Mexico: The unremitting struggle against silence and impunity
26 Sep 2012
This content is available in: , Spanish
Between September 18-19, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director, Agnes Callamard and Global Coordinator for Protection, Ricardo Gonzalez undertook a mission to Ciudad Juarez on the border between Mexico and the USA to meet with ARTICLE 19 partners and assess the situation with regard to freedom of expression and freedom of the media following the partial withdraw of the Federal Police a year ago, and the full withdrawal of the military.
This mission is part of ARTICLE 19’s global protection work as well as our determination to assess the effectiveness of our interventions and challenge ourselves to develop and implement programmes of protection that respond to the urgent needs of journalists and human rights defenders.
Decrease in homicides
- Ciudad Juarez has become notorious because of the public security crisis that erupted five years ago partly due to the confrontation between organised crime groups and criminal gangs. Homicides rocketed between 2007 and 2011; according to the figures provided by the Special Prosecutor Office of Chihuahua, there were 300 in 2007, 1,500 in 2008, and 2,656 in 2009, reaching its peak the following year with a total of 3,000 homicides.
- The daily rate of violence is no longer continuing and this was acknowledged by almost everyone the ARTICLE 19 delegation met. The overall number of homicides has gone down from the extreme number experienced in 2008-2009 at the height of the war against the drug cartels. According to official figures during the first semester of 2012 a total of 952 homicides took place in the city, which contrasts with the 1,642 in the same period in 2011. For the average inhabitant of Ciudad Juarez, the daily threat of violence, including killing, has clearly decreased. There is no doubt that this represents a major breakthrough which cannot be underestimated.
- Many contacts recognised that the level of general risk and threats has gone down and that they are working in somewhat better conditions. However, they still perceive and experience an intrinsic risk because of their work as journalists and human rights defenders. They also highlighted the fact that the underlying deep-rooted social problems have yet to be tackled.
- Everyone we met for the purpose of this mission highlighted the rapidly increasing risk posed by the behaviour of the municipal police towards journalists and activists: “the police are now the principal threat; they are fighting the journalists.” A few also stated that they felt more at risk now than they did at the height of the drug-related violence because of personal circumstances or a new focus of work (e.g. corruption and abuses by the local police).
- The number of homicides is evidently an important indicator to the state of security but it is also insufficient. Experiences in Ciudad Juarez highlight a number of important dimensions to security, particularly: i) the number of successful investigations into past and current homicides, and cases brought to justice; ii) the number of perpetrators imprisoned following a fair and transparent judicial process; iii) the number of complaints against the police for abuse or corruption; iv) the level of trust amongst the population for their police and justice system and more generally public officials. When considering all these variables, the picture of security in Ciudad Juarez that is emerging is highly troubling.
Arrest by the police
- The number of arrests has gone up. People interviewed confirm that the municipal police seem to be arresting people on very weak grounds, such as appearances, or not carrying identification. According to figures provided by local authorities there were 70,142 arrests for administrative offenses from January to June of this year, in which 7% involved minors. During the same period there were 2,909 arrests on criminal charges but there were as few as 15 formal charges.
- In spite of the efforts undertaken by municipal police to deliver training on human rights to its agents, excessive use of force and other abuses still remain a major complaint. There is no evidence that institutional change has been undertaken to address repeated violations. The case of Joel González, a reporter of El Diario de Juarez illustrates the level of vulnerability faced by the press. He was illegally detained last February while reporting on the arrest of woman. González was held for three hours incommunicado and subjected to intimidation. He was accused, although not charged, of obstruction of justice. Following his formal complaint, the police defendants were allowed to face the charges without a temporary suspension of their duties.
Complaints against the police
- The number of complaints against the police has gone up. According to the estimate of Gustavo de la Rosa, an investigator of Chihuahua Commission of Human Rights, there was an average of two complaints per month in 2011, against 20 in 2012. The local media reported that during the first semester of 2012, the Chihuahua Human Rights Commission filed 190 complaints against the city Police and 75 against the state Police, which represents a change in the trend of previous years where the federal forces were the main perpetrator of abuses.
- A committee composed of the Human Rights Commission and local government responsible for following up on the complaints was established last August. It has not made public any of its findings. De la Rosa explained to the ARTICLE 19 delegation the numerous difficulties faced to gain access to the investigations and the full cooperation of the authorities. The lack of updated information inhibits public scrutiny and prevents the accountability of the whole process.
Investigations and cases brought to justice
- There is an overall 98.5% rate of impunity according to the Chihuahua Commission for Human Rights
- According to the information provided to the investigative reporter Sandra Rodríguez by the Prosecutor Office of Chihuahua, less than 200 homicides have been investigated, out of all the homicides committed during the wave of violence between 2008 and 2010. An official of the Prosecutor’s Office told the Wall Street Journal that the prosecutors in Ciudad Juarez won 19 convictions out 2,600 murders that took place in 2009.
- There has been absolutely no progress made with the investigation into the killing of journalist Armando Rodríguez in 2008 and that of Luis Carlos Santiago Orozco in 2010. As far as the former is concerned, some public officials have claimed that the case had been solved with the arrest of a drug lord José Antonio Acosta Hernández A.K.A El Diego. But further to this claim, no official charges have been brought against him for the killing and the case is still opened.
