Violence Against The Press in Mexico

8/20/2018 (written by Quinn Skerlos)-  Earlier this summer, on May 29th, the body of Hector Gonzalez Antonio was found on a dirt road in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas.  According to authorities, Gonzalez Antonio’s corpse showed signs of being beaten, likely with rocks. The journalist, worked for Grupo Imagen’s TV and newspaper services, and covered a crime beat. On June 30th, Mexican journalist, Jose Guadalupe Chan Dzib was murdered in Quintana Roo, one of Mexico’s historically least violent states. Even more recently, journalist and founder of Playa News, Ruben Pat was murdered on July 24th also in Quintana Roo, bringing the journalist death toll for 2018 to at least 7. He had previously reported being threatened by local police.  A relevant report on violence against journalists by the Congressional Research Service highlights the occupational hazards that Mexican journalists like Gonzalez Antonio, Chan Dzib, and Pat experience and the counter-measures implemented to protect their line of work.

Congressional Research Service Report

On May 27, 2018, the Congressional Research Service (CRS, Library of Congress), a non-partisan research firm that provides policy analysis for the U.S. House and Senate, published a report on press freedom, or lack thereof, in Mexico. The author, Clare Ribando Seelke, is a Latin America specialist and well-published author, particularly on topics of human trafficking in Latin America. This recent report, titled “Violence Against Journalists in Mexico: in Brief” investigates the following; the status of press freedom in Mexico, violent crimes against journalists, Mexico’s efforts to address said violence, and finally, the role of the U.S. government in encouraging Mexican rule of law.

Mexican journalist Hector Gonzalez Antonio was found beaten to death in Tamaulipas.

Mexican journalist Hector Gonzalez Antonio was found beaten to death in Tamaulipas. (AFP/Getty Images)

The report leads off with a comparison of press freedom within Latin America, and a summary of crimes against journalists. Although press freedom has continued to decline across Latin America, the report argues that Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist. The report highlights statistics from both Justice in Mexico and the Committee to Protect Journalists to show the hazards faced by journalists (CPJ). For example, in the last decade, Justice in Mexico reports that 140 journalists and media professionals were killed in Mexico. On that note, the report identifies that Mexico sports one of the highest murder rates for journalists in the world and is in the top 10 deadliest countries worldwide for media workers. In 2017 alone, Article 19, an international human rights organization, found that there were 500 “aggressions,” or violent actions against journalists not limited to just kidnapping and murder (Article 19). This number is significantly higher than the year before and Mexican journalists continue to face economic and psychological pressures, leading some to seek asylum abroad.

The report then delves into some of the efforts taken by Mexican officials to counter and reduce violence against journalists. According to the CRS report, the Federal Protection Mechanism, established by the Mexican government in 2012, has provided protection for 380 journalists by means of armed guards, panic buttons, and other resources. Another governmental initiative, the Special Unit for Crimes Against Journalists and Violations of Freedom of Expression (Fiscalía Especial para la Atención de Delitos Cometidos contra la Libertad de Expresión, or FEADLE) was established as its own office under the Attorney General in 2010. FEADLE has the authority to investigate any case, even if it is already under review by state authorities. However, the CRS report also underlines the shortcomings of governmental protections in Mexico. For example, the U.N. and other human rights authorities maintained that the Federal Protection mechanism is “surprisingly limited,” as studies have shown that some panic buttons lacked functionality and were structurally ineffective (OHCHR). These buttons reach only local police, who potentially lack the resources or the will to help, or are in the pocket of organized crime (OHCHR). Only 12.6 percent of cases investigated by FEADLE ended in convictions against perpetrators from 2010 until 2017, leading the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights to state that FEADLE “still has not made any impact in combatting impunity (OHCHR).” The CRS highlighted a CPJ report that claims an 86% impunity rate for journalists killed as a result of their work (CPJ).

