CPJ lists Mexico, Colombia and Brazil in its annual Global Impunity Index

By Samantha Badgen

Three Latin American countries were listed in the latest edition of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) Global Impunity Index. Mexico, Colombia and Brazil occupied, respectively, the seventh, eighth and eleventh place on the list.

Each year, CPJ estimates which are the countries where authorities fail the most frequently to solve crimes against journalists. The organization determines their ranking by comparing the number of unsolved journalist killings in relation to each country’s population. In the 2014 index, CPJ examined the killings that took place between 2004 and 2013.

Mexico has 16 unsolved cases, Colombia has six and Brasil has nine.

“Justice continued to evade Mexican journalists who face unrelenting violence for reporting on crime and corruption,” said CPJ, noting that a total of 16 journalists were killed with absolute impunity in the ten-year period analyzed by the organization. One more, Gregorio Jimenez, was killed in Veracruz earlier this year.

Colombia moved from the fifth to eighth place in the index, but not because of better implementation of justice but because of the general decline in the number of killed journalists. No one has been sentenced for killing a journalist in Colombia since 2009, when three former public workers were sentenced for planning the killing of Jose Emeterio Rivas in 2003.

Investigations in Colombia are set back because of problems like an overwhelming number of pending cases, the lack of information exchange, the inadequate manipulation of evidence and judicial  corruption. The absence of new and effective judicial processes continue to threaten the fragile improvements of Colombia’s situation, and the 2013 deaths of Edison Alberto Molina and cameraman Yonni Steven Calcedo broke a three-year pause in killings.

Brazil’s place on the list has gone up and down in recent years depending on the advances in the judicial processes against journalists' killers and the emerence of new cases. Last year the courts obtained three convictions in some cases, like in the 2002 killing of Domingos Savio Brandão Lima Junior, owner, director and columnist of a newspaper known for its coverage of organized crime, which set precedents for being one of the few cases on a global scale that managed to get complete justice.

But new acts of violence deter these advances. In 2013, journalist and blogger Décio Sá and political reporter Mario Randolfo Marques Lopes were shot to death in Brzsil in relation to their work as journalists; the Brazilian government has promised to enact new measures in the face of their impunity index, like a bill that would allow federal police the right to investigate crimes against freedom of expression where local authorities fail.

“How fully these will be adopted and implemented over the next year will be a litmus test for the government’s political will to up the fight for justice beyond rhetoric,” CPJ said.

Similarly, Mexico adopted a law that implements a constitutional amendment to allow federal authorities larger powers to arrest those responsible for crimes committed against journalists. The law would put more power in higher government officials, which would avoid the state government officers, who have higher corruption and inefficiency indexes.

But there are critics who say that the special prosecutors' office created to direct these sorts of investigations has taken too long to exercise its new powers to clarify investigations like the killing of Regina Martinez Perez or the attack on J. Jesus Blancornelas, sowing worries that President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government is not capable of putting an end to the cycle of impunity and violence in Mexico.

Ten of the 13 countries in the index have been listed in it every year since CPJ began making these reports in 2008, and in eight of those countries there were journalists killed during 2013.

Mexico, Colombia and Brazil appeared in the index along with Irak, Somalia, The Phillipines, Sri Lanka, Syria (the most dangerous country for journalists today), Afghanistan, Pakistan, Russia, Nigeria and India, in that order.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.