The investigators are refuting official conclusions that the 43 Mexican students were incinerated in a landfill.
Urging the authorities to keep looking for the students snatched by corrupt police a year ago, experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said there was no evidence that they were cremated in a huge bonfire.
After a six-month investigation, the panel released a nearly 500-page report that undermines the official account, reviving the anger of the victims’ families over a crime that has pummeled President Enrique Pena Nieto’s popularity.
The document also calls for a probe into the actions of federal police and soldiers during the night of September 26-27, when municipal officers from the southern city of Iguala shot at buses that had been seized by the unarmed students.
The young men were mostly freshmen from a teaching college known for its leftist activism and practice of commandeering buses to move around Guerrero state.
The commission called for a new line of investigation into whether the students were attacked because they may have inadvertently taken a bus criminals used to transport heroin.
Pena Nieto said on Twitter that he gave instructions “for the investigations into the tragic events of Iguala to take into account the elements presented” by the experts.
Attorney General Arely Gomez said she would order forensic experts to conduct a new investigation into the garbage dump.
‘No evidence’ of cremation
Prosecutors concluded late last year that Iguala police, with officers from neighboring Cocula, abducted 43 young men and handed them over to the Guerreros Unidos drug gang, which had confused them with rivals.
Citing confessions from gang members, then attorney general Jesus Murillo Karam said the students were killed and stacked in a funeral pyre that burned for 14 hours in Cocula’s landfill before their ashes were thrown in a nearby river.
The charred remains of only one student were identified in a bag found in the water.
But the commission hired a fire expert who concluded that it would take 60 hours and nearly 60 tonnes of wood, tires and diesel to cremate 43 bodies.
Jose Torero, a Peruvian-born professor at the University of Queensland in Australia, said the blaze should have consumed surrounding vegetation and trash, but only evidence of small fires were found.
“There is no evidence indicating the presence of a fire of the size of a [funeral] pyre for the cremation of even one body,” Torero wrote.
The commission’s investigators said testimony from five suspects about the alleged cremation was full of contradictions that “question the validity” of the government’s conclusions.
The experts said the authorities should investigate claims of torture against suspects. More than 100 people have been detained, including local police, gang suspects and Iguala’s mayor.
“This report provides an utterly damning indictment of Mexico’s handling of the worst human rights atrocity in recent memory,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.
Parents of the missing demanded to see Pena Nieto, who has been criticised for only meeting with the families once in October.
“He and his security cabinet lied, and made us endure a time of psychological and emotional trauma,” said Felipe de la Cruz, spokesman for the families, which also asked for an investigation into Murillo Karam.
Army role questioned
The report reconstructs a night of terror in Iguala, a southern Guerrero state city known as being part of a drug trafficking route.
Three students and three bystanders were killed when police shot at several buses.
Raising questions about the actions of other security forces, the report says federal police and the army monitored the movements of the students before they even arrived in Iguala and were present at some crime scenes.
The report calls for a probe into whether federal forces failed in their “obligation to protect citizens.”
The experts were never allowed to interview soldiers.
Prosecutors have suggested then mayor Jose Luis Abarca ordered the attack because he feared the students would protest a speech by his politically ambitious wife.
But the commission said the students arrived in Iguala after the speech and suggested they may have been attacked because they could have taken a bus containing drugs.
A fifth bus that the students had commandeered was never included in the reports from federal prosecutors, who always spoke of four buses.