United Nations announces award in honor of slain Mexican journalists Javier Valdez and Miroslava Breach

Just one year after Miroslava Breach was killed in Chihuahua, the United Nations Office in Mexico announced a press freedom award to honor the journalist and her colleague Javier Valdez, both murdered in 2017.

The Breach/Valdez Award for Journalism and Human Rights is organized by the Center of Information of the United Nations (CINU, for its acronym in Spanish), the Office in Mexico of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (ONU-DH), the Ibero-American University, the Press and Democracy Program (PRENDE), Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the French Embassy in Mexico.

The award “recognize[s] the career of journalists in Mexico who have excelled in journalistic investigation for human rights,” according to a UN press release. It is also a show of “support and recognition of the work of all journalists who risk their lives in Mexico on a daily basis.”

Various representatives from the organizations supporting the award spoke at a March 22 ceremony launching the prize. Individual representatives mentioned the overwhelming problem of impunity, how most attacks against journalists come from public officials and security agents and the link between the press and democracy. Additionally, Giancarlo Summa, director of the Center of Information of the United Nations, said “we want to encourage authorities to make real and effective initiatives to end impunity and to really put in place the protection mechanisms for journalists,” according to the release.

Valdez, an award-winning journalist known internationally for his coverage of drug trafficking in Sinaloa, was shot 12 times in broad daylight on May 15, 2017 just blocks from his office. He was a co-founder of newspaper Ríodoce, author of various books on drug trafficking in the region and mentor for many visiting journalists from around the world who reported on the area.

Just months earlier, Miroslava Breach was shot on March 23 while leaving her home and getting into her vehicle in Chihuahua. She was a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience and was editorial director for Norte in Ciudad Juárez. She was also a correspondent for La Jornada and El Diario de Chihuahua.

Both Ríodoce and Norte are keeping running counts of the numbers of days that have passed since the murders of Valdez and Breach and have webpages dedicated to coverage of their cases and the resulting impunity.

“The name of the [Breach/Valdez] award…is a tribute and responds to the strong and terrible symbolism that the surnames Breach and Valdez acquired in Mexico because by assassinating them in 2017, the perpetrators sent a very worrying message: no journalist, not even though with international recognition, is safe from violence in particular when they attack corruption in this country,” the release said, in the name of the organizers of the prize.

Griselda Triana, a communications professional and widow of Javier Valdez, also spoke at the event and mentioned the March 21 death of journalist Leobardo Vázquez Atzin who was killed in Veracruz and became the third journalist murdered in Mexico this year.

“There is no indication that crimes against journalists will stop. So, that this award launched today, serves to all brave journalists of this country to continue fighting, because your work is a constant fight against a system that not only has been incapable of providing guarantees to practice journalism but is killing them once again when there is no justice,” Triana said.

“Do not feel discouraged to keep writing,” she said. “That we have millions of victims in this country who have a lot to say and you have a lot to tell; that right nothing or no one should take away, that it is an incentive not to back down because this incapable system can’t beat you and it can’t beat us.”

Another award was announced in Breach’s honor in October 2017. The Miroslava Breach Prize recognizes academic and journalistic works focusing on “Systems of power and violence against journalists in Latin America.”

The winning article this year was “Silence the voices, hide the truth. Violence against journalists in Veracruz,”by Dr. Celia del Palacio, coordinator of the Center for the Study of Culture and Communication of Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico and Dr. Alberto J. Olvera, research of the Institute of Historical-Social Research of Universidad Veracruzana. Veracruz is considered the most dangerous state to practice journalism in Mexico.