- As far as Luis Carlos Santiago is concerned, his investigation file is as good as empty. Santiago’s friends and colleagues testified that witnesses to the killing were not called to testify, some two years after his death. On the second anniversary of his killing the spokesperson of the State Prosecutor’s Office was quoted in the local media saying that, “the file is still in the same status from a year ago.”
- Investigation into the attempted killing of human rights defender Norma Esther Andrade has made no significant progress either. Norma and her family had to flee the city and received political asylum across the border in the United States.
- The disastrous record on investigation is also well evidenced by the 12 cases of disappearances of women investigated by the Chihuahua Special Prosecutor: nothing happened for a full year, according to the feminist group, Red Mesa de Mujeres de Juarez.
Homicides of women
- Homicides of women have not decreased both in Ciudad Juárez and the rest of the state of Chihuahua. According to the Alternative Report submitted to the CEDAW Committee related to Ciudad Juarez, prepared by Red de Mujeres de Ciudad Juarez and the Human Rights Academy there were, “in 2009, a total of 2,486 men reported murdered plus 164 women; 2010, a total of 2,359 men plus 306 women murdered, the highest figure in recent years; and in 2011, a total of 1,688 men killed plus 196 women”.
- On 1 May, the newspaper Diario de Juárez published an investigation pointing out that the incidence of murders among men is falling whilst murders of women rose by 50% in the first three months of 2012, and when comparing the incidence from February to April, the figure has risen by 80%.
- According to Red Mesa de Mujeres de Ciudad Juárez, 95% of the cases of homicides of women remain unpunished.
Shrinking space for journalists and human rights work? Shrinking number of activists?
- A number of journalists or Human Rights Defenders have left the city and still remain outside the city, including in El Paso, Mexico City, the US and Europe. The case of activist Norma Andrade and journalists Rosa Isela Peréz, who fled the city and never returned, are emblematic.
- Currently, a number of human rights defenders or activists spend time in El Paso or have moved there. According to the spokesperson of Nuestras Hijas de Regreso a Casa, six human rights defenders are seeking asylum across the border. Their names are not disclosed for security reasons.
- Complaints by journalists against the army or the police have shown no progress. The 2010 complaint filed before the National Commission for Human Rights by award-winning journalist, Lucy Soza in 2010 has shown no significant progress (a group of soldiers had threatened to kidnap her.) According to Pedro Torres, editor of El Diario de Juarez for the last three months, a new pattern has emerged whereby two to three newspaper salesmen are arrested and detained every day – sometimes because they carry no identification and most often for no apparent reason. All journalists interviewed commented about the difficulties they experience because of the municipal police.
Public Harassment and Threats
- Public officials have repeatedly attacked journalists and human rights defenders for their work in investigating violence, the lack of police response or police corruption. “They are pushing forward electoral aims (…) seeking to obtain power (…) to feed partisan and private interests, that are detrimental to the function of legitimate institutions". (Proceso, April 3rd 2012)
- Women human rights defenders have been particularly targeted for their denunciation of the killings and disappearances of women – a work which the Governor of Chihuahua Cesar Duarte has characterised as “Hollywood hysteria” after been criticised for minimising the violence suffered by the women in Chihuahua during a hearing before the Inter American Commission of Human Right in March 2012. “Their (women activists) real function is to enlarge problems and not solve them in order to justify their existence and their funding. (La Opinión de Chihuahua, March 24th 2012)
- Such statements testify to an official strategy of containment of critical voices and are likely to increase the vulnerability of those who are targeted for exercising their right to freedom of expression. “Let’s get the mask off, if their objective is to hit my government they should say so instead of launching an international campaign against the whole state of Chihuahua(La Opinión de Chihuahua, March 24th 2012)
- Journalists expressed cynicism and distrust for the local and federal mechanisms of protection: “I cannot conceive to be safe in the hands of a state that threatens me all the time” was one of the comments heard by ARTICLE 19. “We wouldn´t need a special mechanism to protect us in the first place if the authorities did their work and respected the law”.
Self-protection and solidarity
- Despite the prevailing impunity and the lack of effective governmental mechanisms for protection, the press has established its own ad hoc safety network to continue their work of solidarity between colleagues; leaving aside professional competition and posting exclusive news, journalists are working together to prevent security incidents. The international and national solidarity has been crucial to the safety of women human rights activists as well as human rights defenders in general. They have created their own protection mechanisms to monitor the security conditions and to respond in case of an emergency aside from the perceived simulation of the government.
ARTICLE 19 wishes to convey respect to all those who continue to provide the Ciudad Juarez public with the best journalism and information possible, in spite of the threats and harassment. This is demonstrated by the number of national and international awards received by individual journalists and newspapers. The story of Ciudad Juarez is not only one of violence and security. It is also one of ground-breaking journalism and human rights activism, on the front line.
ARTICLE 19 calls on the State and municipal authorities to see journalism and human rights work in Ciudad Juarez as essential elements to their strategy in seeking to build a safe city and transform its image as the world capital of killings. ARTICLE 19 urges the state and/or federal authorities to implement fully all special measures of protection for individuals who have been or are likely to be targeted for what they say or do. They should unequivocally condemn attacks committed in reprisal for the exercise of freedom of expression and should stop making statements that are likely to increase the vulnerability of investigative journalists and human and women rights defenders. ARTICLE 19 reminds the authorities once again that any security strategy must ensure that crimes are subject to independent, speedy and effective investigations and prosecutions; and ensure that victims of crimes against freedom of expression have access to appropriate remedies.
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