Journalists are one of the most affected groups in the midst of Mexico’s “human rights crisis”: IACHR report

Mexico is experiencing a “serious human rights crisis,” according to the recent report “Situation of Human Rights in Mexico” from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). According to the organization, the high rates of forced disappearances, torture, citizen insecurity, restricted access to justice and impunity generate special concern.

Journalists are one of the “groups especially affected” by this violence to such an extent that in the last decade, Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist, the report warns.

According to figures from the Mexican National Human Rights Commission (CNDH by its initials in Spanish), there have been 107 registered murders of journalists in the country between 2000 and September 2015, the report says.

Violence is perpetrated against defenders and journalists “to silence the allegations and the cries for truth and justice, as well as to perpetuate impunity for grave human rights violations,” it states.

The majority of these victims were reporters that reported on cases of administrative corruption, narcotrafficking, organized crime or public security. The situation is more serious in those places where organized crime has greater control, on occasion, with State agent complicity.

Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Guerrero, Chihuahua and Oaxaca are the states with the highest number of homicides of journalists between the year 2000 and August 2015, according to the report. Six out of every 10 murders took place in one of those states, the report adds.

The IACHR also called attention to the high number of forced disappearances in the country, a number that also includes journalists. According to the CNDH, between 2005 and September 2015, there were 20 registered cases of disappeared journalists. During 2015, the Commission learned about three kidnapping cases.

On this subject, in February 2015, the organization Artículo 19 México published a report that affirms that Mexico is the country with the most disappeared journalists in the world. According to this organization, between 2003 and 2015 there has been an average of two disappearances of journalists per year for a total of 23 disappeared journalists.

The Commission also expressed its concern over other kinds of attacks against the press such as death threats, intimidation, surveillance, attacks against media infrastructure, cyber attacks, as well as cases of breaking into to the homes of reporters and thefts of press equipment or documents.

Impunity: failures in investigations and the mechanism of protection

Crimes against journalists are not exempt from generalized impunity in the country. By 2013, the CNDH was talking about an 89 percent rate of impunity in these crimes, which include homicides, disappearances and attacks against media outlets, the report states.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) ranked Mexico eighth in its 2015 Global Impunity Index, a list that includes the “countries where journalists are slain and the killers go free.”

For the Commission and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, one of the causes of impunity in these cases is “the wrongful influence of organized crime over the judicial system and police officers with illegal pressure to change the course of investigations.

The report highlighted the “intimidation factor” that attacks against journalists, especially the murders, have, not just on their colleagues, but also on the citizenry in general. For the IACHR, “when those who assault journalists go unpunished, the wrong message is sent and journalists and communicators are left unprotected.”

Beyond impunity, the report also details the flaws of the protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders, which has 463 beneficiaries—among them, 190 are journalists.

Despite being the second country in the region in establishing this kind of protection mechanism, the lack of resources for its operation, the lack of collaboration between the country’s governmental agencies, as well as distrust of the mechanism generated as a result of the attacks against those who are under its protection, continue to be problems.

For example, the report mentioned the case of photojournalist Rubén Espinosa who left Veracruz to seek refuge in Mexico City due to threats he had received. However, he was murdered in August 2015 without having asked for help from the protection mechanism because of his distrust of the mechanism.

It also highlighted the case of Moisés Sanchez Cerezo, kidnapped on Jan. 2 from his home in Veracruz, whose body was found 22 days later. The IACHR critiqued that the Special Prosecutor’s Office for the Attention to Crimes Committed against Freedom of Speech (FEADLE by its initials in Spanish), created by the protection mechanism precisely to investigate these crimes, had not pursued this case despite “indications” showing a connection between his murder and his work as a journalist.

“The Commission is concerned that the very same investigative entity utilizing different arguments creates its own obstacles for leading the investigation. These may very well have a negative impact on the investigation, especially when it comes to identifying masterminds for prosecution,” the report says.

In the case of Sánchez Cerezo, last February a federal judge ordered the Attorney General’s office to investigate his murder through the FEADLE.

In addition to the flaws of the FEADLE when pursuing cases, the Commission also critiqued the lack of special protocols to investigate crimes against journalists that include their work as journalists as the first line of investigation.

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.