July 2, 2015
Washington, D.C.—Today, a leading Mexican human rights organization released a report documenting that the Mexican military had orders to “take out criminals” (abatir delincuentes) in the area of Tlatlaya, Mexico State, where soldiers killed 22 people on June 30, 2014. The report was published today by the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Center Prodh).
“The message could not be any clearer: the soldiers were instructed to take out, or kill, suspected criminals, in complete disregard for their human rights and due process,” said Maureen Meyer, Senior Associate for Mexico at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization advancing human rights in the Americas.
According to the official story of events, the soldiers had been patrolling the area, when they came under attack by alleged kidnappers, causing a shootout that left 22 dead. However, forensic analyses showed that many of the victims were executed, corroborating eyewitness testimony. Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission (Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos, CNDH) later concluded that at least 12 of the individuals killed were executed and that soldiers had altered the scene of the crime to make it look like a confrontation. The Mexican government has since pressed charges against seven soldiers for the killing of eight of the victims.
As described in Center Prodh’s report, subsequent police and military reports about the incident state that 22 people had indeed been “taken out,” using the same term, “abatidos”, as in the original order.
“The Mexican government first painted this as a confrontation, then as an isolated incident. The evidence made public today shows that the soldiers were sent on a mission to eliminate criminals,”said Meyer.
Between 2006 and September 2014, at least 3,600 civilians were killed in confrontations with Mexico’s armed forces. “It is alarming to think that if there hadn’t been survivors and international media attention, Tlatlaya may have been registered as just one of many confrontations with the military,” affirms Meyer. “How many other deaths may have in fact been unlawful killings? The goal needs to be to capture and prosecute people, not just wipe them out.”
The new revelations come at the same time as a U.S. Congressional letter addressing human rights violations in Mexico, including concerns over the Tlatlaya case as well as the enforced disappearance of the 43 students in Ayotzinapa. The letter, sponsored by House Committee on Foreign Affairs member Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and co-signed by 81 Representatives, states: “These two cases are not isolated incidents in Mexico; rather they illustrate a broader pattern of grave human rights violations in the country, including cases of torture, arbitrary detentions, kidnapping, and extra-judicial executions.”
As WOLA has noted previously, the Tlatlaya case and other mass killings—including by Mexico’s Federal Police—point to an urgent need for greater controls and clearer guidelines over the lethal use of force by Mexican security forces.
“Mexico’s federal security forces undoubtedly face serious risks as they carry out their jobs, but the fight against crime should not come at the expense of due process and respect for human rights,” said Meyer.
More on the Report and Background information:
The Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Center Prodh) is representing one of the eyewitnesses of the killing who is also a mother of one of the victims. As the legal representative, they obtained, through a series of legal actions, a military order (Orden de Relevo y Designación de Mando), issued on June 11, 2014, describing the activities that the troops and commanders should carry out in support of public security in the area. These instructions include that “the troops should patrol en masse at night time and reduce activities during the day in order to take out (abatir, in Spanish) criminals during night hours.”
The Center Prodh’s report also points to the need to broaden the investigation into the case to identify the military chain of command and determine those “directly and indirectly responsible for the events for having executed, ordered, or tolerated the actions and omissions that resulted in this massacre, including the emission of the relief order.”
WOLA supports this request and the report’s recommendations for the Mexican government to ensure a thorough investigation into this horrific act, continue to reform the Military Code of Justice, and to protect the witness in this case, as well as her family and legal defense.