Tuesday, 23 July 2013

OAS Condemns Murder of Journalist in Mexico

On 22 July 2013, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights condemned the murder of Alberto Lopez Bello, a journalist at El Imparcial. The murder occurred on 17 July in Oaxaca de Juarez, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The Office of the Special Rapporteur, "expresses its concern and urges the Mexican authorities to take urgent action to establish the motive of the crime and to activate all the legal instruments available to identify and punish the perpetrators behind the crime."

A press release issued by the Government of the state of Oaxaca stated that the State General Public Prosecutor must, "rule [the homicide of the journalist] as a high impact case and to send it to the Special Bureau of Attention to Journalists, in order to clarify the murder."

The Organisation of American States' American Convention on Human Rights, Article 13 (1) states, "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought and expression. This right includes freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, in print, in the form of art, or through any other medium of one's choice." Further legal mechanisms for the strengthening of the protection of the life and rights of journalists is found in the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, Principle 9, which states, "The murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communications, as well as the material destruction of communications media violate the fundamental rights of individuals and strongly restrict freedom of expression. It is the duty of the state to prevent and investigate such occurrences, to punish their perpetrators and to ensure that victims receive due compensation."

The OAS noted in their Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Mexico that, "Attacks on journalists are specifically intended to silence them, and so they also constitute violations of the right of a society to have free access to information." On 30 August 2012, the NGO, Article 19, reported that since 2003, 13 journalists have been, and remain, reported as "disappeared." Article 19 argue that in each of the 13 cases, the disappeared journalists share a common set of characteristics as they occur: (i) where organised crime groups have a significant presence or influence over local authorities, (ii) if they cover organised crime or the corrupt links between organised crime and the authorities, and (iii) where state authorities have failed to create specific laws against enforced disappearances.

It is of crucial importance that the motive for the death of Alberto Lopez Bello is identified. If an individual or group has caused the death through the commission of a crime, then the state authorities must punish that individual through normal criminal procedures. However, if the death occurred via a state body, then it must be reported and those governmental officials or agents should be charged with the homicide. The American Convention on Human Rights Article 13, and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, Principle 9, are used by the OAS to firstly, help protect the human rights of those in the media, and secondly, to prevent illegitimate censorship by state governments and officials, and state corruption which occurs as a result, nor necessitated by, the censorship and hostilities towards those in the media.          

Many journalists across South America face threats to their safety and life as they undertake their work to report on political and criminal justice issues. Since 1996, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has considered 38 cases on violence, threats and hostilities against members of the media, 33 cases on the imposition of sanctions due to expression, 29 cases of direct and indirect censorship, and 23 cases concerning access to information. The cases involving Mexico are:

Violence, Threats and Hostilities Against the Members of the Media

Petition 11.740, Report No. 130/99, Mexico, Victor Manuel Oropeza, November 19, 1999 (Admissibility, Merits)

Petition 11.739, Report No. 50/99, Mexico, Hector Felix Miranda, April 13, 1999 (Merits)

Petition 11.610, Report No. 34/98, Mexico, Loren L. Riebie, May 5, 1998 (Admissibility)

Petition 10.545, Report No. 33/98, Mexico, Clemente Ayala Torres, et al, May 5, 1998 (Admissibility)

Subsequent Imposition of Sanctions Due to Expression 

Petition 10.545, Report No. 33/98, Mexico, Clemente Ayala Torres, et al, May 5, 1998 (Admissibility)

Petition 11.430, Report No. 43/96, Mexico, Jose Francisco Gallardo Rodriguez, October 15, 1996 (Merits)

Direct and Indirect Censorship

Petition 938/03, Report No. 67/04, Mexico, Alejandro Junco de la Vega and Eugenio Herrera Terrazas, October 14, 2004, (Admissibility)

Petitions 9768, 9780, 9828, Report No. 01/90 (Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 1989-1990, Mexico, May 17, 1999 (Merits)

For the OAS statement on the death of Alberto Lopez Bello, see  http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/showarticle.asp?artID=930&lID=1

For the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights' decisions on cases concerning threats to members of the media, impositions of sanctions due to expression, direct and indirect censorship, and access to information, see  http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/jurisprudence/decisions_iachr_topics.asp

For the Special Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression, see http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/expression/index.asp

For the Update: Article 19 Mexico marks 13 missing journalists on Day of the Disappeared, see http://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/3425/en/article-19-mexico-marks-13-missing-journalists-on-day-of-the-disappeared