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Mexico should step up measures to end impunity for crimes against journalists

The climate of impunity which allows attacks on journalists in Mexico to remain unpunished is contributing to the on-going high level of risk to the security of writers in the country, PEN International said today (23 October 2013) as it attended the UN Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Mexico's human rights record in Geneva.

The organization reiterated its call for increased and effective protection for journalists and writers by the federal government.

'Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a writer,' said Ann Harrison, Programme Director of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee.

'We have joined many other civil society organizations in pressing the Mexican government for several years to end impunity for killings of journalists and provide effective protection for those still working, but the measures put in place are largely ineffective.'

Since December 2006, at least 49 print journalists, writers and bloggers have been murdered and at least nine others have disappeared. Few of these attacks have been thoroughly investigated.

Impunity for crimes against journalists is estimated to stand at around 90 per cent and whilst some of the attacks are perpetrated by organized crime groups, many come from government agents at a state and local level.

Despite the introduction of two mechanisms aimed at protecting journalists under threat, and the creation of the office of the Special Prosecutor for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE), fewer than 10 per cent of attacks against journalists and writers result in convictions.

'Frankly, the Mexican authorities are paying mere lip service to these pervasive impunity issues,' said Marian Botsford Fraser, Chair of PEN International's Writers in Prison Committee.

'Mechanisms and promises do not constitute action. Many journalists are dying, and others are intimidated into silence.'

Other legal reforms such as the decriminalization of slander and libel, which should have decreased the risk of journalists facing prison for their reporting, have had little effect. Thirteen of Mexico's 32 states continue to criminalize defamation; these laws are used to intimidate journalists who uncover corruption.

PEN International has long campaigned for freedom of expression in Mexico. In 2012 a large PEN International delegation assembled in Mexico, led by its full executive team and including representatives of all seven North American PEN Centres. PEN put forward specific recommendations, met with key government figures and held public events.

In late 2012, PEN International published the anthology Write Against Impunity, a literary protest highlighting the escalating violence against journalists, writers and bloggers in Latin America – in particular Mexico, Honduras and Brazil – and the impunity enjoyed by those who commit these crimes.

During a follow-up visit in March 2013 PEN found that progress to protect writers and journalists had been slow. In a submission to the UPR process, PEN International joined PEN Guadalajara to outline its concerns for the safety of journalists and made the following recommendations:

• Ensure that the 49 murders and nine disappearances of writers and print and internet journalists that have taken place since December 2006, as well as any other unsolved murders and disappearances from previous periods, are properly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice;
• Provide public information on the state of the investigations into the murders of writers Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila and Guillermo Fernández García;
• Ensure that all attacks against writers and print and internet journalists alleged to have been carried out by government entities at any level are fully and promptly investigated as a matter of urgency;
• Ensure as a matter of urgency that FEADLE is allocated sufficient financial, material and human resources in order to carry out its work, and support the office to make use of its newly strengthened powers to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists and freedom of expression;
• Address criticisms of the current protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders in consultation with these groups;
• Ensure that steps are taken towards the complete decriminalization of defamation in all 32 Mexican states;
• Ensure that the Article 33 Regulatory Law is enacted as a matter of urgency and to provide assurances that foreigners are not being expelled from Mexico in violation of their right to freedom of expression.

To see the full UPR submission click here.

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