney general said involved a drug cartel working with local police.
The Iguala case caused national protests and outrage worldwide over the collusion between criminals and authorities that led to the disappearances. Federal investigators have identified only one of the missing students in the charred remains that they say were found at the river. The other remains and ashes carried no identifiable DNA.
Among other things, the report says some soldiers stationed in Iguala with knowledge of the attacks were not questioned while others gave limited statements. Federal Police also did not sufficiently detail their actions and observations that night. The report asks the Defense Department to name any missing students who were also members of the military as local media reports have claimed.
It also calls on authorities to interview school officials about who organized the student trip to hijack buses and why only first-year students were sent.
"What we're pointing out, as we've said before, is that the attorney general's investigation should not be closed and is not closed," González said.
Later Thursday, the governmental Executive Commission on Attention to Victims said it accepted the rights commission's recommendations for supporting victims and their families and would immediately work to implement them.