Disastrous toll: 21 Latin American journalists killed in past six months
July 10, NY: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled to have to report that no fewer than 21 journalists were killed in the first six months of 2016 in Latin America, 14 of them in just two countries – Mexico and Guatemala.
This disastrous toll is attributable in part to flawed or non-existent protective mechanisms but above all to the alarming level violence, corruption and impunity in most of the region's countries – a region that is now one of the world's most dangerous for media personnel.
As in 2015, Mexico continues to register the biggest death toll, with nine journalists murdered in the first half of 2016. It is followed by Guatemala with five, Honduras with three, Brazil with two and Venezuela and El Salvador with one each.
None of these countries is officially at war, but each of them suffers from a significant degree of structural violence linked to ubiquitous armed groups that include Mexico's cartels and Central America's “maras.”
The motive of most of these deaths is still unknown. When the police investigate them, the investigations soon get bogged down and are obstructed by corrupt officials. Impunity is, more than ever, at the centre of a vicious circle of violence against media personnel and journalism's chronic depreciation.
The circumstances of these murders are usually very similar. The victims are often radio hosts or local correspondents based in regions far from major cities who cover crime, corruption or sensitive social issues. They are gunned down by “sicarios” (hit-men) near their home or workplace and in some cases they had been warned in advance about their reporting.
If there is any room for doubt, the police and judicial authorities quickly rule out any connection between the murder and the victim's work as a journalist. They often try to cast doubt on the quality of the victim's journalism and even go so far as to suggest that the victim was linked to local criminal groups.
“The toll of murders of journalists in Latin America in the first six months suggests that 2016 will be a terrible year for the region,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF's Latin America desk.
“The spiralling violence, especially in Mexico and Central America, is transforming Latin America into one of the world's most dangerous regions for media personnel. When you add the countless attacks, abductions, enforced disappearances, threats and cases of judicial harassment, you end up with a climate of terror in which journalists are clearly no longer at home. It is high time the region's leaders did their duty and undertook to do everything possible to end this deadly spiral.”
The Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression that was adopted by the Organization of American States (OAS) says: “The murder, kidnapping, intimidation of and/or threats to social communicators, 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.”
Many OAS member states seem to have forgotten these principles because they do not treat the protection of journalists as a priority. Only two Latin American countries, Colombia and Mexico, have created national mechanisms for protecting journalists and in both countries the mechanisms fail to serve their purpose because they are cruelly denied adequate financial and human resources and autonomy vis-à-vis the political class.
As a result of strong pressure from civil society and journalists' associations, a mechanism is in the process of being created and implemented in Guatemala. In response to the almost total impunity for crimes against journalists in Honduras, RSF is calling for the creation of an independent investigative body with trained and qualified personnel that is able to clearly establish the links between the murders of journalists and their work and to make its findings public.
The Oslo Times International News Network