(Washington, DC) The Mexican National Human Rights Commission's finding that military authorities mishandled an inquiry into the killing of two children by soldiers underscores the need to stop relying on the army to investigate its own abuses, Human Rights Watch said today.
In a report released on June 16, 2010, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) found that the Mexican military was responsible for the deaths of Brian and Martin Almanza, ages 5 and 9, and the wounding of five others, in an incident near Matamorros, Tamaulipas, on April 3. The commission also found that the military had interfered with evidence at the scene of the crime.
"No more cases - not a single one - of alleged military abuse against civilians should be investigated by the military," said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. "These findings reveal how blatantly the military is willing to distort the facts to protect its own."
The commission's findings directly contradict the results of the military's investigation into the incident, which concluded that the victims had been killed in a shootout between soldiers and criminals. On April 30, the military attorney general, José Luis Chavez Garcia, said in a news conference that the military investigation had concluded that the children had been killed by a grenade fired by criminals during a confrontation with the military.
The parents of the victims, as well as other passengers who were in the car that was attacked, told the human rights commission that there had not been a shootout and that the military had opened fire without provocation. The findings of autopsies conducted by the state medical examiner and forensic experts from the commission concluded that the children were killed by bullet wounds from arms fire.
The report also found evidence that the military had tampered with the crime scene. The commission also said the military failed to provide toxicology reports of the soldiers involved in the incident, which test for levels of inebriation or drug use, and refused to provide the commission with the findings of its own investigation.
A report by Human Rights Watch, "Uniform Impunity," showed that Mexico routinely fails to hold accountable members of the military who commit human rights violations, in large part because most cases are investigated and prosecuted by the military itself through a system that lacks basic safeguards to ensure independence and impartiality.
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights mandated in November 2009 that Mexico reform its military justice code to exclude cases involving human rights violations from military courts-a ruling Mexico has not yet implemented.
"There is no clearer illustration of why Mexico needs to act immediately to implement the Inter-American Court ruling," Vivanco said. "Civilian prosecutors should investigate those responsible for the deaths of these children and bring them to justice."