Challenges and Opportunities
Today, WOLA and Peace Brigades International (PBI) released a report that assesses Mexico’s Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. While recognizing the importance of the Mechanism and the valuable work its staff carries out, this report identifies several areas for improvement, drawing on a series of case studies to illustrate these weaknesses. It also provides recommendations to the Mexican government, to the governments of Mexico’s 31 states and Federal District, and to the U.S. government, which has provided assistance to the Mechanism through the Merida Initiative.
The recent kidnapping and killing in Veracruz, Mexico of Moisés Sánchez Cerezo, a journalist who reported on corruption and criminal activity, underscores the risks journalists and defenders face in Mexico and the importance of the Protection Mechanism.
In the past several years, Mexico has become one of the most dangerous countries in the world to practice journalism and defend human rights. In the first nine months of 2014, the Mexican chapter of the international organization Article 19 documented 222 attacks against members of the media. Between January 2011 and December 2013, the Mexico-based National Human Rights Network “All Rights for All” documented 27 cases of human rights defenders who were killed as a result of their human rights work.
The report finds that, from the beginning, the Mechanism has suffered from a shortage of staff and funds, inhibiting its ability to respond in a timely and effective manner to urgent requests from human rights defenders and journalists. Until recently, most staff positions have been temporary.
Additionally, the report notes major delays in carrying out the initial risk analysis, which determines whether an individual’s situation warrants protection and, if so, which protection measures are most appropriate. The Mechanism has a backlog of cases, and the majority of defenders and journalists who have submitted protection requests have waited several months, and in many cases, over a year, without a response from the Mechanism. Such delays seriously undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the Mechanism.
Finally, the report highlights the level of impunity surrounding crimes against journalists and human rights defenders. Without adequate investigation and sanctioning, the long-term security situation for human rights defenders and journalists is unlikely to improve.
The report is based on PBI’s and WOLA’s communications with journalists and human rights defenders over the past two years, on PBI’s accompaniment of several human rights defenders who are beneficiaries of the Mechanism, and on PBI’s regular participation in meetings of a collective of journalists and human rights organizations called the Civil Society Organizations’ Space (Espacio de Organizaciones de la Sociedad Civil).