Mexico: rights commission faults army in students' deaths
On Aug. 12 the Mexican government's National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) issued recommendations in the case of two graduate students killed the early morning of March 19 during a gunfight between soldiers and alleged drug cartel members in front of the prestigious Institute of Technology and Higher Education's Monterrey campus (ITESM) at Monterrey in the northern state of Nuevo León. The incident took place as part of a heavily militarized "war on drugs" that President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa put into motion shortly after taking office in December 2006; the government and the army claim that most of the thousands of victims are cartel members.
The CNDH said it couldn't determine who killed the students, Jorge Antonio Mercado Alonso and Javier Francisco Arredondo Verdugo, because the military and state authorities had created obstacles to the investigation, including the alteration of the crime scene. However, it found that the "irregularities detected imply a failure to fulfill the public function of obtaining justice" and resulted in a violation of the human rights of the victims and their families. The CNDH also criticized the military for shooting with high-powered weapons so close to a university campus, and called on the military to pay compensation to the victims' families and to improve its handling of investigations.
According to the CNDH, the victims' bodies were moved, weapons were planted near them, and an ITESM security camera that recorded the incident was destroyed. The military initially claimed that the students were drug cartel employees; military spokespeople said later that the students died in crossfire between the military and cartel members. The CNDH noted that according to the forensic evidence the students didn't die immediately from their wounds and received injuries in their faces while still alive—in other words, they were beaten as they lay dying. (La Jornada, Mexico, Aug. 13)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Aug. 15.