Mexican police have arrested the country’s former Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam on charges of enforced disappearance, torture and obstruction of justice. These charges relate to a 2015 investigation led by Murillo Karam into the 2014 disappearance of 43 male students of a teachers’ college located in the town of Ayotzinapa, Guerrero state.
On the night of September 26, 2014, the 43 students were reportedly enroute to a protest when their buses were intercepted by police in the city of Iguala, who opened fire on the buses. Except for the remains of three of them, the students have yet to be found.
Murillo Karam’s investigation controversially found the local police and members of the Guerreros Unidos cartel responsible for the disappearance, accusing the latter of killing the students and burning their bodies in a garbage dump after confusing them with members of a rival cartel. These findings were disputed by the students’ families, national and international organizations, and the administration of current President Andrés Manuel López Obrador on their accuracy, including due to documented violations such as torture and arbitrary detention during the investigation.
The Commission for Truth and Access to Justice, set up by López Obrador, released its preliminary findings on Thursday, relying on testimonies and a majority of the 41,168 documents gathered by it. Alejandro Encinas Rodríguez, Undersecretary of Human Rights, Population and Migration of the Ministry of the Interior and the head of the commission, presented its conclusions. He said that the students were disappeared by order that night, without stating who gave the order. The commission’s damning report finds the disappearance to be a state crime committed with the cartel’s participation, where the cartel was supported by various officials of the local police and the state. Federal and state authorities at the highest rung were at least ignorant and negligent, with likely alteration of facts and circumstances to support their own conclusion.
The report says of the previous investigation:
[It] was a concerted action of the organized apparatus of power from the highest level of government, which hid the truth of the facts, altered the crime scenes, concealed the links between the authorities and the criminal group and the participation of state agents, security forces, and authorities responsible for law enforcement in the disappearance[.]
The report states that the federal, state and local authorities were aware of the students’ movements until their disappearance; one soldier, Julio César López Patolzin, had infiltrated the group as a student of the teachers’ college. The military commanders of the region did not try to protect and find López Patolzin, who also remains missing. The report suggests that the students were killed, blaming the authorities’ “actions, omissions and participation” for the killing and disappearance of the students and six other murders. The commission recommended that investigations be started and continued to determine responsibility and to continue the search for the students in certain areas. The report lists the names of 33 people for the attorney general to continue investigating.
While many arrest warrants have been issued in the case, there have not been any convictions yet. Arrest warrants were also issued on Friday, against a total of 83 persons, including 20 military commanders and troop personnel of Iguala, five administrative and judicial officials of Guerrero, 33 local police and 11 state police officers, and 14 cartel members, on charges of organized crime, enforced disappearance, torture, homicide, and obstruction of justice. It is currently possible to try Mexican soldiers in civilian courts, limited to cases involving civilians.
Following Murillo Karam’s arrest on Friday, his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) deemed the arrest politically-motivated. He is the first former attorney general to be arrested in recent years and the most prominent person to be arrested in the case.
More than 100,000 people are officially registered as disappeared in Mexico.