Brutal police operation in Mexico: German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch responsible

Mexico – Arms exports – Heckler & Koch

In February 2019, the Regional Court in Stuttgart (Germany) convicted employees of the arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch in a case concerning the illegal shipment of assault rifles to Mexico. The court investigated whether, between 2006 and 2009, Heckler & Koch sold Type G36 rifles to the police in the Mexican state of Guerrero despite the fact that the German authorities had not licensed these exports. The judges came to the conclusion that the authorization for the export of more than 4200 assault rifles had been obtained by means of intentionally inaccurate end-user certificates.


The case against Heckler & Koch was especially notable because of a police operation in the town of Iguala on the night of 27 September 2014 when security forces attacked college students from Ayotzinapa. During the police operation, seven students were killed and 43 were forcefully “disappeared” and reportedly handed over to a criminal syndicate. There is still no trace of the students. Many other students were left injured, among them Aldo Gutiérrez Solano who has been in a coma ever since. Mexican investigators found that at least seven policemen fired G36 rifles that originated from the unauthorized shipment.

In September 2016, ECCHR requested access to the case files of the Stuttgart proceedings on behalf of Gutiérrez Solano, whose interests are represented by his parents. This marked a first step towards justice for those affected by the export of these German arms. ECCHR’s intervention was intended to highlight that legal proceedings against arms exporters need to take more than just German trade law into consideration. However, the request was denied. As a result, the concrete consequences for those affected by the arms shipment in the recipient countries were ignored.


In the case of the illegal export of G36 assault rifles, several Mexican states, which the German government had evidently classified as high-risk, were not listed as recipients in the end-user certificates (EUC). Nonetheless, the rifles ended up there. Those who bore the brunt of the suffering – as is so often the case – were civilians. Up until now, the EUCs have been a core feature of the German and European arms export control system. They serve to document in advance to the German licensing authorities where exported weapons will be deployed.


Action in memory of the 42 "disappeared" students from Ayotzinapa (Mexico). © Photo: Ohne Rüstung Leben
Action in memory of the 42 "disappeared" students from Ayotzinapa (Mexico). © Photo: Ohne Rüstung Leben

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glossary (4)


Enforced disappearance

Enforced disappearance is a tool of state repression used predominantly in authoritarian states. It occurs when state forces bring a person within their control, and refuse to give any information about the person’s whereabouts.

In many cases a disappearance leads to torture and/or murder. Family members have no way of finding out the fate of their relative and the “disappeared” person is denied any possibility of legal protection. Enforced disappearance can constitute a crime against humanity.

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Arms exports

Arms exports to repressive regimes; the sale of arms components to conflict parties; the illegal trade of rifles – European arms and ammunition producers time and again overstep (international) law. Lax guidelines and insufficient export controls fuel the deadly business with European weapons. Transnational corporations and corrupt elites are the biggest winners of this system. Civilians in conflict regions, authoritarian states and elsewhere suffer the use of these arms – arms trade violates their safety instead of protecting it.

In 2014, the national security forces in the federal state of Guerrero in Mexico disappeared 43 students from a local university – a crucial role played an arms export by Heckler & Koch.

Despite extensive evidence of war crimes and other international crimes being committed in Yemen, several companies as RWM Italia (a subsidiary of German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall AG) continue to provide members of the Saudi-led coalition with weapons, ammunition and equipment.

Research conducted by human rights organizations indicates that the use of small arms, including those produced by European companies, can also lead to gender-specific injustice and the increase in violence against women – and not just in conflict regions.

One of the contradictions at the heart of the issue is that while corporations like Rheinmetall and Heckler & Koch profit from ongoing conflicts, the countries where these companies are based are in some cases providing humanitarian aid to the very population targeted by these arms.

ECCHR takes legal actions to challenge inadequate arms export controls and to hold political decision makers as well as European corporations to account.


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