UN, IACHR: Aggression against journalists is the most direct and significant threat against freedom of expression in Mexico

While Mexico is preparing for the general elections on July 1, the recent joint report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations (UN) urges the country’s government to guarantee the safety of journalists covering the electoral process as they are vulnerable to threats and physical aggression by political actors and third parties.

Special Rapporteurs David Kaye (UN) and Edison Lanza (IACHR)

Special Rapporteurs David Kaye (UN) and Edison Lanza (IACHR)

The Special Rapporteurship for Freedom of Expression of the IACHR and the Office of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression of the UN were invited last year by the Mexican government to prepare a full report on the situation of human rights in that country.

Led by its Rapporteurs, Edison Lanza (IACHR) and David Kaye (UN), the mission visited five states in which most murders and attacks against journalists have been recorded in recent years: Mexico City, Guerrero, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.

In the report, the Rapporteurs concluded that Mexico is going through a deep security crisis that seriously affects the human rights of its population. According to the report, the widespread weakening of the rule of law and governance at the local level facilitates and increases the number of homicides, disappearances and torture, of which journalists are often the victims.

To prepare this, the Rapporteurs met between November 27 and December 4, 2017 with more than 250 journalists, media outlets, diplomatic missions and representatives of civil society from 21 federal bodies of the five states visited. .

Government officials, journalists and non-governmental organizations told Kaye and Lanza during their visit to Mexico that organized crime had managed to infiltrate public life in the country, mainly at the state and municipal levels.

Regarding the impunity of crimes committed against journalists in recent years, the report noted that "Mexico has made little  if any progress in eradicating impunity since 2010.”

“The impunity for killings and other attacks against journalists has been documented by government institutions and civil society organizations, suggesting that at least 99.6% of the crimes remains unsolved,” the report said. This was considered by the Rapporteurs as something inadmissible on the part of the Mexican government that still does not investigate the crimes committed against journalists and without judging those responsible.

The Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Feadle), created in 2010, has not helped to combat impunity or restore public confidence, according to the report. Between 2014 and 2018, the report notes, the Feadle has seen its budget reduced by more than 50 percent.

“Journalists, victims, civil society organizations and the National Human Rights Commission led the Special Rapporteur to conclude that Feadle lacks effective investigative plans, does not exhaust all lines of inquiry, does not identify all individuals responsible for the crimes (including masterminds and accomplices), and does not analyze the context in which the crimes took place,” the report said. The security of witnesses is not protected either and the police and forensic evidence is not gathered or preserved in an effective manner, according to the information and statements received by the Rapporteurs.

Of the 84 murders of journalists committed in Mexico since 2010, the Feadle determined that 37 of these would not have been motivated by the victim’s journalistic work. Of the 47 crimes in which a link was identified to the journalistic work of the victim, there are 28 pending investigations, 16 investigations that have been closed or suspended, and only in 3 cases have criminal proceedings been opened, the report explained.

Therefore, the Rapporteurs asked the Government to increase the Feadle budget, strengthen the capacity of its investigators and prosecutors and ensure its independence as a specialized prosecutor within the structure of the Attorney General's Office (PGR).

Regarding what was said in the report on the Feadle, the human rights organization Article 19 of Mexico said in a press release that both the entity and the state law enforcement agencies have adhered to restrictive and excluding definitions and criteria regarding who should be considered a journalist, and that for political reasons the journalistic work has been dismissed as motive of the crimes and the investigations have been carried out without minimum technical standards and protection of the victims' human rights.

The Rapporteurs urged all Mexican authorities to adopt a comprehensive definition of a journalist, such as that established by the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico, which defines a journalist  as every person who gathers, creates, processes, edits, comments, thinks, disseminates, publishes or provides information through any media, whether on an temporary or permanent basis. This includes communicators, media and their facilities and their workers, according to the report.

Another concern highlighted in the Rapporteurs' report is digital attacks against journalists and their sources, harassment through social networks and the unsupervised secret surveillance. These are the most recent and alarming challenges, the report said.

Also, among the main topics analyzed in the report is that of journalists displaced by violence. According to the report, the majority of displaced journalists relocate mostly in Mexico City, in other states or even in other countries. Some displaced journalists have been murdered in the host state. What the Rapporteurs have been able to conclude is that there is no comprehensive strategy to protect them, much less a safe way to return or be properly relocated.

Recently, Desplazados, the group that represents Mexican journalists who have had to leave their state because of security issues as a result of their work, submitted a report on internal displacement to the UN Human Rights Council. In the report, the representative of the group, Gildo Garza, said that between 2009 and 2017, 70 journalists have been forced to flee with their families, as published by organization Capital CDMX on its site.

"The forced displacement of journalists has several impacts: economic, labor, social and especially on freedom of expression, the communities where these journalists (resided) have no information: Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Guerrero, Sinaloa, Chiapas, Chihuahua and others states of Mexico are recognized by the IACHR in their report as silenced zones," Garza said.

The organizations Article 19 of Mexico, the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, Fundar, Center for Analysis and Research and R3D, Network in Defense of Digital Rights, signed a joint statement in which they make a call to the Mexican government to recognize the Rapporteurs’ report and to comply with their recommendations in order to guarantee the comprehensive protection of journalists.