Mexico’s transparency and access to information agency has denied a request for information about a gun battle last year that has drawn claims of extrajudicial killings by security forces.
The National Institute for Transparency and Access to Information (Inai) denied the request filed by The Associated Press (AP), in in connection with the clash between an alleged criminal gang and federal forces in Tanhuato, Michoacán on May 22, 2015.
Last October, the AP requested the release of autopsy reports on the 42 people killed by Federal Police, after the one-sided death toll drew suspicions. One police officer died in the confrontation.
But Inai refused, ruling that the information must be considered a state secret for the next five years.
The institute also rejected accusations that any human rights violations occurred at the ranch where the shooting occurred. After reviewing a 12-volume report on the Tanhuato events, it said the evidence indicated Federal Police acted within the law.
“No sustainable elements were found in regards to willful misconduct on the part of the Mexican state that could suggest there was any arbitrary, summary or illegal execution [at the ranch]”, the agency said, adding that “there was no indication . . . of any suspicious or unclear conduct on the part of security forces.”
In broader terms, Inai stated that “there was no indication of acts that would constitute serious rights violations” of any kind.
Last October the AP filed an initial information request – that included ballistic and autopsy reports – with the Attorney General’s office, which denied it on the grounds that publicizing such information would jeopardize its investigation.
The AP then appealed that denial before Inai under a rule that permits redacted versions of reports to be released in cases involving serious human rights violations, of which the institute said it found no evidence.
The Tanhuato case was one of three with suspiciously lopsided death tolls in Mexico cited in a report issued Wednesday by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR). It said the cases ”call for a review of the use of force in Mexico in keeping with the principles of legality, absolute necessity and proportionality.”
The commission said Mexico’s military forces have stopped publicly reporting the number of suspects killed by troops, which it deemed “a gradual regression in terms of active transparency policies and public information access.”
Human Rights Watch said last October that witnesses reported police killed unarmed civilians after the fighting was over in Tanhuato. The organization’s Americas director, Jose Miguel Vivanco, said Inai’s decision was “a step backward for the institute.”
“With this ruling the Inai is not only abandoning its basic principles of openness and transparency, it’s also giving the Attorney General’s office a green light to withhold information about serious human rights abuses,” said Vivanco.