The official account of what happened to 43 students who disappeared, and were presumed murdered, in southern Mexico last year has been challenged in a new, independent report released Sunday.
The Mexican government has contended that the students from the city of Ayotzinapa were murdered by a local drug gang in conjunction with local police and city officials. Mayor Jose Luis Abarca was charged in November with the murder of six students who were allegedly killed during a confrontation with police before the other students went missing on Sept. 26.
The country's attorney general said drug gang members had admitted to killing the students and officially declared them dead in January. A four-month government probe concluded that students, who had been protesting against local authorities, were rounded up by corrupt police and handed to gang members. Their bodies were said to have been incinerated in a garbage dump before being placed in plastic bags and thrown in a river. “This is the historic truth of the events, based on evidence provided for by science,” Attorney General Murillo Karam said at the time.
However, a report released Sunday by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) rejected some of these key claims. “There is no evidence that supports the hypothesis based on testimony that 43 bodies were cremated in the municipal dump of Cocula on Sept. 27, 2014,” the report concluded, according to a copy seen by the Wall Street Journal.
"There is no evidence indicating the presence of a fire of the size [needed] for the cremation of even one body," Peruvian fire expert Jose Torero told reporters, according to the BBC. Torero said it would have taken gang members some 60 hours to burn all the bodies.
“It’s clear the 43 students were not burned in that place,” Francisco Cox, a Chilean lawyer, told the WSJ in an interview. “What we were able to determine through this expert witness is that it’s impossible that level of fire happened in the garbage dump in Cocula."
The IACHR report suggested that the students were unaware that the bus in which they hijacked to travel to demonstrations may have been smuggling heroin, according to the Associated Press.
"The [drug] business that moves the city of Iguala [where the attack on the bus took place] could explain such an extreme and violent reaction and the character of the massive attack," the report read.
The case of the missing 43 students outraged Mexico, drawing international attention to the deep-seated corruption and crime problems in the country.
Relatives of those killed have long accused the government of a cover-up.
Reacting on Twitter, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto said he had instructed officials to take into account the report's findings. "Mexico will continue to add efforts in favor of the rule of law and protection of human rights," he said.