On 11 December, the Swedish Embassy in Mexico hosted a seminar on how the gender perspective could be enhanced in the analysis and protective measures offered by the Mexican government to protect journalists and human rights defenders. The event took place in connection with International Human Rights Day, which this year particularly focused on freedom of expression, and the two-week campaign to highlight and combat violence against women.
The one-day conference was organised in cooperation with the federal mechanism set up by the Mexican government to protect human rights defenders and journalists across the country, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Women, as well as the non-governmental organisations CIMAC and Jass. A further 50 other people participated, including journalists and human rights defenders from Mexican states where violence is particularly widespread.
Ambassador Annika Thunborg gave the opening address, followed by state secretary for human rights at the interior ministry Roberto Campa, the heads of the Office of the High Commissioner and UN Women in Mexico, Jan Jařab and Belén Sanz, and the newly appointed EU Ambassador Klaus Rudischhauser.
As Ambassador Thunborg pointed out in her opening address, journalists and human rights defenders perform central functions in our democratic societies as they shine a light on important issues in society, scrutinise those in power, demand accountability and provide a voice to those who do not have one. State secretary Campa particularly emphasised the importance of breaking impunity to combat aggressions.
Following presentations of how threats change depending on the gender of the person targeted, and the violence that journalists and human rights defenders are subjected to in Mexico, the delegates broke off into five groups to focus on: women human rights defenders; sexual and reproductive rights; human trafficking; disappeared people, the rights of migrants and land rights; and women journalists. Following a report back from each group, the day ended with a joint discussion of the conclusions.
During the discussions it emerged that woman journalists and human rights defenders are particularly targeted through threats and violence against family members and defamation campaigns on social media focusing on their looks and sex life, and calling into question their role as women. Those who challenged traditional gender roles and powerful economic interests through their work were particularly targeted. Those targeted often played down the seriousness of the threats, which reduced the possibility of preventing more serious attacks. Access to networks and authorities that could provide support was seen as central since those targeted are often mistrusted and shunned by employers, family members and the communities they were active in.
With regard to protective measures, it was important to take into account the fact that women traditionally bear responsibility for children and older people, and therefore to coordinate measures with, for example, the education and social security systems. It was also important to provide information about the support that was available at local level where knowledge was limited.
The Swedish Embassy is responsible for coordinating the EU’s work on journalists and human rights defenders in Mexico. On the one hand, Mexico has an independent, broad-based and professional news media, often with a focus on multifaceted debate and investigative journalism. Similarly, civil society is characterised by great diversity and activity. On the other hand, threats and violence against journalists and human rights defenders are widespread.
Since 2000, 130 journalists have been murdered, 11 of them in 2017. And since 2012, 106 human rights defenders have been murdered and 81 have disappeared. The UN rapporteurs who visited Mexico this year have underlined the importance of applying a gender perspective in measures taken to protect these professional groups.