Human Rights Watch on Aug. 22 called on Mexico's government to ensure an "impartial and effective" investigation into the killing of 22 civilians by soldiers on June 30, during an alleged confrontation at an empty warehouse at Tlatlaya, a town in the mountains of central Mexico state. Witness accounts have cast doubt on the official version of events, HRW found.

A press release from the National Defense Secretariat (SEDENA) said soldiers responded to gunfire when they raided the warehouse. The SEDENA statement said the soldiers later found 38 firearms, a grenade, and several cartridges in the warehouse, and liberated three women who had been kidnapped. On July 1, the governor of Mexico state, Eruviel Ávila Villegas, said that the soldiers had acted "in legitimate defense" and "taken down delinquents." However, an Associated Press reporter who visited the area three days after the incident filed a story July 8 saying there was "little evidence of sustained fighting," and that he found only a small number of bullet holes in the warehouse walls. In other words, what happened seems to have been a massacre rather than a shoot-out. Government officials have yet to disclose the names of those killed or the status of the investigation. "It's been two months since soldiers killed 22 civilians in Tlatlaya, and there are more questions than answers about what really took place that day," said HRW Americas director José Miguel Vivanco

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) also visited the site, and expressed concern with the official version of events. The OHCR team said that they did not find signs of stray bullets of the type that would be left by soldiers shooting automatic weapons from a distance -- again pointing to the possibility of executions at close range.

Mexico's security forces are under growing pressure from international human rights groups. Almost exatcly a year before the Tlatlaya massacre, Amnesty International (AI) urged Mexican lawmakers to reform the nation's military justice system to combat abuses committed by army and navy personnel. Also last June, AI called on the Mexican government to investigate the disappearances of thousands of people -- and acknowledge the government's involvement in the disappearances. AI's report stated 26,121 people were reported disappeared or missing between December 2006 and December 2012, and 40 percent of the cases were not even investigated. Earlier that year, HRW also reported that Mexican security forces have participated in widespread "disappearances." The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns meanwhile urged the Mexican government to address the military's use of force against civilians.

(Photo c/o NY Daily News)