In its conclusion, the report underscores the U.S. State Department-sponsored Merida Initiative that has given 2.9 billion dollars in support of rule of law in Mexico. However, as the report points out, U.S. congressional officials have discussed concerns about human rights conditions in Mexico, including the Mexican government’s ineffective protection of journalists and human rights advocates. Governmental organizations receiving U.S. aid continue to be monitored, and in 2014 and 2016 Mexico was refused certain assets because they had not made sufficient progress on human rights issues. While there have been policy obstacles for the partnership, the partnership remains, with aid specifically directed towards strengthening rule of law, protecting human rights, and reducing impunity rates.

 

Press Freedom Currently, and in Relation to the World

Members of the press hold images of colleagues during a protest against the murder or disappearance of more than 140 journalists and photojournalists in Mexico since 2000, in front of the National Palace in Mexico City on June 1, 2018. (AFP PHOTO, Yuri Cortez)

Members of the press hold images of colleagues during a protest against the murder or disappearance of more than 140 journalists and photojournalists in Mexico since 2000, in front of the National Palace in Mexico City on June 1, 2018. (AFP, Yuri Cortez)

According to Justice in Mexico’s “2018 Drug Violence Report,” 133 Mexican journalists have been killed from 2006 to 2016. The report highlights that journalists in Mexico are three times more likely to be killed than the general public. Last year alone, 14 media workers were killed, including the prominent corruption and organized crime reporters Miroslava Breach and Javier Valdez. La Jornada, one of Mexico City’s daily newspapers, reported that Mexican journalists do not feel confident in government institutions to protect them, and that more than 60% of journalists surveyed have reported aggressions pointed towards them regardless of public protections (La Jornada).

Even with government measures, such as FEADLE and the federal protection mechanism, Reporters Without Borders listed Mexico as 147th in world press freedom for 2018, a worse ranking than South Sudan and Afghanistan (RSF). In a statement made by the CPJ, impunity “has made the country one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters” and the 2000 acts of violence against journalists in Mexico recorded by the CPJ since 2012 seem to echo this sentiment (CPJ). Journalism across Mexico is being affected by violence and impunity, and while the government appears to have taken steps to help, there is room for improvement in order to fully protect press freedom and journalists in Mexico.

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Aguilar, Roberto. “Condenan asesinato del periodista Héctor González Antonio.” El Universal. May 30, 2018. http://www.eluniversal.com.mx/nacion/seguridad/condenan-asesinato-del-periodista-hector-gonzalez-antonio

Calderon, Laura. Shirk, David. Rodriguez Feirerra, Octavio. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2017.” Justice in Mexico. April 2018. https://justiceinmexico.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/180411_DrugViolenceinMexico.pdf

Linthicum, Kate. “Anther Journalist has been killed in Mexico- the sixth this year.” Los Angeles Times. May 29, 2018. http://www.latimes.com/world/mexico-americas/la-fg-mexico-journalist-killed-20180529-story.html

Muedano, Marcos. “Feadle inicia investigacion por asesinato de Hector Gonzalez Antonio.” Excelsior. May 30, 2018. https://www.excelsior.com.mx/nacional/feadle-inicia-investigacion-por-asesinato-de-hector-gonzalez-antonio/1242150

Olivares Alonso, Emir. “Periodistas desconfian de instituciones,” La Jornada, June 27, 2017. http://www.jornada.com.mx/2017/06/27/economia/003n2pol

“Mexicn Journalist Hector Gonzalez Antonio Beaten to Death.” Al Jazeera, May 30, 2018. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/mexican-journalist-hector-gonzalez-antonio-beaten-death-180530053135595.html

“Mexican Journalist Found Dead in Tamaulipas State.” Committee to Protect Journalists. May 30, 2018.  https://cpj.org/2018/05/mexican-journalist-found-dead-in-tamaulipas-state.php

“2018 World Press Freedom Index.” Reporters Without Borders. 2018.  https://rsf.org/en/ranking

“Libertades en Resistencia: Informe 2016 de Article 19.” Articulo 19. April 2017. https://articulo19.org/informe2016/.

