WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
7 Dec 2017 | Press Release

As U.S. Withholds Conditioned Aid to Mexico, Members of Congress Call for Investigation into Spyware Attacks

Washington, D.C.—Mexican newspaper Reforma reported today that the U.S. State Department decided to not issue a report to Congress stating that Mexico had made sufficient progress in meeting the human rights requirements placed on select conditioned funds for the Mexican military, meaning $1.25 million in U.S. security assistance will be withheld from Mexico. As previously noted by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a leading research and advocacy organization, Mexico’s human rights situation has significantly deteriorated over the past year, with elevated levels of violence and attacks against human rights defenders and journalists, as well as ongoing impunity for human rights violations.

“The State Department made the right move in withholding conditioned aid to Mexico. The persistence of grave human rights violations including torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial executions, and the impunity that persists for the majority of these cases, demand answers from the Mexican government. Upholding human rights should be a priority in the U.S. relationship with Mexico,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA’s Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights.

Contributing to this worsening situation was the widespread and illegal use of advanced government spyware against prominent human rights and anti-corruption advocates, journalists, and international experts in Mexico, as The New York Times revealed in June 2017. The Mexican government purchased the sophisticated surveillance technology under the condition that it only be used against suspected terrorists and criminals; however, it was later used to target outspoken critics of the Peña Nieto administration. Further investigations evidenced that the spyware had also been used against members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to provide technical assistance to the Mexican government in the case of the 43 forcibly disappeared students from Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, sponsored by Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) and made public today, 10 Members of Congress urged the State Department to closely monitor the Mexican government’s investigation into the public officials and government agencies behind the illicit surveillance. The letter also called on the State Department to prioritize the protection of the rights to privacy and the freedom of expression in the bilateral agenda between the United States and Mexico.

“These spyware attacks come in the context of an increasingly concerning situation for human rights defenders and journalists in Mexico…. Attacks against criticism and dissent of the Mexican government this past year have increased in number, gravity, and sophistication,” the letter stated. The letter goes on to ask the State Department “to raise with the Mexican government the need for a prompt and thorough investigation into this matter, to ensure that the investigation is conducted with complete transparency and independence, and to make certain that the victims of the spying are informed of the progress in the case.”

President Enrique Peña Nieto has denied all allegations of government wrongdoing in the spyware attacks. Victims of the surveillance, Mexican and international civil society organizations, members of the IACHR, and a group of United Nations experts have called for a transparent, independent, and impartial investigation.

“More than five months have passed since the spyware attacks came to light, yet the Mexican government has failed to provide any information regarding who is responsible. Freedom of expression and freedom of information are hallmarks of a healthy, functioning democracy. The State Department should emphasize the need for the Mexican government to respect these rights and to carry out an honest and serious investigation into any threat to the work of journalists and human rights defenders,” said Meyer.