Mexico’s human rights body said on Thursday that the country’s police force carried out 22 extrajudicial executions on a ranch in Tanhuato in the western state of Michoacan in May 2015.
The Mexican Government’s National Human Rights Commission, CNDH, said that the 22 executions took place during a raid on the ranch by federal police who ambushed and killed 42 suspected members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, JNG.
"The investigation confirmed facts that show grave human rights violations attributable to public servants of the federal police," commission President Luis Raul Gonzalez Perez said.
The human rights body says that the police moved seven dead bodies, planted guns and lied about their actions in the raid. Police are also alleged to have burned two bodies and tortured two people once they were arrested. One policeman was killed in the battle.
The raid was backed by a Black Hawk helicopter which reportedly shot around 4,000 rounds that reportedly killed five people. The deaths of 15 other victims was unable to be established, said CNDH President Raul Gonzalez.
The CNDH has called the raid one of the country’s worst cases of violence by security forces in a long and violent drug war.
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Human rights advocates have constantly called on authorities to uphold higher standards amidst the drug war’s ongoing violence. In a press conference, Mexico's National Security Commissioner Renato Sales said that he did not accept that police carried out the alleged executions, but rather “acted in legitimate defense” against “imminent and unlawful aggression.”
The CNDH report suggests that police raided the ranch early in the morning – when many of the suspected cartel members were sleeping – with conflicting evidence as to how the victims were killed.
The report puts further pressure on President Enrique Peña Nieto, whose government is widely unpopular amid rampant violence, corruption and crime – which he vowed to change after coming to power in 2012. His administration, along with federal authorities, have been criticized for their investigation into Mexico’s tens of thousands of people who have gone missing recently.
The government has also been accused by Mexican opposition forces and popular movements of covering up 10 deaths in Oaxaca from June.
Mexico’s drug war has been continuing for over a decade and has claimed over 100,000 lives fueled by violent criminal organizations with significant smuggling operations between Mexico and the U.S.
Mexican police killed 17 people for every policeman lost in gun battles during 2014, a study by Mexico's National Autonomous University found.