National and international organizations have recognized the precarious situation for human rights defenders and journalists in Mexico. United Nations (UN) and Organization of American States (OAS) human rights bodies have released several reports that document the serious aggressions against them.
The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented 89 alleged acts of aggression against human rights defenders from November 2010 to December 2012. The Office highlights threats, arbitrary interferences, and attacks as the main types of aggression. Nearly all of these cases remain in impunity.
There have also been documented cases of harassment, aggressions, threats, disappearances and assassinations agains journalists. Following the joint visit of the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression and the Special Rapporteur from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in August 2010, both representatives expressed concern for the high levels of violence that journalists face and the need for the Mexican State to implement effective measures for their protection. According to their reports, presented in 2011, Mexico has been the most dangerous country to exercise freedom of speech in the Americas during the last decade – 66 journalists have been killed and 12 have been disappeared.
The beneficiaries of protection measures, granted by the State and National Human Rights Commissions and the Inter-American System, have identified some weaknesses in this system: the measures are not adequately implemented in coordination with the beneficiaries (there is little consideration for the sociocultural context and the defender's risk situation), and there is an overall lack of coordination among different governmental entities. In this context, the recommendations of international entities and the needs expressed by civil society have pointed to the urgent need to implement a special mechanism that protects, promotes and guarantees the rights and fundamental freedoms of human rights defenders and journalists. In 2010, Mexico experimented with the Protection Mechanism for Journalists, created by a Presidential decree. This mechanism was widely criticized for its lack of transparency, adaptability and effectiveness.
The proposal for a governmental protection mechanism
In 2010, a large number of human rights organizations and journalists formed the Space for Civil Society Organizations (OSC Space) and in October 2010 elaborated a proposal for the creation of a protection mechanism. The proposal summarized the minimum necessary elements for a mechanism that would provide prevention, protection and effective investigation.
From the beginning, PBI has monitored the creation of this mechanism: PBI participated as an external consultant in the OSC Space meetings and discussed the mechanism in meetings with authorities in order to raise awareness among authorities about the need for a protection mechanism and risk analysis methodologies for human rights defenders.
The Presidential Decree
During the visit of Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to Mexico on 7 July 2011, President Felipe Calderón signed a presidential decree authorizing the Ministry of the Interior (Segob) to develop and implement a protection mechanism.
The OSC Space relayed their observations and comments in writing and in person to Segob so that the minimum demands from their original proposal could be incorporated in the draft of the protection mechanism. This document helped provide information to the process of elaborating the protection law.
While the dialog with Segob was in progress, the OSC Space also proposed a complementary bill in the Senate for a protection mechanism. It provides the necessary legal foundation to guarantee that the different entities of government implement protection measures and ensures that the mechanism maintains its operative capacity even if the government representatives change.
This initiative responded to international recommendations made by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2009 and also looked at experiences with protection mechanisms in other countries.
The legislative initiative is a worldwide example of best practice, as representatives from the OSC Space participated in the writing of the bill, together with advisors of the three major parties in Congress.
Both PBI and Amnesty International accompanied all of the steps in the process of elaborating the proposal. The law was unanimously approved at the end of the LXI Legislature of the Mexican Congress on 30 April and President Felipe Calderon enacted it on 22 June, 2012. As a result, the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists became operative in November 2012.
On 11 December 2012, the Subsecretary for Human Rights, Lía Limón, recognized the risk situation facing human rights and journalists and the State's responsibility to protect them. She also committed the federal government to prioritize the implementation of the Protection Mechanism.
- The Prevention, Follow up and Analysis Unit has not yet been installed, although according to Segob, some of its functions are being carried out by other units within the Mechanism.
Improve the implementation of Risk Evaluations, contemplating a wide range of protection measures. Ensure that these measures correspond with the level and nature of risk faced by HRDs and journalists who are registered with the Mechanism. At present, the proposed protection measures often rely on police operations, and do not place sufficient emphasis on other key aspects for defining and assigning protection measures, such as gender issues or the socio-political context. Some HRDs and journalists have reported that measures granted don´t reflect their level or type of risk, and as a result, are not useful or, in some instances, have placed them in even greater risk. Others have denounced that measures granted are not based on the risk analysis formally adopted by the Governing Board (Junta de Gobierno).
Guarantee a rapid and adequate response, particularly in cases of extraordinary risk. As of February 2014, the Mechanism had received approximately 131 applications for protection measures, but only 37 cases were revised by the Governing Board. There is an alarming accumulation of cases, and according to HRDs, the risk analysis which should be conducted within 10 days, often takes up to six months.
Human Resources: According to Segob, all but two positions within the Mechanism have been filled and the personnel receive training and guidance. Nevertheless, the CSOs have expressed concern regarding (1) the frequent rotation of personnel which negatively affects their training, the transfer of case information and the follow up of cases, (2) their lack of sensibility regarding protection issues, as well as a lack of recognition of the risk faced by HRDs, particularly with regard to grassroots defenders, who voluntarily dedicate themselves to the defence of human rights, while having other remunerated professions, and (3) the lack of knowledge about how to carry out an adequate risk analysis. Furthermore, Segob mentioned that the structure of the Mechanism is too small to deal with the number of applications it receives.
