The United Nations Human Rights office has accused authorities in Mexico of torturing dozens of people during an investigation into the 2014 disappearance of 43 students in the case known as 'Ayotzinapa 43' and is calling for a full inquiry.
The report, 'Double Injustice: Human Rights Violations in the Investigation of the Ayotzinapa case,' examined information relating to 63 out of 129 of those detained, documenting arbitrary detentions and torture based on interviews, judicial files and medical records.
"The findings of the report point to a pattern of committing, tolerating and covering up torture in the investigation of the Ayotzinapa case," U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said in the document released Thursday.
The report concludes on "solid grounds" that "at least 34 of these individuals were tortured" – including a woman – and calls for any evidence obtained under torture to be excluded or invalidated.
After the case sparked massive nationwide protests, Mexico's General Prosecutor's Office said the students had been handed over to the 'United Warrior' drug cartel, which executed them, burned their bodies in a local landfill and then threw their remains into a nearby river in black plastic bags.
But relatives of the missing students say the government's "historical truth" is a fabrication and accused them of planting evidence and torturing detainees in order to cover for high-profile politicians and members of the military.
"Ayotzinapa is a test case of the Mexican authorities' willingness and ability to tackle serious human rights violations," Zeid said. "I urge the Mexican authorities to ensure that the search for truth and justice regarding Ayotzinapa continues, and also that those responsible for torture and other human rights violations committed during the investigation are held accountable."
The students disappeared on the night of Sept. 26, 2014, after local police in Iguala stopped the buses they were traveling in, illegally detained them, then allegedly handed the group over to a criminal organization.
What has followed is the worst crisis to mar the government of Enrique Peña Nieto, a president whose popularity is dwindling every day as corruption scandals continue to unfold within his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and violent murders across Mexico soar.
A group of independent international experts analyzed the case and concluded that the government's version wasn't credible. So far, the remains of only one of the students, Alexander Mora, have been found and confirmed with a DNA test.
Mexican authorities arrested the leader of the United Warriors cartel – Erick Uriel 'N' – on Monday, but families of the missing students argue the arrest was made only to back the government's version of events.
More recent findings suggest that one of the buses the students were using had an opium shipment hidden on boardÑ a popular method of transporting narcotics among local cartels.
The students were from the Raul Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers' College in Ayotzinapa, part of a system that educates future teachers all over the country and has a long history of social struggles and leftist inclinations.
The same school educated Lucio Cabañas and Genera Vazquez, who went on to become prominent figures in their communities and later guerrilla leaders fighting for rural reform.
Peña Nieto's PRI has ruled Mexico for most of its modern history, but opinion polls predict a political shift away from the party in the July's presidential elections.