Armed civilians fired at police during a fatal confrontation between teachers and police in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, last year but the latter used excessive force in a bungled operation, says a human rights report.
Seven people died during the June 19 operation led by the Federal Police that intended to clear a highway blockade erected by the CNTE teachers’ union. A further 174 protestors and 106 police officers were wounded.
National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) president Luis Raúl González Pérez and representative Enrique Guadarrama López yesterday presented the organization’s findings and recommendations in relation to the incident, during which Guadarrama said that police committed “serious violations of human rights through the excessive use of force.”
However, he also added that “it must be noted that [among]. . . protestors there were also people who shot at police and threw rockets . . . causing police officers to be wounded.”
González specified that four officers had suffered gunshot wounds.
The violent clash was preceded by years of protests by the powerful CNTE union against education reforms introduced by the federal government shortly after President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in late 2012, while the roadblock security forces were trying to disband had been in place for almost a week.
At 4:30am on the day of the confrontation, a notary public attested that no police officers were carrying firearms, but the “CNDH confirmed that not all vehicles and police were subjected to the certification” and said that 76 state police officers had requested their weapons from a safe deposit on the day of the incident.
At 7:40am, police officers advanced towards the blockade and gave “verbal commands” to the participants to withdraw.
However, the protestors instead launched an attack on the police “with stones, sticks, machetes and Molotov cocktails . . .” the CNDH said.
Police responded by using tear gas against the protestors causing them to disperse and form new blockades at different points in the area. The CNDH said that “from 8:20am firearms were used” but while it was unable to determine whether police or protestors were the first to open fire, “the first persons wounded by firearms were civilians” between 8:30am and 9:30am.
The first police officer was hurt at 8:25am when struck by a rocket while the first gunshot wound to a police officer was at 9:30am.
By 10:40am, six of the seven people who died from gunshot wounds had been injured at the site of a new roadblock near the Nochixtlán municipal cemetery, the CNDH said.
The Oaxaca Secretariat of Public Security has declared that its officers did not shoot, but the CNDH says there is testimonial and photographic evidence to the contrary, although it still remained unclear exactly who was responsible for each death that occurred. In some cases, wounds were caused by bullets that matched both state and federal police firearms.
González said that the operation to clear the highway was improperly designed, prepared, coordinated and executed and that state police officers were not adequately supervised before the operation, which resulted in some of them being armed while it took place. Others were not properly trained.
Poor coordination between police, a nonexistent chain of command and a lack of intelligence about the situation resulted in a serious violation of human rights that also affected third parties that were not actively involved in the roadblock, including children, women and the elderly, he said.