On February 2, 2021, the report “Situation of the defense of human rights and freedom expression in Mexico during the COVID-19 pandemic” was presented, prepared by the Espacio OSC (Civil Society Organization Space), the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defenders), the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Mexico (RNDDHMX) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL).

The presentation, moderated by the regional co-director of IM-Defenders, Lydia Alpízar, was attended by Laura Orozco, a member of the RNDDHMX, Pablo Vaca, from the Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression of the IACHR, Enrique Irazoque, from the Ministry of the Interior, Guillermo Fernández, from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, and Adela Navarro, journalist for Semanario Zeta de Baja California.

At least 6 journalists and 24 human rights defenders were murdered in the country during 2020, 7 women and 23 men, for reasons related to their work in defense of human rights and exercise of their right to freedom of expression, according to the report.

The report states that in the current context of the health emergency due to COVID-19, human rights defenders and journalists in Mexico face new risk conditions, in addition to limitations to carry out their work due to social distancing and confinement measures. This deterioration of the conditions for the defense of human rights and freedom of expression occurs in a context in which it is essential to have public scrutiny and collective controls of the measures adopted by different levels of government that have restricted or directly violated human rights.

Among the measures adopted by the State that require an exercise of scrutiny and public control, including by international protection bodies, are recent austerity policies affecting institutions and funds for human rights, such as the Federal Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists; the formalization of the deployment of the armed forces in security matters; the disproportionate punitive approach and the arbitrary nature of actions committed by authorities of different levels. These practices occur in the context of the application of the measures adopted to face the health emergency; the use of force to suppress demonstrations; the continuity of extractive development policies through megaprojects; immigration control measures; and the sustained crisis of disappearances in the country.

Even when the context demands the full exercise of the defense of human rights and free expression, the conditions to do so have deteriorated. According to information from the RNDDHMX, between January and June 2020, 266 women and 42 groups experienced attacks for their work. For their part, those who practice journalism were victims of 63 attacks only in the period between March and June 2020. The resources to demand rights were affected by the suspension of judicial terms and deadlines for requesting information, disproportionately impacting the defenders of land and territory while allowing megaprojects to continue; and the people who accompany the migrant population. For their part, four murders of trans human rights defenders marked a particularly critical year for the LGBTTTIQA + community. Finally, the victims and family members in search efforts for disappeared individuals were affected by the economic impact of the pandemic and delays by the authorities.

The report concludes with the demand to the Mexican State to comply with recommendations and resolutions issued by international bodies that demand to guarantee the protection of defenders and journalists in this crisis.

In particular, the investigation urges the authorities to recognize the work of women defenders for a more just and equitable society, in addition to demanding investigation and punishment of those responsible for the attacks against defenders and journalists in the year 2020.