Why PBI works in Mexico

Human rights defenders in Mexico carry out their work in a country that has been ranked by international organisations as one of the most violent in the world. Their commitment to the respect for human rights and peace puts them in direct confrontation with political and economic interests that are contrary to their work. This makes them targets of attacks, threats, harassment, criminalisation and defamation, which aim to close their spaces for action and halt their work.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, “human rights defenders continue to be subject of grave situations that threaten their human rights”. Between June 2012 and May 2015, the annual number of violations against defenders trebled, from 156 to 488, reaching a total of more than 900 violations in the period. Between 2012 and 2014, the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Mexico documented over 600 acts of aggression against women defenders in the country, the second highest rate in the Mesoamerican region.

Guerrero, Oaxaca, Chihuahua and Coahuila are among the states with the highest rates of attacks against human rights defenders, as well as Mexico City. Although several of the affected defenders are beneficiaries of state, federal or international precautionary measures, they have suffered acts of aggression and threats.

Following an official visit to Mexico, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders expressed concern over the situation of defenders in the country, stating that “the situation of human rights defenders in Mexico is conditioned by the criminalization of their activities”.

Women human rights defenders, defenders of economic, social and cultural rights – especially those who defend the rights to land, territory and a sane environment – indigenous defenders, families searching for their disappeared relatives, and people who defend the right to freedom of expression have been identified as the most vulnerable, being constant targets of threats, intimidation, surveillance, defamation, criminalisation, attacks, forced disappearances and assassinations.

Journalists in Mexico also face high levels of risk: civil society has documented the disappearance of 23 journalists between 2003 and 2015, as well as the killings of 111 journalists between 1994 and 2017. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Mexico is the third most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist, only behind Iraq and Syria. Threats, disappearances, murders and defamation campaigns against journalists, as well as the lack of effective protection measures for them and the almost total impunity of perpetrators of violations contribute to the prevalence of a climate of fear and silence – and a lack of public information.

The vast majority of the violations committed against human rights defenders and journalists remain in impunity. According to the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, “the failure to investigate and sanction aggressors has signalled a dangerous message that there are no consequences for committing such crimes. This creates an environment conducive to repetition of violations”.

With permanent presence in Mexico since 2000, PBI has witnessed the risk situation of human rights defenders. Despite efforts by Mexican civil society and multilateral bodies to give visibility to this reality, violations against defenders continue to be reported, as well as the lack of recognition of the legitimacy and importance of their work.

Under requests by local and national organisations, PBI continues to protect HRDs’ spaces for action in the country so they can carry on with their important work for justice and peace.