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Still Few Answers In Killing Of 43 Students In Mexico


It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Tess Vigeland.


VIGELAND: Tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Mexico City this week demanding justice for 43 students who were abducted nearly two months ago from the city of Iguala. Mexico's government now says those students were taken by local police, handed over to drug traffickers and murdered. Protesters want to know how and why it happened and infuse to their calls for justice with a tally of the 43 disappeared students.


VIGELAND: Earlier this month, Daniel Wilkinson traveled to Mexico and met with families of the missing students. He's the managing director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch.

DANIEL WILKINSON: These were difficult meetings. These families are in a state of extreme anguish and despair and desperation. They're desperate to find out what happened to their sons. And that desperation is made all the worse by the fact that they feel they just cannot trust the authorities to do their job.

VIGELAND: Now, in addition to those meetings, you were able to speak with Mexico's attorney general. And his office, of course, has been heavily criticized for waiting 10 days after the disappearance of these students to begin an investigation. What is his response to that criticism?

WILKINSON: The attorney general explained to us all the things that he is doing now to solve the case. What he had trouble explaining was the government's initial response, which was basically to drop the ball. The students were initially attacked by police in the streets of a town called Iguala. The police opened fire on them before taking them away.

All this happened 100 meters from an army base - an army base brigade that's stationed in that state ostensibly to protect the population from violent crime. And yet the brigade there did nothing to come out to protect the students or when students went missing to try to find out where they were. When the federal government got involved - well, actually the first response of President Enrique Pena Nieto was to go on the air and say basically that this is not his government's problem - that this was a problem for local authorities. He eventually backtracked, but it took the federal attorney general's office 10 days to open an investigation.

Now, the attorney general told us this was because he had to wait to be invited by state-level authorities to investigate before he could send his own people. And even if this is technically true, it is very very difficult to believe that the federal government of Mexico in the face of such a heinous crime could not get state authorities to expedite this authorization more quickly.

VIGELAND: You recently wrote in Foreign Policy magazine that this massacre is not an isolated incident - that there have been many more such disappearances. Can you give us a sense of the scale of this problem?

WILKINSON: Just in terms of disappearances, we put together a report almost two years ago that documented 149 cases of disappearances. That is when state agents, police, soldiers, others were involved in taking people away in circumstances similar to what has happened with these 43 students.

Now, we presented that report to the attorney general nearly two years ago. And his response was to commit himself and his office to investigating these cases. He even set up a special unit of prosecutors to look into cases of disappearances. It was a positive step. It was something we applauded.

But now almost two years later, you know how many of these cases have been prosecuted successfully? Zero - and this is standard. Many people wonder, at least outside Mexico, how anyone could think they could get away with a crime like this - disappearing 43 students. But that's your answer. The answer is that security forces throughout Mexico have been engaging in abuses, disappearances, torture, killing over the last few years, and they're virtually never held accountable for them.

VIGELAND: That's Daniel Wilkinson - he's managing director of the Americas division at Human Rights Watch, and he joined us from our New York bureau. Daniel thank you so much.

WILKINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.