In Latin America and the Caribbean, a vast majority of murders of journalists go unpunished; Mexico and Brazil lead impunity in the region and world

To mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, commemorated annually on Nov. 2, various organizations launched special reports that reveal Mexico as not only the deadliest country in Latin America for journalists, but a global leader in that undesirable category. Along with Brazil, it is also one of the worst countries in the world for convictions of murderers of journalists.

In Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, 78 percent of the murders of journalists that occurred between 2006 and 2019 remain unsolved, according to a recent UNESCO report. Sixty-one cases have been resolved, while 207 are ongoing or not resolved.

Mexico and Brazil are the only Latin American countries to rank in the top 12 countries worldwide for the highest percentage of unsolved murders of journalists according to population size, according to the 2020 Global Impunity Index from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The index ranks Mexico 6th, with 26 unsolved murders, and Brazil 8th, with 15 unsolved murders, for the 10-year period from Sept. 1, 2010 to Aug. 31, 2020.

CPJ again pointed to Mexico as “the deadliest country for journalists in the Western hemisphere.” In a special report on the country, the organization noted successful convictions in the 2017 murders of Miroslava Breach Velducea in Chihuahua and Javier Valdez Cárdenas in Sinaloa. However, “the suspected masterminds remain at large” in both cases.

“The office of the Special Prosecutor for Attention to Crimes Committed Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE) — a dependency of the Mexico City-based federal attorney general’s office, which was created in 2010 to address the growing number of killings of journalists — has, under [President Andrés Manuel] López Obrador, shied away from proactively prosecuting murder cases,” wrote Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ Mexico Representative.

Four journalists have been killed in direct retaliation for their work so far in 2020, according to CPJ. There is one additional case this year in which the motive is unconfirmed by CPJ. Radio anchor Fidel Ávila Gómez went missing in November 2019 and his body was found on Jan 7, 2020 in Michoacán state. Since CPJ published its report, broadcast journalist Arturo Alba was shot and killed in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua on Oct. 29.

In Brazil, CPJ highlighted the case of Jairo Souza, a broadcast reporter for Rádio Pérola killed in Bragança, located in the northern coastal area of the country, on June 21, 2018. He was shot in the back early in the morning upon arriving at the station where he hosted a daily program. He reported on corruption, homicides and drug trafficking at several radio stations, CPJ reported.

So far this year, CPJ has not recorded any murders of journalists in Brazil that were directly related to their work. It is keeping track of the killing of Leonardo Pinheiro, owner of Facebook news page “A Voz Araruamense,” who was shot in Araruama on May 13, 2020. However, the motive in that case is unconfirmed.

For the index, CPJ calculates the number of unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population. Murders are only included if they are the “deliberate killing of a specific journalist in retaliation for the victim’s work.” They are considered unsolved if no convictions have been made in the case.

UNESCO report reveals high impunity numbers for Latin America

In commemoration of this day, UNESCO published the main points of the UNESCO Director-General’s Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity. The report monitors the murders of journalists around the world as part of the United Nations system.

Among the main conclusions, the report highlighted the recording of 156 murders of journalists around the world during 2018 and 2019. This means that on average during the last decade, a journalist is murdered every four days. In 2019, the lowest number of deaths in the last decade was registered with 57 cases.

However, Latin America and the Caribbean had the highest number of fatal attacks in 2019 with 23 recorded cases, which represent 40 percent of all murders worldwide. Mexico, with 12 murders, led the list of deadliest countries. Colombia and Honduras also appear (with three records each), Brazil (2) and Chile (1).

In 2018, the region ranked second despite having more murders. That year there were 26 murders that represent 32 percent of those that took place in the world. Mexico recorded 13 murders that ranked it second after Afghanistan. Also on the list were Colombia (with  five murders), Brazil (4), Guatemala (2), El Salvador (1) and Nicaragua (1).

One of the aspects the organization pointed to in particular is that most of these crimes globally occurred in countries without armed conflicts. The report also highlights that local journalists remain the main targets and television journalists the most vulnerable to attack.

Impunity for crimes against journalists remains one of UNESCO's greatest concerns. However, it highlighted that 71 percent of the States responded to UNESCO's request to send information on the progress of investigations into these crimes.

To commemorate this day, UNESCO also launched the global campaign “Protect journalists. Protect the truth” and announced that the main session of this Day will take place during the World Press Freedom Conference – to be held on Dec. 9 and 10.