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JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

UN and IACHR rapporteurs charge Mexican government with providing effective protection for country’s journalists



In Mexico, journalists live under the terror of violence and although the government has created mechanisms to protect these professionals, impunity and insecurity continue in the country. These are some of the conclusions of David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), after a one-week mission to Mexico.

The rapporteurs presented their preliminary findings at a joint conference held in Mexico City on Dec.4. "We see a fearful union in many parts of the Federation, terrified in some cases by what they have had to live and see, because they have lost colleagues, they themselves have been objects of various forms of aggression; because they have colleagues who are still disappeared and it is a reality that hits hard and impacts,” Lanza said, as reported by El Universal.

David Kaye (UN) and Edison Lanza (IACHR), Special Rapporteurs for Freedom of Expression, in Mexico. (Foto: Twitter @ONUDHMexico)

"Mexico is a democratic country and can not continue with this dynamic of violence and murders of journalists," he continued. "When compared to Syria and other countries of the world where there is conflict and authoritarianism, we believe that Mexico is worse off, because it is a democracy that, in many senses, aspires to be a developed country."

Since 2000, 111 journalists have been killed in Mexico; 38 since President Enrique Peña Nieto first took office.

In order to assess freedom of expression and the security of journalists in the country, the rapporteurs visited 21 Mexican states and met with more than 250 journalists and members of civil society organizations between Nov. 27 and Dec. 4, the IACHR said in a press release. On Dec. 4, they released preliminary observations about the visit, which was also an assessment of the progress made since 2010, when the last mission of UN and IACHR rapporteurs for freedom of expression went to the country.

In their preliminary report, Kaye and Lanza recognized as advances the creation of bodies such as the Specialized Prosecutor's Office for Attention to Crimes Against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE for its initials in Spanish), the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists and the Executive Committee on Victim Assistance (CEAV). However, they emphasized that "Mexico has made little if any progress in eradicating impunity.”

“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 percent of these crimes remain unsolved. It is unconscionable that the Mexican Government has failed to determine the circumstances in which at least twenty journalists have disappeared, locate their whereabouts and prosecute those responsible,” the rapporteurs wrote.

“The government must deal with the perception and the reality that it is very unusual for the perpetrators of this violence to be held responsible,” Kaye said, according to El Universal. The national effort, which has already been established in the infrastructure, with the protection mechanism and FEADLE, should have more resources. We need to see a very strong effort to improve the resources and capacity of the prosecutors.”

The rapporteurs also referred to FEADLE's investigation into the use of Pegasus software, allegedly used by Peña Nieto's government to spy on journalists and human rights activists.

“We are concerned that FEADLE, even with a good faith effort, lacks the independence to investigate this very serious issue. Indeed, the Attorney General’s Office of which FEADLE is a part, is alleged to be one of the purchasers of Pegasus,” Kaye and Lanza wrote in their preliminary observations. They affirmed that “any investigation should be independent of the federal and state governments alleged to have purchased or used the spyware and include experts from academic and civil society organizations, including potentially from outside of Mexico.”

The full report containing the final conclusions and recommendations of the UN and IACHR rapporteurs will be launched in 2018.

Mexican media outlets say “Enough already”

On the same day that Kaye and Lanza presented their diagnosis of threats to journalists and free speech in Mexico, 39 Mexican media companies, including newspapers, magazines and TV and radio broadcasters, issued a manifesto titled “Basta Ya” (“Enough Already”) in response to the attacks on the press in the country.

“The Mexican justice system, both in local and federal instances, has been overwhelmed by violence against the press that not only hits the journalistic sector but also damages its mission to ensure society's right to know, key to consolidating a democracy,” read the text, which was published simultaneously in newspapers such as El Universal, La Jornada, La Razón, El Economista and Milenio, TV and radio broadcasters like Univision, TV Azteca, Televisa and Radio Centro, as well as

The outlets accused organized crime of “annuling freedom of expression in entire regions of the country,” and included “public servants at the three levels of government” among the aggressors of the press and journalists. “Faced with this situation, governments, legislators, prosecutors, judges, police officers and other officials who are more committed to the need to provide protection schemes are urgently needed in Mexico. This commitment is required both from the federal government and the state and municipal governments, which are primarily responsible for ensuring the safety of communicators.”

The 39 media outlets also acknowledged their responsibility in making their own contribution "to protect journalists and companies.” The latter are called "to provide journalists with training schemes, social security, adequate wages and life insurance, especially in cases where they are performing coverage that represents a clear danger."

The outlets said they had agreed to develop a joint strategy to prevent attacks on journalists. They also proposed the creation of a working group to outline short, medium and long-term actions along these lines, as well as establishing goals to be achieved as a media industry and as a professional guild. The group will also open channels of communication with national and international human rights institutions and other entities seeking support for their goals. Finally, they committed to promoting a campaign to sensitize society to the challenges faced by the press in Mexico.

“The battle against impunity will only be effective if we have a society on our side that feels that with each murder of a journalist, their right to know, to participate –their very essence as citizens– is taken out of their hands,” they closed.

News agency EFE noted that this is the second "Basta Ya" released by media concerning the situation in Mexico in less than a year. On May 24, a few days after the murder of journalist Javier Valdez in Sinaloa, national and international outlets issued a similar appeal to denounce a "murderous offensive" against communicators in Mexico, demanding security and guarantees to the right to inform.

Additionally, after the murder of Valdez, the initiative Agenda de Periodistas was created and called together hundreds of journalists to discuss actions to take in order to stop attacks on journalists

Since then, at least five other media professionals have been murdered in the country: Mexicans Salvador AdameCándido Ríos VásquezJuan Carlos Hernández Ríos and Edgar Esqueda, as well as Honduran Edwin Rivera Paz.



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