PEN International’s UPR submission on Mexico

Three years after Mexico accepted United Nations (UN) recommendations for combating violence against journalists and eradicating impunity for human rights violations, “the rate at which journalists are being attacked and killed in the country continues to spiral,” PEN International warned on March 7, 2013 during a submission to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. PEN called government initiatives to stem the violence since the 2009 review “largely cosmetic.” A PEN delegation will visit Mexico in mid-March to press for further action on dozens of unsolved killings and disappearances of journalists and writers.

In a keynote speech at the Inter American Press Association in Puebla, Mexico on March 8, PEN International president John Ralston Saul raised concerns about freedom of expression and re-emphasized the need for protective measures for journalists, writers and advocates of freedom of speech in the country.

While the Mexican government has introduced a number of institutional and legal measures to offer protection to journalists, the mechanisms have proved largely ineffective and superficial. The rate at which journalists are being killed in Mexico continues to accelerate, while those who commit crimes against journalists go unpunished. Since December 2006 at least 46 print and internet journalists and writers have been killed in the country. There is little or no investigation into these cases and less than 10 per cent of end with convictions.

This climate of impunity is mostly due to local corruption and inertia that is prevalent in many Mexican states. Police and employees of local administrations are frequently implicated in attacks on journalists, and threats to journalists’ right to free expression often come directly from the state authorities themselves.

In January 2012, the President of PEN International, John Ralston Saul, led a delegation of writers to Mexico, to raise concerns about the continued violence suffered by Mexican writers and journalists in meetings with key government figures. On January 27, 2012, PEN published a letter in the Mexican paper El Universal and Canadian Le Devoir standing in solidarity with the writers and journalists of Mexico. The letter was signed by 170 of the world’s leading authors, including seven Nobel Laureates.

As part of its continued efforts in Mexico, PEN launched Write Against Impunity in August 2012. The campaign brought together PEN Centres across Latin America in a wide-reaching literary protest with over 40 writers contributing poetry and prose commemorating murdered colleagues and protesting against impunity. In October, PEN International was at Hay Festival Xalapa highlighting the escalating violence against writers in the region.

PEN’s UPR report and recommendations on Mexico can be read below or downloaded here.


In addition, Write Against Impunity campaign information can be found here.

Information on PEN’s participation in UN Plan of Action on the Safety if Journalists and the Issue of Impunity can be viewed here.

Highlights from the UPR submission

  • According to media reports, by December 2012 the estimated number of deaths as a result of drug trafficking related violence had reached 60,000. The violence has had an increasing impact on Mexican journalists and writers. Since December 2006, at least 46 print and internet journalists and writers have been killed in Mexico, with a particular spike in 2011 and 2012. At least eight other print journalists have disappeared since December 2006.
  • Few if any of these murders and disappearances have been solved. Information on the investigations into these crimes is scant, despite regular communications with the Mexican authorities, and in many cases it is difficult to ascertain whether the investigations are still on-going. At least 172 other writers have suffered some other form of attack since December 2006, the majority of them print journalists. Most of these crimes, too, remain unpunished.
  • While some of the attacks on journalists in Mexico come from organised crime groups, many come from government agents, particularly at state and local level, a fact publically recognised by members of the Mexican government as well as by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Impunity for crimes against journalists in Mexico stands at around 90 per cent. This level of impunity is due to: inadequate investigations that disregard the motive of attacks; government corruption and collusion, especially at local and state level; lack of incentives for reform; and a lack of solidarity among journalists.
  • Since the UPR review in 2009, the Mexican government has introduced a number of institutional and legal measures aimed at protecting journalists and the right to freedom of expression, and at combating impunity. Despite some positive initiatives, in practice most of the changes have proved largely cosmetic to date, while the rate at which journalists are being attacked and killed in the country continues to spiral.

PEN’s Recommendations

  • Ensure that the 46 murders and eight disappearances of writers and print and internet journalists that have taken place since December 2006, as well as any other unsolved murders and disappearances from previous periods, are properly investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice;
  • Make public information on the state of the investigations into the murders of writers Miguel Ángel Gutiérrez Ávila, Susana Chávez Castillo and Guillermo Fernández García;
  • Ensure that all allegations of attacks against writers and print and internet journalists carried out by government entities at any level are fully and promptly investigated as a matter of urgency;
  • Ensure that all necessary secondary laws are passed in order to implement fully the amendment to Article 73, Clause 21 of the Mexican Constitution enabling federal authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes against journalists and freedom of expression, including making the necessary changes to the Federal Penal Code, the Federal Code on Penal Procedures and the Organic Law of the Federation’s Judiciary;
  • Ensure as a matter of urgency that FEADLE is allocated sufficient financial, material and human resources in order to carry out its work;
  • Address criticisms of the current protection mechanism for journalists and human rights defenders in consultation with these groups, and release a breakdown of related spending to date;
  • Ensure that steps are taken towards the complete decriminalisation of defamation in all 32 Mexican states;
  • Ensure that the Article 33 Regulatory Law is enacted as a matter of urgency and to provide assurances that foreigners are not being expelled from Mexico in violation of their right to freedom of expression.


Further reading
PEN International’s list of journalists who have been killed in Mexico since 2010 can be found here.

Corruption, Impunity, Silence – The War on Mexico’s Journalists — the University of Toronto’s International Human Rights Program/PEN Canada report on impunity for violence against Mexico’s journalists can be read below or downloaded here.