“Preliminary Observations by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression of the IACHR following their joint visit to Mexico.” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. December 4, 2017. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22484

“Journalist murdered in southern Mexico before Sunday’s elections.” Reuters. June 30, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-violence/journalist-murdered-in-southern-mexico-before-sundays-elections-idUSKBN1JQ0ZT

“Journalist gunned down in Mexican resort town.” Reuters. July 24, 2018. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mexico-violence/journalist-gunned-down-in-mexican-resort-town-idUSKBN1KE2OL

Justice in Mexico Completes Second OASIS Study Trip

7/18/2018 (written by Quinn Skerlos)- From July 2 to July 14, Justice in Mexico held the second 2018 Oral-Adversary Skill-building Immersion (OASIS) Study trip at University of San Diego (USD). The participants were 13 administrators, students, and law faculty from the Universidad de Guadalajara (UdeG), and Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL), and Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP). The OASIS study trippers were primarily composed of 12 law professors and law students from UdeG and UANL, but also included the Director of BUAP’s School of Law and Social Sciences, Luis Ochoa Bilbao. Now the eleventh OASIS study trip implemented by Justice in Mexico, these study trips provide a cultural immersion and study opportunity for selected Mexican law professors and students to experience the United States criminal justice system and meet with relevant legal experts, academics and public officials, including judges, professors, and attorneys. This program is made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs under the Mérida Initiative.

With the direction of OASIS Training Director, Janice Deaton, and OASIS Regional Director and USD law professor, Allen Snyder, the OASIS study trip participants attended a variety of lectures given by legal experts and academics, toured various facilities relevant to the United States criminal justice system, and engaged in group discussions guided by Janice Deaton and/or Allen Snyder. The majority of the study trip was held in San Diego at USD, however, participants also had the opportunity to visit San Francisco and meet with several public officials and representatives of the San Francisco community.

OASIS participants have the opportunity to meet and engage with various members of the legal community, including judges, attorneys, and law professors.

OASIS participants have the opportunity to meet and engage with various members of the legal community, including judges, attorneys, and law professors.

In San Diego, agenda highlights included: site visits to the San Dan Diego State and Federal Court, a tour of the San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a mock-trial simulation, and lectures led by legal professionals from the Public Defender’s Office, Office of the Attorney General, Pre-trial Services, etc. In San Francisco, participants visited and met with members of the Ninth Circuit Court and the San Francisco Superior Court, and toured the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a historical landmark and former high-security prison. Overall, the trip focused on providing analysis of the U.S. criminal justice system, and reinforcing the theory behind and practice of oral, adversarial and accusatorial criminal justice systems. This focus is intended to promote the participants’ appreciation for judicial reform in Mexico and reflect positively in their forthcoming academic and professional trajectories.

The program agenda’s accomplished guest speakers included: Allen Snyder (USD), Associate Dean Margaret Dalton (USD), Gregg McClain (Office of the District Attorney, San Diego), Scarlet Espinoza (Ninth Circuit Court, San Francisco), Judge Gerardo Sandoval (San Francisco Superior Court), Maria Elena Lopez Evangelista (Office of the Public Defender, San Francisco),  George Gascon (District Attorney of San Francisco), Judge Christopher Whitten (Superior Court of Maricopa County), Tony Da Silva (Office of the Attorney General, San Diego), Theresa Talplacido (San Diego MCC), Judge John Houston (District Judge for the Southern District of California), Janice Deaton (USD), Monique Carter (Office of the Public Defender, San Diego), Scott Pirrello (San Diego District Attorney’s Office), and Veronica Cataño Gonzalez (Supreme Court of Baja California).

Justice in Mexico Completes First OASIS Study Trip

OASIS Study Trip 1 participants and Justice in Mexico staff.

