Campaign for journalists' rights in Mexico marks 60th anniversary of Human Rights declaration

by Article 19

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ARTICLE 19 launches a campaign to protect those that are at the forefront of reporting human rights abuses and informing the public about the state of the world. Sixty years ago, Latin American countries constituted the largest bloc of the delegations responsible for drafting the first international text setting out freedoms, rights and entitlements for all humanity to claim. One such fundamental right is that to freedom of expression: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Two years earlier, in 1946, at its very first session, in the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 59(I) which states: “Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and ... the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated.”

Since then, this understanding has been echoed many times. For example, the UN Human Rights Committee has said: “The right to freedom of expression is of paramount importance in any democratic society.” The European Court of Human Rights has recognised the vital role of freedom of expression as an underpinning of democracy: “Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of [a democratic] society, one of the basic conditions for its progress and for the development of every man.”

The guarantee of freedom of expression applies with particular force to the media. The media is an important focus of attention for freedom of expression activists: it is the first medium that governments and other political and economic forces attempt to control, including through seeking their complete and forced silencing. As key vehicles of communication and expression, the ability of the media to function independently is vital to freedom of expression but also to the ability of a society to function and survive.

For many years now, ARTICLE 19 has been denouncing the dire situation of journalists in a country which many in the world sees as a democracy and a model of economic growth. Yet, Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to practice journalism, outside war zones. In the last eight years, at least 29 journalists have been killed for practicing journalism and a further eight have been forcibly disappeared. Countless numbers work under threat and practice self-censorship. No one has been held to account for these killings and disappearances.

This campaign – the first of its kind – is addressed to the general public: “What you don’t know can hurt you” seeks to raise awareness amongst Mexican men and women about the toll paid by journalists across the country, but also the toll they – the public – are paying for this violence. Their right to practice journalism is violated and with it, the right of the public to access information of central importance to their life, their future and that of their children.

“Every time information of public interest is withdrawn because of violence, threats or fears, it is a little piece of our humanity that is taken away. Whenever opinions, expression and information are torn, what makes us human is torn as well,” says Dr Agnès Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

ARTICLE 19 and its partner CENCOS, a Mexico-based human rights organization, launch a permanent campaign for the protection of journalists. Inaugurated through a highly publicized event in Mexico City, the campaign seeks to ensure that violence against journalists and impunity become a national outcry, and a national priority against which all actors will take action. During the event, the wife of one of the victim’s spoke up, demanding full investigations for all the journalists that have disappeared and honoring those that had gone down.

“Journalists are under fire because of the work they do, of what they report and what they uncover. Their presence has become uncomfortable for drug cartels, police and authorities up to the federal level. The campaign will seek to closely monitor the situation of freedom of expression all across Mexico and to support and accompany journalists, media owners and directors in demanding and achieving the level of safety needed to truly exercise press freedom.” says Callamard.

The awareness raising campaign includes television and radio spots, posters throughout Mexico city, and a website. The site includes sections on adequatemethodology for reporting aggressions, aggression alerts within Mexico, as well as materials about how to document cases and the situation of freedom of expression in Mexico.

The prevailing culture of impunity in Mexico and other countries in the region has had a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression and access to information all across the continent. ARTICLE 19 has worked alongside CENCOS for the past year and a half, building local capacities and training on monitoring and reporting, safety measures, and campaigning. In 2009, ARTICLE 19 and its Central American partners will seek to replicate the experience in Mexico to other Latin American countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, where violence against the media workers and violation of the public right to know is endemic. The overall objective is to strengthen local capacities and build a continentwide protection network.

article originally published at http://www.article19.org.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey