More than half of cases reported to Mexico’s Protection Mechanism remain unreviewed

By Alejandro Martínez

Ten days after the sudden resignation of the head of Mexico's Mechanism to Protect Journalists Juan Carlos Gutiérrez Contreras, members of the federal agency's independent advisory group revealed that more than half of the cases of threats and attacks against journalists that the Mechanism has received in the last two years haven't been reviewed yet, Animal Político reported.

According to several members of the Mechanism's Consulting Council, out of the 152 cases that the office has received since it began operations in 2012, 88 of them -- or about 57.8 percent -- haven't been analyzed yet by the government board in charge of determining preventive and protective measures for journalists at risk.

"It's a delay that has been growing. Halfway through last year we already had a delay of forty cases, and with the changes of the last few weeks, like the departure of Juan Carlos Gutiérrez Contreras as the head of the Mechanism and four other persons, concerns have increased that the delay may worsen, especially because we haven't been able to put together a permanent, specialized team," said Edgar Cortez, member of the Consulting Council and representative of the Mexican Institute for Human Rights and Democracy, in an interview with Animal Político.

The members of the Consulting Council spoke a day after having sent a letter to Lia Limón, deputy secretary of Human Rights at Mexico's Department of Interior and supervisor of the Mechanism, in which they criticized the series of dismissals, reshuffling of personnel and reports of harassment and discrimination that have led to the departure of five people -- a third part of the Mechanism's staff -- in less than two weeks.

Far from helping improve the lives of threatened journalists and defenders the Mechanism’s internal flaws may be putting them in more danger, the letter said.

The members of the Consulting Council asked Limón to make it a priority to find Gutiérrez’s replacement, establish new work policies within the Mechanism and develop a detailed plan to solve the office’s operational problems.

They concluded the letter saying they would not meet with the government board until the Mechanism works properly.

The Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists was created in June 2012 amidst an unprecedented wave of violence against members of the press. Last year, press freedom organization Article 19 documented 330 violent attacks, including the killing of four journalists.

The office is run by the Unit for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights of the federal government’s Secretariat of Interior and is composed by a government board – a group of representatives from several law enforcement, diplomatic and human rights government agencies – and the Consulting Council, which represents civil society’s interests.

Gutiérrez resignation and the Consulting Council’s criticisms add to other concerns that have been voiced regarding the federal office in charge of offering protection and support to at-risk journalists.

Last year, exiled journalist Verónica Basurto Gamero said she left the country after two months of repeated threats and the Mechanism’s inability to protect her. Last week, the regional director of Article 19 Darío Ramírez criticized the Mechanism’s lack of response when he reported a home break-in on Mar. 16.

“The hope (because in the end that’s what it was) was that someone with that phantasmagoric Protection Mechanism would help me and give me a prompt and opportune response. Unsurprisingly, no one answered. The Secretariat of Interior was on an extended break. I was able to see for myself that the Mechanism, which is celebrated in every international human rights forum, is incredibly inefficient and slow,” Ramírez wrote in a recent column.

The non-profit Peace Brigades International (PBI) has noted that some of the Mechanism’s functions established by the law have not been implemented yet or need to be improved for the office to operate adequately. PBI pointed out that the Mechanism needs to install its promised Prevention, Follow up and Analysis Unit, expedite its response time to high-risk cases and improve the implementation of safety measures after they’ve been recommended.

PBI also underscored problems in other areas, like human resources (lack of tact and training and frequent changes in personnel), financing, lack of cooperation with state governments, and its almost null effect in abating impunity.

“Although the Attorney General's Office has a specific role in the implementation of the Mechanism, it has not had a significant impact, particularly in the identification and indictment of perpetrators of attacks against defenders,” PBI said. “Without investigations and judicial processes, conducted in line with international standards, the protection measures granted may be rendered insufficient and the Mechanism will become unsustainable in the long term.”

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.