OASIS Study Trip 1 participants and Justice in Mexico staff.

7/2/18 (Quinn Skerlos) – From June 10 to June 23, 12 administrators, representatives, and law faculty from the Universidad de Guadalajara (UdeG), and Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo Leon (UANL) took part in the first of three 2018 Oral-Adversary Skill-building Immersion (OASIS) study trips at University of San Diego (USD). This group of 12 study trip participants included the deans of the law schools of both the UdeG and UANL, José de Jesús Becerra Ramirez (UdeG) and Oscar Paulino Lugo Serrato (UANL). OASIS Study trips are designed by Justice in Mexico to provide a training and study opportunity for Mexican law professors and students that allows participants to experience the United States criminal justice system. This program is made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs under the Mérida Initiative.

Under the direction of the OASIS Training Director, Janice Deaton, OASIS Regional Director and USD law professor Allen Snyder, the UdeG and UANL participants met with legal experts, academics and public officials, including judges, professors, and attorneys. While the majority of the study trip was held at USD facilities, the study trip participants also had the opportunity to briefly visit the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Law in Los Angeles, CA.

OASIS Study Trip participants have the opportunity to meet with legal experts, academics and public officials.

OASIS Study Trip participants have the opportunity to meet with legal experts, academics and public officials.

The study trip was comprised of daily sessions on the stages of the United States legal system, which included group debriefs, site visits and meetings with public officials and institutional representatives. OASIS study trip participants had the opportunity to visit both federal and state courts in Los Angeles and San Diego, including the Appellate Court and the Federal Court. The visits were bookended with breakout sessions to discuss relevant legal topics pertinent to the U.S. criminal justice system. Aside from experiencing the foundations of the United States legal system, the group learned about legal topics such as alternative sentencing, separation of powers, and the use of evidence.

The program agenda’s accomplished guest speakers included: Tony Da Silva (Office of the Attorney General), Ruby Anaya (California Western School of Law), Carlos Varela, Luis Guerrero, Janice Deaton (USD), Michael Ramsey (USD), Judge Mitchell D. Dembin (Southern District of California), Professor Allen Snyder (USD School of Law), Associate Dean Margaret Dalton (USD), Judge Lisa Rodriguez (San Diego Superior Court Judge), Dean Stephen Ferruolo (USD), Professor Máximo Langer (UCLA), Professor Rubén Hernández-León (UCLA), Dr. Peter Reich (UCLA), Professor Laura Gómez (UCLA).

U.S. Congress reacts to human rights concerns in Mexico

logo of Merida Initiative

Source: The Yucatán Times.

08/16/16 (written by kheinle) — Human rights concerns in Mexico have prompted the U.S. Congress to urge the State Department to take action. A letter sent August 9 sponsored by Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs called on Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department to withhold 15% of funds allocated for distribution to Mexico under the Merida Initiative for the coming year. From 2008 through 2015, Congress required that at least a portion (15%) of U.S. support through the Merida Initiative be contingent on specific human rights conditions. Such conditions are currently up for review.

With the support of 68 fellow members of Congress, the letter highlighted the grave human rights situation in Mexico as cause for withholding the next round of Merida funding. The letter specifically pointed to the 27,000 unresolved cases of disappeared persons in Mexico, a number that has amassed in just under ten years. It also focused on the disappearance and presumed murder of 43 students who went missing while detained by Mexican security forces in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero in September 2014. That case remains unresolved despite several reputable investigations by international organizations and experts, including the most recent study concluded in April 2016 by the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (Grupo Interdisciplinario de Expertos Independientes, GIEI) that found demonstrable “control and monitoring, if not active involvement, from all levels of [Mexican] security—ministerial, municipal, state, federal and military—in the incident,” among other grave concerns. The Congressional letter additionally pointed to the massacre in Tlatlaya, State of Mexico (Estado de México, Edomex) in June 2014 during which Mexican soldiers killed 22 civilians in a warehouse, 15 of whom were killed extrajudicially. Lastly, the legislators cited “Mexico’s persistent use of torture in criminal investigations,” as well as “the slow pace of reform in the military, law enforcement, and justice sectors” as reasons for U.S. action. Indeed, the State Department even acknowledged such violations in the Mexico section of its most recent Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2015. “The most significant human rights-related problems included law enforcement and military involvement in serious abuses, such as unlawful killings, torture, and disappearances,” the report read. “Impunity and corruption in the law enforcement and justice system remained serious problems.”

