Oct 29, 2015

Mexican police accused of shooting demonstrators point-blank in the head

World News Report: Mexican police shot unarmed protesters in the head as they were cowering on the ground, according to a hard-hitting report compiled by Human Rights Watch.

Demonstrators against the government were beaten with metal pipes, dragged to the ground and shot. A 20-year-old pregnant woman, Rosa Isela Orozco Sandoval, said she was punched, kicked and dragged across the ground. One witness told HRW that a policeman put a gun against his head, and only refrained from pulling the trigger when another policeman warned his colleague that locals were filming the confrontation.

"Based on the available evidence, it appears we’re looking at two more major atrocities by Mexican security forces," said Daniel Wilkinson, managing director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch. "While the government insists that police acted appropriately in both cases, what witnesses describe clearly involves extrajudicial killings."

At least 50 people died in the two incidents investigated by HRW – one in the town of Apatzingan, on January 6; the other in Tanhuato on May 22.

Eight were killed in Apatzingan after federal police broke up a demonstration involving citizen self-defence groups.

In Tanhuato, 42 civilians and one police officer died when federal police raided a compound allegedly occupied by a criminal gang.

The government response in both cases has been to deny all allegations of unlawful use of lethal force, and portray the victims as aggressors. No police officers have been charged for any misconduct in either incident.

Yet "Alejandro", a 19-year-old from Apatzingan, told the researchers a chilling tale of police brutality. In the early hours of January 7, on hearing of police attempts to end the protest, he went with friends – all unarmed – into the centre of the town.

As they arrived the police opened fire. Alejandro was able to retreat beneath a truck, where he hid between the tyres. He watched as two men were dragged from under the trucks and shot in the head.
He told HRW that a police officer pulled him out from under the truck, stepped on the bullet wound on his shoulder, and placed a gun to his head. Alejandro was saved, he said, by another federal police officer who told the first not to shoot because people from neighbouring houses had begun filming. As Alejandro lay bleeding he saw police plant guns on and around his injured and dead companions.
Two more men from the town independently corroborated Alejandro's story of the shootings, and said that ambulances were prevented from reaching the scene.

In Tanhuato, police raided a ranch on the outskirts of the town that was believed to house a criminal gang. Some of those in the ranch did fire at the police in front of the house, three witnesses said. But the witnesses said that many others dropped their weapons and did not fire back, and that at least five who attempted to flee into fields toward the back of the house were shot in the back by police.
Other men were shot by police inside the buildings – placed against a wall and shot; shot on the stairs; shot in the back while running away; or burned inside a warehouse adjacent to the house.
HRW's investigation was corroborated by a Mexican reporter who obtained internal documents from the police, confirming the massacres.

The report will heap further pressure on the embattled Mexican government, facing a string of accusations of human rights violations by their police.

In September 2014 a group of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa teacher training college were "disappeared" – only two of their bodies have been found, and the government has been strongly condemned by families for failing to investigate the case correctly. Dozens of arrests have been made, and yet the families still feel that they are not being told the whole story.

And in August this year, Amnesty International said torture in the country was "out of control".
“Time and again, the Mexican justice system has proved unable or unwilling to hold security forces to account for abuses,” said Mr Wilkinson.

“It may be that the only hope for a rigorous and transparent investigation into Apatzingan and Tanhuato is to establish an independent commission similar to the group of experts who are monitoring the Ayotzinapa case.”

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