For Immediate Release
The International Forensic Program (IFP) of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) recommends a thorough and wider inquiry following its comprehensive forensic review of the ongoing investigation by Mexico's Attorney General (Procuraduria General de la Republica-PGR) into the October, 2006 death of 36-year-old American Brad Will. Will, a video-journalist for Indymedia.org, died of gunshot wounds while covering violent protests in the state of Oaxaca. At issue in this case is whether Will was killed by bullets fired at close range from within the crowd of protestors, or from a greater distance by paramilitary forces. At least 17 other reported deaths related to protests in Oaxaca since 1996 remain unresolved.
The PHR review indicates shortcomings in efforts to locate all firearms in the possession of police, paramilitaries, and others who were present at the scene; a singular focus by Mexican authorities on a working hypothesis that the gunshots originated from Will's immediate surroundings; and failure to investigate other instances of injuries or deaths in Oaxaca that might reveal a pattern of violence leading to the perpetrator(s).
PHR conducted their review of the investigation at the request of both Amnesty International and the attorney for the Will family, and with the full cooperation of the PGR. The four person team, which included veteran experts in the areas of fire arms examination, forensic pathology, and crime scene and criminal investigation, reviewed the progress of the investigation to date, including all physical evidence and documentation currently in the custody of the PGR. The PHR team's full findings have been submitted to the PGR and the Will family's attorney in a private report.
Based on PHR's review and in light of allegations of corruption and mismanagement of the investigation by Oaxacan authorities, PHR recommends an exhaustive and complete federal-level inquiry into Will's death and into those of others killed and injured in political violence in Oaxaca during the past two years. PHR calls on the PGR to investigate seriously the real possibility that the shots that fatally wounded Brad Will were fired from a distance rather than from his immediate surroundings. Continued independent review of the PGR investigation should be conducted until all involved parties are satisfied that a transparent, thorough investigation into the violence in Oaxaca has been conducted.
"The perpetrators of Brad Will's homicide can best be held accountable if his death is investigated within the context of a larger pattern of violence," says Schmitt, Director of the International Forensic Program at PHR. "A team needs to be put together by the Mexican authorities that is dedicated to conducting an overall investigation. Such a team needs to have the appropriate resources and mandate to do the job. Additionally, victim advocate support should be made available to help affected families navigate the investigation and the judicial process, and to establish a level of trust between witnesses and investigators."
"The serious human rights violations committed in Oaxaca during the political crisis beginning in 2006 have still not been adequately investigated and those responsible for at least eighteen deaths have not been held to account," stated Rupert Knox, Researcher of Amnesty International's Mexico Team. "The PGR's decision last year to not pursue investigations into the other killings in Oaxaca, beyond the Brad Will case, was a set back for justice. This decision must be reversed immediately so that an independent and effective investigation can occur to ensure justice and reparations for the victims and their families."
Widespread protests demanding the resignation of the State Governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, have been ongoing in Oaxaca since June 2006. Violence has sporadically erupted between the opposition movement and state and federal security forces during this time. Recent allegations of corruption against local officials have led to a number of arrests and investigations against authorities in the Oaxacan government.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.