As Mexico’s human rights and security crisis continues, the situation of journalists and human rights defenders is of particular concern. In 2018 alone, civil society organizations documented 48 killings of human rights defenders and eight journalist murders. With these numbers, Mexico continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for these groups, taking a heavy toll on the fight for human rights, freedom of expression, and government accountability in the country.
At the time of publishing this report, at least 17 journalists and human rights defenders have been killed since December 1, 2018, when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador took office after campaigning on a platform focused heavily on combating corruption and insecurity and bringing peace and reconciliation to the Mexican people. This report focuses on how the new government can approach an important aspect of this endeavor: creating a safer and more enabling environment for journalists and human rights defenders to carry out their important work.
Washington, DC—A new report, published today by human rights organizations the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and Peace Brigades International (PBI), details the shortcomings of the Mexican agencies charged with addressing violence against journalists and human rights defenders. Mexico continues to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world for these groups, with at least 12 defenders and media workers killed in the country in just the first three months of 2019. The report, Turning the Tide on Impunity: Protection and Access to Justice for Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in Mexico, provides a series of recommendations for how the new government of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador can work to put an end to this wave of violence, as well as how the U.S. government can continue to support these efforts. The report comes days after the López Obrador administration presented an assessment of Mexico’s federal Mechanism to Protect Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, as well as a series of upcoming measures meant to improve the protection program’s operations.
“Journalists and human rights defenders play a critical role in exposing corruption and criminal activity, demanding government accountability, and protecting the Mexican people’s most fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Maureen Meyer, WOLA Director for Mexico and Migrant Rights. “The López Obrador administration’s recent pledge to improve the Mechanism is an important sign of its commitment to right past shortcomings in guaranteeing the safety of journalists and defenders at risk.”
The joint WOLA-PBI report, authored by Gina Hinojosa, Virry Schaafsma, and Maureen Meyer, analyzes how the Mechanism has not been able to fully provide adequate protections for journalists and defenders under threat, or to address the root causes of the threats and attacks they suffer. Despite the fact that six individuals enrolled in the Mechanism have been murdered since August 2017, the Mexican government has not devoted sufficient resources to strengthen the protection program. There are currently only 35 people on staff overseeing the protection of 831 journalists and defenders, while Mexico’s 2019 federal budget cut funding for protection measures by over USD$2.6 million compared to what the Mechanism spent on measures in 2018.
“In its six years of existence, the Mechanism has yet to fully develop policies and practices capable of effectively protecting journalists and human rights defenders,” said Hannah Matthews, PBI Communications Coordinator. “The Mechanism can’t possibly address its shortcomings with its current budget and staffing levels. Providing additional funding would be the first step the Mexican government can take to ensure the Mechanism has the resources necessary to manage its rapidly growing caseload.”
Turning the Tide on Impunity underscores that beyond failing to provide effective protections, the Mexican government has not effectively investigated and sanctioned crimes against journalists and human rights defenders, the biggest factor driving continued attacks. Based on information gathered through access-to-information requests to Mexican agencies, the report finds that between 2012 and June 2018, less than three percent of investigations opened by the state prosecutor’s offices analyzed by WOLA and PBI even made it to the courts. Of the 1,077 cases investigated by the federal-level Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión, FEADLE) during this period, less than 12 percent were taken to court, and only five cases—less than one percent—resulted in convictions. Additionally, despite FEADLE’s growing caseload and desperate need for additional staff, its budget was slashed by 54 percent between 2014 and 2018.
“Until the Mexican government begins to address impunity for crimes against human rights defenders and journalists, those looking to silence their critics will continue to feel emboldened to do so,” said Gina Hinojosa, WOLA Program Assistant for Mexico. “The López Obrador administration has an important opportunity to change course and send the message that attacks against journalists and human rights defenders in the country will not be tolerated.”