When will the silence in Mexico end?

March 16, 2010

Killings in JuarezThis past week in Mexico, eight journalists have been kidnapped (of which 2 have been released alive and one dead) in Reynosa and three people have been murdered in Ciudad Juarez who have connections to the US Consulate. The perpetrators of these murders may have been involved with the ongoing battle between rival drug trafficking organizations. Violence against journalists has been a persistent problem in Mexico, where this year three journalists have been confirmed killed by the authorities, twelve journalists were killed in 2009, and 60 have been killed since 2000. The most recent kidnappings in Reynosa and the trend of violence against reporters has caused Ciro Gómez Leyva, the news director at Milenio, to write an angry column, saying “journalism is dead in Reynosa”.

Not only is it dangerous to report on the drug war in Mexico, it is dangerous to organize or advocate for human rights. In the 2009 State Department Report on Human Rights Practices in Mexico, the arbitrary and unlawful deprivation of human life was noted as a major human rights problem. One alarming case, that of Raúl Lucas Lucía and Manuel Ponce Rosas, was included in the Human Rights Report and featured in Amnesty International’s recent report called “Standing up for Justice and Dignity: Human Rights Defenders in Mexico”. These men were human rights defenders who worked with the Future of Mixtecos Indigenous Peoples group who advocate for economic and social rights regarding indigenous Me’ phaa (Tlapaneca) and the Na savi (Mixteca) people. After being assaulted by plain clothed police officers and kidnapped in the town of Ayutla de los Libres in Guerrero state at a public ceremony, their families were notified with a threatening text message of their disappearance. Several days later their injured bodies were found in Tecoanapa, Guerrero State, a 30-minute drive from Ayutla de los Libres. An investigation was opened but at the end of 2009, is still pending.

This case is emblematic of the larger problem of targeting human rights defenders which is illustrated in an Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) report. The report documented 128 attacks including 10 killings against human rights defenders from 2006 to August 2009.

The State Department Report on Human Rights noted that journalists fear revenge from police authorities and drug traffickers and that affects what they report. The news “blackouts” also have human rights implications because often that is how defenders raise awareness on abuses they encounter.

Human rights perpetrators tend to benefit from silence, and without the media reporting for fear of retribution, human rights violations could go undetected and unpunished. President Calderon’s administration needs to adopt the recommendations outlined in the Amnesty International report and the OHCHR report which are:

  • Prompt and impartial criminal investigations of the perpetrators;
  • The recognition of the legitimacy of defending human rights;
  • The acceptance of peaceful protest as a means of political expression; and
  • Equal access to the judicial system to victims of abuses.

Aaron Barnard-Luce contributed to this blog post