Mechanism Funding: In 2013, the Technical Committee responsible for the Mechanism's Funds (Fideicomiso) was formed and the guidelines on how to manage its budget were published. However, since 2013, due to bureaucratic reasons, the 170 million mexican pesos set aside for the Mechanism have not been made accessible, and therefore can not be used. According to Segob, at the beginning of 2014, a contract was signed with a security company which is tasked with the installation of security measures, such as cameras, fences, and lights, etc. However, many doubts exist within CSOs about whether these funds may be accessed. They have also expressed concern about the lack of transparency surrounding the advances made by the Fideicomiso and the contract with the security company.
Impunity: Although the Attorney General's Office has a specific role in the implementation of the Mechanism, it has not had a significant impact, particularly in the identification and indictment of perpetrators of attacks against defenders. Without investigations and judicial processes, conducted in line with international standards, the protection measures granted may be rendered insufficient and the Mechanism will become unsustainable in the long term.
Close cooperation between Segob and state governments is necessary to establish points of contact with the Mechanism at State level, and to define their role in its application: According to Segob, as of 1 March 2014, 31 of the 32 Mexican states have signed cooperation conventions with the Mechanism. The Federal District is in a process of revising the Mechanism and therefore has not yet signed. Furthermore, in their most recent meeting held in February 2014, the leaders of the 31 states agreed to place greater emphasis on human rights issues, stating that the implementation of the Mechanism was fundamental. However, civil society has stated that in practice, there is still a lack of coordination between the different levels of government.
Ample dissemination of the Mechanism and how possible beneficiaries may access it.
Institutional, political backing from the highest levels of government is necessary to ensure that the protection of human rights defenders and journalists is a priority for the current administration, and to guarantee that those working at an operational level within the Mechanism have their support and cooperation when implementing protection measures. In this connection, in October 2013 the Interior Minister, Miguel Osorio Chong, met with the Consultative Council and offered his full support for the Mechanism, agreeing to promote it with the relevant government entities. It is fundamental that such initiatives are continued.
The Governing Board: The maximum organ of the Mechanism, and made up of representatives – of Junior Minister (Subsecretario) level or equivalent – from the Interior Ministry, the National Security Commission (CNS), the Foreign Affairs Ministry (SRE), The Federal Attorney General's Office (PGR), the National Human Rights Ombudsman (CNDH), and four representatives of the Consultative Council (Consejo Consultivo). The Governing Board is chaired by the Interior Ministry representative, who has ultimate responsibility for the good functioning of the Mechanism and the correct implementation of its protective measures. The Governing Board was formally installed on 12 November 2012 and has held two meetings with the Consultative Council in October 2013 and in February 2014.
The Consultative Council (Consejo Consultivo): Nine volunteer members of civil society (representatives of HRDs and journalists) who comply with the requirements established by the law and who were elected by civil society itself on 19 October 2012. They monitor the Mechanism and send representatives to its Governing Board.
National Executive Coordination (Coordinación Ejecutiva Nacional): Responsible for coordinating actions between the different organs of the Mechanism.
Unit for the Reception of Cases and Rapid Reaction (Unidad de Recepción de Casos y Reacción Rápida); Risk Evaluation Unit (Unidad de Evaluación de Riesgos); Unit for Prevention, Follow-up and Analysis (Unidad de Prevención, Seguimiento y Análisis: Auxiliary, operative units in the Mechanism.
Briefing on the Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, PBI Mexico, March 2014
Joint statement: Concern expressed over worrying developments regarding the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in Mexico, PBI Mexico, Front Line Defenders, WOLA and LAWG, April 2014
Joint briefing note on the situation of human rights defenders in view of EU-Mexico Human Rights Dialogue, PBI Mexico, Front Line Defenders, Protection International and CIFCA, March 2014
Press Release: On the anniversary of the publication of the Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, International Organisations call on Mexico to effectively implement the National Protection Mechanism, PBI Mexico, Front Line Defenders and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, June 2013
Letter sent by Mexican civil society to the Interior Minister Miguel Osorio Chong on the occasion of the first anniversary of the publication of the Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, June 2013
Decree enacting the Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Spanish), Official Journal of the Federation, June 2012
Presentation: Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Spanish), Under Secretary of Legal Matters and Human Rights, Ministry of Interior, June 2012
Bill: Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists - Ficha Técnica, Working Group NGOs/Mexican Senate, March 2012
Integration Proposal for the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Spanish), NGOs, October 2010
Press release issued by Mexican civil society on the structural problems facing the Mechanism (Spanish), March 2014
Letter sent by the Consultative Council to the Interior Ministry after the resignation of five members of the Mechanism, including its coordinator (Spanish), March 2014
Microsite: Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Spanish), Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (CENCOS)
Governmental Protection Mechanism (Spanish), Protection Desk Mexico
Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Spanish), Ministry of the Interior, Mexico
Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Spanish), Foreign Affairs, NGOs Committe, Mexican Senate, 16th Legislature