The international investigation into the 43 missing students in Mexico has ended

A group of international experts investigating the 2014 kidnapping of 43 students in southern Mexico said on Tuesday it was ending its investigation after being repeatedly lied to and misled by the Mexican military about their role in the crime.

Members of the Mexican military misrepresented their whereabouts during the crime, denied access to key documents and withheld details about their involvement in the disappearance and its subsequent cover-up, experts said in a report released Tuesday, their sixth and final assessment of a notorious event that remains shrouded in mystery.

“It hurts to see how a case that could have been solved in the first few weeks ended up entangled in lies, falsehoods and detours of the investigation,” the report reads.

In a press conference In Mexico City on Tuesday, panelists — appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2014 — expressed their frustration at the military’s reluctance to cooperate.

“It’s all lies, one after another,” Spanish physician and panelist Carlos Beristain told the New York Times Monday night. “We won’t stay if we don’t have a chance to get answers,” he added.

The panel arrived in Mexico in 2015, and its work was instrumental in discrediting an earlier version of events believed to be fabricated by former President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration, known as “historical truth,” which blamed only local police officials and organized crime for the disappearance.

More recently, only two members of the group remained on the committee and its mandate expired.

The independent panel’s latest findings include a new technical analysis of cellphone data and documents that places several members of the military at locations connected to the attack as it was underway, at places and times they never mentioned in their testimony.

What exactly they were doing is unclear. “What we do know is that the story being told is not true,” said Dr Beristain.

Technical analysis revealed a steady stream of communications reaching the top of the military in the region. Mexican soldiers not only knew about, but very likely witnessed the shootings, detentions and violence “second by second,” Ángela Buitrago, a Colombian lawyer and another investigator on the panel, said at the news conference.

“What all the technical information shows is the lie in many of the statements” provided by the military, Dr Beristain added. “They say they weren’t in the places they were.”

Previous reports from the committee stated that the military had real-time knowledge of the attack, did not share that information with authorities, and thus deliberately obstructed the investigation.

Investigators also obtained a classified document from the navy that indicated that two people had died while being held by the marines. A photograph of the bodies showed that the men had their hands tied with cloth “similar to those seen in Navy arrest videos,” the report said.

In 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Office reported that another person linked to the crime had died while in Marine custody as a result of torture.

The 43 students disappeared in the rural state of Guerrero in September 2014, after hijacking several buses to attend a march in Mexico City, a practice mostly tolerated at the time.

That night was different.

Local police officers and other gunmen opened fire on the students, and by dawn six people had been killed and dozens more injured. The students were never seen again. The remains of only three bodies have been identified.

Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has vowed to settle the case and close down the families, a pledge he campaigned for in 2018. But despite the recent arrest of a general and 15 soldiers in connection with the disappearance, the government has yet to secure a single conviction.

On Tuesday morning, López Obrador said he had met with the independent experts the day before and thanked them for their work. “We will continue with the investigation,” the president said. “I am committed to knowing the whole truth.”

The latest report found that, in October 2014, Marines illegally searched a river where Mexican authorities said they had found a bag with a bone fragment from one of the missing students. But, according to the report, the Marines never revealed that they had located the bag the day before. They had also found at least nine others; it is unclear what happened to them.

“There have been outcomes that have never been documented, there have been bags that have never been reported,” the report said.

The committee’s final report “is a foot in the door to prevent the door from closing,” said Dr Beristain, adding that an end to the investigation does not mean the case is solved.

“There are still many things to do,” he said.