UN HRC: Mexico must end impunity for enforced disappearances

ARTICLE 19 is calling upon the Mexican government to end impunity for enforced disappearances in the country, a topic currently on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council during its 33rd Session.

It has been five years since the UN’s Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances observed that in Mexico a “chronic pattern of impunity still exists in cases of enforced disappearance”, including in cases of disappeared journalists.

Today, impunity remains the norm. 

More than 26,000 people are known to have disappeared in Mexico since 2006, and the government claim they are taking the necessary steps to tackle this humanitarian crisis, and determine the fate of so many. However, ARTICLE 19 alleges that a severe lack of political will, and of capacity, is standing in the way of bringing the individuals responsible for these crimes to justice, and denying the victims their right to truth and reparations. 

The changes the Mexican government has initiated to institutional structures, and the adoption of new protocols on search and investigation, as well as a database on disappeared persons, are by themselves not enough. Mexico must now commit to addressing the chronic implementation gap and take meaningful action to end impunity for enforced disappearance, including of journalists. 

Enforced Disappearance of Journalists

ARTICLE 19 Mexico has documented the disappearances of 23 journalists since 2003, with no single person brought to justice for any one of those crimes.  

At its 33rd Session, the UN Human Rights Council will consider a resolution on the safety of journalists, elaborating on what States must do to implement the commitments they made on this issue at the HRC two years ago. The full and comprehensive implementation of these standards in practice is desperately needed in Mexico. 

Journalists in Mexico face serious risks as a result of their work criticising powerful groups, and exposing wrongdoing and corruption. Physical attacks, harassment on and off-line, theft, assassination, and disappearances are worryingly common – and are used to intimidate journalists into silence. 

In 96% of the disappearances monitored by ARTICLE 19 Mexico, the journalists had been investigating corruption, public security, and the collusion of public officials. Just under a quarter had been threatened prior to their disappearance.

Too often, however, the authorities in Mexico ignore or dismiss the connection between a journalist’s disappearance and their exercise of their right to free expression, and even publicly discredit the victim’s journalistic activities. Investigations for enforced disappearances often appear to be little more than a formality, and continue to be plagued by inertia and incompetence. 

As a result, the possible perpetrators, with a clear motive for abducting and holding the journalist, are often not investigated in the critical hours and days after a report has been made. Not only does this hamper initial searches for the victim, and make it less likely that they will be found, but it can also render investigations and evidence-gathering ineffective. 

Family and colleagues of the disappeared are themselves often harassed when they try to pursue justice. 

Investigating Crimes Linked to Freedom of Expression

The Federal Special Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes against Freedom of Expression (FEADLE by its Spanish acronym) must systematically and impartially make use of its powers to take-over investigations from state-level prosecutors, according to the clear criteria set out in Article 73, Section XXI of the Constitution. 

Less than 1% of the preliminary investigations FEADLE has opened have led to convictions. For this to be addressed, FEADLE must adopt effective investigative protocols, and enhance coordination with the National Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, the National Human Rights Commission, National Security Commission, and State and Municipal authorities.

Though it is important that the UN Human Rights Council renews its focus on the safety of journalists, international standards on paper do not by themselves provide journalists much more security. The adoption of a strong resolution must be matched by ever stronger political will within states at the national and local levels to act on impunity and ensure the safety and accountability promised. 

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Mexican authorities to end impunity for enforced disappearances, in particular of persons disappeared for exercising their right to freedom of expression, and ensure protection for individuals at risk of attack or violence, including disappearance. 

Moisés Sánchez Cerezo

The case of Moisés Sánchez Cerezo is emblematic of the persistent challenges to combatting impunity in the case of enforced disappearance of journalists in Mexico.

Moisés Sánchez Cerezo, journalist and owner of newspaper La Unión, was disappeared 2 January 2015 by an armed group and found murdered 22 days later in Medellín de Bravo, Veracruz. Prior to his disappearance, he had published allegations of abuses by the now ex-Mayor of Medellín de Bravo, Omar Cruz Reyes, as well as the Governor of the State of Veracruz, Javier Duarte de Ochoa

Whilst investigations were still ongoing, Duarte de Ochoa described Moisés Sánchez Cerezo as a ‘taxi-driver and neighbourhood activist’, minimising and discrediting his journalistic work exposing wrongdoing. He later claimed that the case had been ‘completely clarified’ by State Prosecutors, despite ex-Mayor Omar Cruz Reyes, the suspected intellectual author of the crime, and five of the material authors, including the municipal police chief, remaining at liberty. 

State Prosecutors proved themselves incapable of carrying out an impartial, speedy, thorough and independent investigation: the case has been marred by serious procedural irregularities, including allegations that the only person convicted for their involvement in the disappearance, and murder, was tortured by investigators. 

These irregularities and alleged human rights violations meant that key suspects, including Omar Cruz Reyes and the police chief, were granted judicial protection (amparo). It was only on the 9 September 2016 that Omar Cruz Reyes was stripped of judicial protection, thus reactivating the warrant for his arrest. 

FEADLE has repeatedly rejected appeals from Moisés Sánchez Cerezo’s family, and their legal representatives, to use its powers to take sole charge of the investigation into his disappearance, and murder. Instead, two investigations are ongoing leading to unnecessary duplication and uncertainty for the victim’s family. 

ARTICLE 19 calls on FEADLE to use its powers to take over this investigation, and to conduct an effective, impartial, and thorough investigation that upholds the right to truth and reparations.

The Disappeared Journalists

(Name, Organisation, State, Date)

Jesus Mejía Lechuga – Radio MS-Noticias – Veracruz – 10 July 2003

Leodegario Aguilera – Mundo Político – Guerrero 22 May 2004

Alfredo Jiménez Mota – El Imparcial – Sonora – 2 April 2005

Rafael Ortiz Martínez – Zócalo – Coahuila – 8 July 2006

José Antonio Garcia Apac – Ecos de la Cuenca de Tepaltepec – Michoacán – 20 November 2006

Rodolfo Rincón Taracena – Tabasco Hoy – Tabasco – 21 January 2007

Gamaliel López – TV Azteca – Nuevo Leon – 10 May 2007

Gerardo Paredes – TV Azteca – Nueva León – 10 May 2007 

Mauricio Estrada Zamora – La Opinión de Apatzingán – Michoacán – 12 February 2008

Maria Esther Aguilar – Cambio de Michoacán – Michoacán – 11 November 2009

Pedro Argüello – El Mañana – Tamaulipas – 1 March 2010 

Miguel Angel Dominguez Zamora – El Mañana – Tamaulipas – 1 March 2010

Guillermo Martínez Alvarado – El Mañana – Tamaulipas – 1 March 2010 

Amancio Cantú – La Prensa – Tamaulipas – 1 March 2010 

Guadalupe Cantú – La Prensa – Tamaulipas – 1 March 2010 

Ramón Ángeles Zalpa – Cambio de Michoacán – Michoacán – 6 April 2010 

Marco Antonio López – Novedades de Acapulco – Guerrero – 7 June 2011

Gabriel Fonseca – El Mañanero – Veracruz – 19 September 2011

Miguel Morales – Diario de Poza Rica – Veracruz – 24 July 2012

Adela Alcaraz López – Canal 12 de Rio Verde – San Luis Potosi – 26 October 2012 

Sergio Landa – Diario Cardel – Veracruz – 22 January 2013

Maria del Rosario Fuentes – Valor X Tamaulipas – Tamaulipas – 15 October 2014

Alberto Crespo – Uno TV – Sinaloa – 3 December 2014