Mexico: Ensure accountability for journalist murders

The following statement was delivered by ARTICLE 19 at the 35th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), as part of the Item 4 General Debate on country situations that require the Council’s attention.

2017 has so far been a lethal year for the press in Mexico; evidence of the government failing to implement its commitments under HRC resolution 33/2 on the safety of journalists.

ARTICLE 19 condemns the murders of journalists Cecilio Pineda, Ricardo Monlui, Miroslava Breach, Maximino Rodríguez, Jonathan Rodríguez and Javier Valdez in six different states. We condemn the enforced disappearance of journalist Salvador Adame on 18 May 2017 in Michoacån, the twenty-fourth journalist to be disappeared since 2003. ARTICLE 19 recorded 19 aggressions against press covering elections in Mexico and Coahuila, in the run up to polling day on 4 June this year.

ARTICLE 19 also remembers the 11 journalists killed in Mexico in 2016, and we deplore that no one has been held accountable for these crimes.

In response to pressure, we acknowledge the President’s announcement in May this year of “Actions for Freedom of Expression and for the Protection of Journalists and Defenders”, as well as the appointment of a new head of the office of  Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE). However, whether necessary action to end impunity and escalating violence will match this rhetoric, remains to be seen.

We regret that the government refuse to publicly acknowledge, yet alone condemn, that attacks on journalists are committed by or at the behest of public officials. This includes where journalists are under the protection of the Federal mechanism. The government places full blame for attacks on organised criminals, yet ARTICLE 19 identified connections to public officials in 53% of attacks recorded in 2016.

The escalating violence is an indictment of the effectiveness of the Mechanism for Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. Journalist Cecilio Pineda was under the mechanism’s protection before he was murdered in March 2017, this had ended because of the inadequate protection measures offered to him.

The stand-alone mechanism must be overhauled with a fully integrated approach, bringing together protection across responsible governmental bodies and guided by a comprehensive protection policy. The mechanism has suffered from a lack of transparency, limits to technical capacity, and issues with financial and operational sustainability o, all of which must be addressed.

The impunity rate for cases taken on by Special Prosecutor remains at almost 100%. Deficiencies in investigations, especially to establish that an attacker’s motives relate to a targeted journalists’ work, remain a primary cause of impunity.

Of the 426 attacks on the press we documented last year, 72 were online, with women journalists and bloggers disproportionately affected. Surveillance is also an issue: many organisations have left the Alliance for Open Government (OGP) over accusations of sophisticated spyware being deployed against critical human rights organisations and journalists.

Attacks on media independence from the government increased markedly in 2016, undermining the enabling environment for journalists. The abuse of civil lawsuits by public officials to claim “moral damage” against critical journalists, abuse of official advertising revenue distribution as a means to pressure media, and other forms of stigmatisation, seek to deter criticism of the government, mostly relating to human rights abuses, corruption and impunity.

We call on this Council, its members and observer states to urge the authorities of the Government of the Mexican Republic to:

  • Develop a clear roadmap, setting out specific goals and indicators to achieve the Presidency’s “Actions for Freedom of Expression and for the Protection of Journalists and Defenders”, with the full and effective participation of civil society and journalists;
  • Acknowledge that organised crime is only one source of risk for journalists, and commit to confront threats for which State agents are responsible;
  • Ensure operational and financial sustainability of the protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders and ensure transparency of its work, making a public work plan to coordinate institutions that make up the governing board of the protection mechanism and Federal entities responsible for preventing and protecting against attacks on journalists.
  • Expand the protection measures afforded by the protection mechanism, to integrate a gender perspective and systematise protocols to guard against the recurrence of threats and attacks;
  • Establish, in line with the recommendations of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, an Advisory Council against impunity, comprised of experts to recommend reforms and strategies to end impunity for attacks on journalists in Mexico.