Ayotzinapa truth detectives: The EAAF

Mexico is experiencing serious turmoil. More than four months have passed since the disappearance of 43 teaching students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Normal School in Guerrero. The authorities have not been able to solve the case or provide answers to the students’ families. Here, Carlos Arturo Aguilar discusses the resultant rupture between the State and the families of the victims. 

The credibility of the Mexican State has been rocked. After a petition made by the parents of the disappeared students, an international organisation- the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, (EAAF)- were named as independent forensic investigator on the Ayotzinapa case. The EAAF is considered by the families of the students as the only group of specialists with enough credibility to observe the investigation parallel to the federal general attorney.

© Sofía González/Creative Commons License

© Sofía González/Creative Commons License

What is the EAAF?

Eric Stover and Clyde Snow set up a forensic team in 1984 in order to identify remains exhumed from mass graves during the Argentine dictatorship. Given the lack of application of forensic protocols and techniques being applied, they decided to train a team of forensic experts. Today, EAAF is considered among the groups that pioneered the application of forensic sciences to the documentation of human rights violations and transparency of criminal investigations.

EAAF is not an official agency, and is under strict obligation to follow the law of the country where it is carrying out its investigation. However, its main commitment is to the victims and the families. The guiding principles of the EAAF are aligned to maintain empathy with the people affected  and to respect the wishes of those involved, in this case the families of the students in Mexico. One of its most important key objectives is to assist relatives of victims in their right to truth and justice by providing an independent forensic investigation and the possibility to recover the remains of their loved ones so that they can carry out customary funeral rites.


Why is the EAAF involvement important?

There are two main reasons why EAAF involvement is important. Firstly, it shows the lack of trust people have in the government to run an independent inquiry. Secondly, the acceptance of EAAF involvement by the Mexican government shows the pressure they are under both domestically and internationally.

People do not believe on the words of the police, either federal or local.  This year, the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía (INEGI), the federal agency specializing in Geography and Statistics, released the results of a national survey related to people’s trust on the authorities which showed that more than 70% of people consider authorities ineffective. Moreover, faith in public security was very low, with nearly 68% feel insecure in their city despite the presence of the police.

© M Acosta/Creative Commons License

© M Acosta/Creative Commons License


International Transparency has issued the 2014 Corruption Perception Index, which positions Mexico as 105 out of 175 (last amongst the OECD members). As Ernesto Schwartz, academic at Durham University and co-founder of Citizen-Led Forensic Project states: “How can citizens trust their government to bring them justice if the same authorities are involved in the crimes?”This explains  why people feel the need to reach out elsewhere for help , in this case the EAAF.

Second, the acceptance of the EAAF as an authorized forensic entity by the Mexican authorities says a lot about the amount of pressure on the Mexico Government. The acceptance of the EAAF participation does not only highlight the inefficiency of the Government, or the mistrust of the people, but also implies a certain level of suspicion from the international community.

Organisations such as Amnesty International (AI) or Human Rights Watch (HRW) have communicated their concerns. AI has given to the General Procuratory of the Nation (PGR) 120,000 signatures collected from countries such as Belgium, Italy, Uruguay, and the USA  to demand justice for the students especially with regards to the police members and municipal officers involved in the case. On the other hand, José Manuel Vivanco (HRW Director for the Americas) mentioned that the case was obstructed by two factors: the inability of the State to respond properly to the case and the deep level of corruption that had hindered the investigation.

Thus far, the EAAF has become the voice of truth for the families of the students. The appearance and existence of an entity as the EAAF means a lot in a country that has lost trust in their own government and authorities. Furthermore, EAAF has become a symbol of hope for the people of Mexico: that the case will remain open, and that justice will be served.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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