The warehouse in Tlatlaya where the massacre took place

Mexico's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) has determined that the army summarily executed 15 of the 22 suspects killed in a warehouse in June this year, confirming another case of grave human rights abuse by the security forces, a month after the disappearance of 43 students.

In a report released (pdf) on October 21, the commission determined that seven victims were killed in a shootout with the army, and that another 12 victims -- including two minors -- were executed. Three others had been moved from their initial positions, indicating they were also executed. The CNDH found that the crime scene had been altered "very probably with the intention of feigning that the deaths had occurred in a context of confrontation."

The CNDH also found that personnel from Mexico State's Attorney General's Office tortured and sexually harassed two female survivors of the incident and subjected a third to inhumane treatment.

The report was based on information from federal, state and municipal authorities; witness testimony; visits to the area where the incident occurred; and photographs of the crime scene. 

Eight members of the military -- one lieutenant and seven solders -- have been arrested so far in connection to the June 30 massacre. The army initially claimed that the dead were killed in confrontation after opening fire on soldiers at a warehouse in the town of Tlatlaya, in Mexico State, and that the soldiers rescued three women who were being held hostage there.

InSight Crime Analysis

The CNDH report confirms the widely-held suspicion that not all the deaths were the result of a shootout, as the authorities initially claimed, but that some victims were summarily executed by soldiers. There has been a great deal of international pressure to resolve the case, and the CNDH's revelations are an important step in this direction.

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However, it remains to be seen what actions the Mexican government will take to follow the CNDH's report, a major concern given Mexico's history of impunity for abuses by the military. While the CNDH can make recommendations on actions that the authorities should take, it does not itself have the power to go further than investigating and documenting abuses.

InSight Crime has been tracking deaths of criminal suspects in Mexico at the hands of the security forces for some years, noting the disproportionate ratio of suspects killed to officials killed, which points to a long-standing practice of extrajudicial executions.

Abuses by the security forces are currently the topic of fierce debate in Mexico. In September, 43 students went missing during a protest in Iguala, Guerrero, and local police are accused of handing some of the students to the Guerreros Unidos gang for execution.