WOLA logo

Source: WOLA.

Washington Office on Latin America’s (WOLA) Senior Associate Maureen Meyer, an expert in U.S.-Mexico relations, commented on the Congressional letter to Secretary Kerry, noting that human rights must remain a priority. “Maintaining a strong bilateral relationship with the United States’ neighbor and partner should not be at the expense of an honest dialogue about the human rights crisis in Mexico and the lack of accountability for the authorities responsible for these crimes,” she writes. Meyer’s comments draws on the fact that the Merida Initiative is exemplary of the strong ties between the United States and Mexico, but that it should not supersede the protection of fundamental human rights in Mexico.

It is important to contextualize the Merida Initiative. From FY2008 to FY2015, U.S. Congress allocated $2.5 billion in Merida funding to Mexico to support four pillars: (1) Disrupting organized crime groups, (2) institutionalizing the rule of law, (3) creating a 21st-century border, and (4) building strong and resilient communities. Thus, Merida funding supports a number of other key rule-of-law pillars in addition to the protection of human rights. As such, funding will continue through 2016, as the work to strengthen and maintain a strong rule of law in Mexico is far from complete. This notion was argued in Justice in Mexico’s July 2016 publication, “Policy Brief: The State of Judicial Sector Reform in Mexico,” in which the authors commend Mexico’s clear strides made in recent years to overhaul its criminal justice system, moving from an outdated, inquisitorial model to a new, transparent, and efficient adversarial system. However, the authors note that while “Mexico is one step closer to reaching a more just society … its path will no doubt remain long, steep, and sometimes rocky.” The 69 signatories to the recent Congressional letter to Secretary Kerry echoed that idea, acknowledging Mexico for its advances towards a more just society on the one hand while advocating for more work to be done on the other. “We commend the Government of Mexico for taking important legislative steps to advance human rights protections and to reform its criminal justice system,” the letter reads. “However, having good laws on the books does not ensure justice; Mexican authorities must enforce the law and respect human rights.”

To read the letter in full, click here.

 

Sources:

“CNDH issues recommendations for Tlatlaya massacre as case moves to federal civil court.” Justice in Mexico. November 30, 2014.

Ribando Seelke, Clare and Kristin Finklea. “U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Mérida Initiative and Beyond.” Congressional Research Service. February 22, 2016.

Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. “Country Reports on Human Rights Practice for 2015: Mexico.” U.S. Department of State. April 2016.

Heinle, Kimberly et al. “Drug Violence in Mexico: Data and Analysis Through 2015.” Justice in Mexico. April 2016.

“Ayotzinapa Disappeared 43 Students Case Remains Unsolved.” Justice in Mexico. May 2, 2016.

Cortés, Nancy et al. “Policy Brief: The State of Judicial Sector Reform in Mexico.” Justice in Mexico. July 25, 2016.

Government Communication. United States Congress of the United States. August 9, 2016.

Press Release. “Congressman Lowenthal Calls on State Dept. To Prioritize Human Rights and Justice Reform in Bilateral Talks With Mexico.” Office of U.S. Congressman Alan Lowenthal. August 10, 2016.

Press Release. “U.S. Congress Expresses Concern for Mexico’s Human Rights Crisis and Sends Letter to Secretary Kerry.” Washington Office on Latin America. August 11, 2016.