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Mexico must defend its human rights defenders from smear campaign

President Enrique Peña Nieto
President Enrique Peña Nieto

REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

ATTN:
President Enrique Peña Nieto
Residencia oficial de Los Pinos, Molino del Rey s/n,
Col. San Miguel Chapultepec, Distrito Federal. C.P. 11850

13 April 2016

Your Excellency,

IFEX, the global network of 104 organisations dedicated to promoting and defending freedom of expression, is writing to you to request your attention to and condemnation of the ongoing smear campaign against organisations and bodies involved in the protection and promotion of human rights in México.

Since earlier this year, a campaign has been ongoing to silence many of those who advocate on behalf of victims of kidnapping, torture and murder in México. Unsubstantiated allegations of corruption, fraud, association with criminals and ethical breach in their work have been launched against a wide array of individuals, including a number of people working for the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts of the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the UN's special rapporteur on torture, and numerous representatives of civil society.

Tolerating a climate of coordinated harassment against those who speak for victims of violence supports a culture of silence and impunity for crimes against human rights. The chilling effect on speech of this harassment threatens to deter victims from coming forward with their experience, in addition to discouraging others from stepping forward to defend them. As Ivan Baez from Article 19 says, “harassment against human rights defenders severely impacts not only those harassed, but the rights of society to truth, justice, and reparations for harm”.

Your government has a fundamental responsibility to protect the rights of marginalized and victimized citizens, which includes actively supporting the work of their most prominent defenders. This responsibility was clearly recognized earlier in your Presidency at the time of the adoption of the general law on victims, but in recent years, that clarity seems to have been lost.

While the recent dismissal of fraud charges against Emilio Álvarez Icaza, Executive Secretary of the IACHR, is a positive step, it is not enough for the government to simply not join in the smear campaign itself. “The Mexican government needs to positively and explicitly show its support for the work of those fighting for the rights of victims, with strong actions to prevent this kind of harassment.” says Omar Rábago Vital, Executive Director of Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (Cencos) and IFEX Council Convenor. “Human rights defenders play a critical role in democracies and in the pursuit of justice and must be themselves defended.”

We entreat you to recognize your commitment to victims by reaffirming your government's belief in the importance of defending human rights, and confidence in the organisations that advocate daily for them.

Signed,

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