The Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists. By Pablo Romo Cedano, President of the Advisory Council to the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists
The Mexican Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (created by a Law adopted on 25 June 2012 – editor’s note), entered into operation in November of the same year, following ten years work and pressure exerted by many CSOs and international bodies. In other words, it is not the result of chance or the goodwill of a government that wants to protect people at risk who work in the fields of human rights or journalism.
The Mexican mechanism claims to be an international pioneer, both because of its originality and because of its reach. It incorporates lessons learned from the Colombian mechanism, and the law itself and its regulatory regime, meet international protection standards. The law establishes a range of bodies whose role is to protect people at risk, namely: the Government Board (JG in Spanish), composed of nine permanent members with voting rights, an Advisory Council (CC in Spanish), made up of nine citizen advisors, a National Executive Coordination (CEN in Spanish), and three auxiliary units. Participants in the JG must be of at least Deputy Secretary level and are drawn from the Secretariat (Ministry) of Government (Segob in Spanish), the Federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR in Spanish), the Ministry of Public Security (now absorbed into the Segob), the Foreign Affairs Ministry (SRE in Spanish) and four representatives of the CC. The CC itself is made up of four journalists, four HRDs and a representative of academia. The director of the CEN is named directly by the Segob.
Three units were established under the terms of the law: Reception of Cases and Rapid Reaction; Risk Evaluation and Prevention; and Monitoring and Analysis. The mechanism has an independent budget held under a trust mechanism exclusively for attending to the beneficiaries. The director of the CEN is responsible for the administration of the trust; the law also establishes a Technical Council to oversee the functions of the trust.
During the first 22 months of operation the Mechanism has failed notably to fulfil the terms of the law or to meet the expectations it generated and that it continues to inspire. On 15 March 2014 it faced a major crisis, when the director of the CEN was forced to resign, leaving a trail of discontent behind him. The majority of the people who had been employed by the mechanism up to this point failed to meet the standards stipulated by the law and there were frequent changes of assigned tasks and high levels of staff turnover. As occurs with all new institutions the Mechanism still suffers from inexperience and multiple failings in basic resource management. Indeed, as of May 2014, the trust (whose resources are intended to cover the Mechanism’s running costs – editors’ note) remained untouched as a result of bureaucratic difficulties.
Even more seriously, of the more than 150 applications received to date by the Mechanism, fewer than 80 have been processed, resulting in risk to the lives of the HRDs and journalists waiting for their requests to be dealt with. Since the Mechanism entered into operation at the end of September 2014, dozens of HRDs have been threatened and many have been forcibly displaced as a result of attacks.
The Mechanism’s third unit, responsible for Monitoring and Analysis, has not yet initiated activities. This has impeded the provision of dedicated professional attention to persons who have already entered the Mechanism. In synthesis, the Mechanism has suffered from extremes of inefficiency, serious operational problems, and incompetence in complying with the mission given it by the law and the regulatory framework within which it operates.
The context of crisis characterising the Mechanism during the first half of 2014 provided an opportunity for strengthening it on several fronts: an independent consultancy carried out by Freedom House elaborated an action plan – limited in its scope – to specifically improve the functioning of the Risk Analysis Unit and the operational capacity of the overall Mechanism; the renovation of the CEN with a new Director who was committed to developing a short, medium and long term Action Plan that included the professionalisation of all staff; the initiation of the activities of the third unit; the elimination of the backlog; speedier and more timely attention to new cases; and the strengthening of dialogue with national and international civil society bodies.
The crisis has meant it has been possible to highlight the inadequacies of the Mechanism and has led to high ranking politicians – in particular Lía Limón, the Deputy Minister for Human Rights within the Ministry of Government, and Deputy Minister of the Foreign Affairs Minister Juan Manuel Gómez Robledo – committing to furthering its work and strengthening it. The result has been that the backlog of over 80 cases has been eliminated and the JG is now providing some kind of protection.
It is therefore indispensable, on the one hand, to record the experiences that have been accumulated up to now and, on the other, to continue applying national and international pressure to ensure the Mechanism functions adequately and the measures it was created to take are duly applied.
PI’s work in Mexico
Throughout 2013, a PI expert, hired as a consultant by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico, continued to provide hands-on technical advice and to help build the capacities of national authorities and local civil society organisations on risk assessment and security and protection management for HRDs.61 Moreover, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH in Spanish), OHCHR and PI organised two regional workshops (in Sinaloa and San Luis Potosí) together with each regional Human Rights Commission respectively, to address officials and civil society organisations on HRD protection and security.
PI was also asked by the OHCHR in Mexico to deliver a distance-learning course to 37 participants, including civil servants and civil society representatives involved with the implementation of the law in the country. Altogether, PI has trained more than 150 officials in Mexico through its work with OHCHR-Mexico.
Throughout 2014, PI has continued to be called upon to provide ad-hoc independent and technical advice on issues related to risk assessment by, for example, the OHCHR- Mexico, the CNDH, the Crimes against Freedom of Expression Special Prosecutor’s Office (Fiscalía Especial de Delitos en contra de la Libertad de Expresión, FEADLE) and Mexican civil society organisations.