German rifles were used by police at fatal student protests

A German arms manufacturer has admitted to illegally selling thousands of rifles to Mexico, where the weapons were reportedly used to commit human rights violations.

Heckler & Koch, which produces weapons such as pistols, machine guns, and grenade launchers, is under investigation by German authorities for exporting G36 rifles to several Mexican states where Germany prohibits gun sales, due to human rights concerns.

The company previously claimed it had only ever delivered weapons to Mexico's central weapons authority run by the defense ministry. However, this week the company admited to the illegal exports. There were "strong suspicions" that two employees had sent rifles to the forbidden states without approval, the company said in statement, adding that the pair had since been fired.

Over 9,000 illegal G36 rifles were reportedly sold to Mexico in total. Mexico's Secretary of Defense has said that nearly half of these rifles ended up in the four states where Germany prohibits arms sales. 

The German government banned the export of arms to Chihuahua, Jalisco, Chiapas, and Guerrero in 2007 due to concerns that they could be used in cases of human rights violations. However, evidence began to accumulate that the ban had been violated, culminating in 2011, when photos and witness testimony indicated that police used G36 rifles -- apparently sourced from Heckler & Koch -- to open fire against a student protest in Guerrero. Two people died during the demonstration. 

Heckler & Koch has also been accused of bribing Mexican officials to secure more sales between 2005 and 2010, and of supplying arms to Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Heckler & Koch case is one reminder that the US -- while remaining a major provider of illicitly trafficked arms into Mexico -- is not the only source of illegal weapons. Even if the illicit G36 rifle shipments ended up in the hands of the police, this is still a cause for concern, given that corrupt officers and criminal groups are both known to sell weapons to each other

There is also the question of what more needs to be done on Germany's end, in terms of legal action against Heckler & Koch. As noted by one German legal expert, it is highly improbable that two company employees could have coordinated the illicit sales without the knowledge of others in the company. Moreover, it was unrealistic of the German government to believe its ban would have any real effect on where exported weapons ended up or what they were used for after arriving in Mexico.