Inter-American Rights Watch

Murdered Mexican Journalist’s Body Elevates Concern for Reporters in the Country

By: Elyse Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

VERACRUZ, Mexico – A journalist in Mexico was found decapitated in the gulf coast state of Veracruz earlier this month. Julio Valdivia is, at least, the fifth journalist this year to be murdered in the country and the second in Veracruz. His name has been added to the long list of journalists who have been killed reporting on crime in Mexico.

Woman Places a Photo of Julio Valdivia on His Casket in Veracruz, Mexico. Photo Courtesy of AP News.

It has been estimated that over the past 20 years, around 140 journalists have been murdered on the job there. However, this year alone, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the violence orchestrated against journalists has made Mexico the deadliest country in the world for reporting.

The remains of Valdivia’s tortured body were found on railroad tracks near his motorcycle in the municipality of Tezonapa; only about five miles from where he lived. The details regarding the whereabouts of his body were reported by his employer El Mundo de Córdoba.

The area where Valdivia was reporting is a known Jalisco New Generation cartel territory. The border between Veracruz and Oaxaca is regarded as violent and often journalists have to rely on self-censorship to remain alive. The State Commission for the Attention and Protection of Journalists (CEAPP) released in a statement that Valdivia had not received any special protection measures since he never reported any aggression or threats to his life.

A friend of the family, Angela Carrasco, mentioned in an interview with the Associated Press that Valdivia, a father of six, was working on a rate of about 1,000 pesos, or $47, a week. She stated he did this work for his family, and it was his life.

In a recent press release, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) condemned the murder stating that this was the most extreme form of censorship. Journalists have faced disappearances, torture, and murder with little intervention from the Mexican government throughout the years. The IACHR’s Office of the Special Rapporteur pointed to their 2018 Special Report on the Situation of Freedom of Expression in Mexico, reiterating how dangerous it still is to report on the news in the country. They called for the prosecutor’s office in Veracruz to remain unbiased and thorough in their investigation and to recognize the significant role Valdivia’s job played in his murder.

The prosecutor’s office in Veracruz released in a statement that they will, in fact, use Valdivia’s job as a key point in their investigation; something rarely done by prosecutors in Mexico. Authorities have sacrificed true justice, when investigating the murders of journalists, due to their relationships with the local cartels.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a staunch anti-cartel advocate, has praised the journalists operating in the area, calling their work “heroic.” He has been vocal about investigating these instances and punishing those involved in the murders. For now, the investigation remains open.

For further information, please see:

Associated Press – Mourners gather to bid farewell to murdered Mexican reporter – 10 Sept. 2020

Associated Press – A Mexican newspaper says a reporter slain, decapitated – 9 Sept. 2020

CNN – Another journalist found dead in Mexico, one of the most dangerous countries for reporters – 11 Sept. 2020

IACHR – Office of the Special Rapporteur condemns the murder of journalist Julio Valdivia in Mexico and reiterates concern on the persistence of attacks against the life and integrity of communicators – 21 Sept. 2020

IACHR Refers the Case of the Tagaeri and Taromenane Indigenous Peoples of Ecuador to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

By: Shane Kelly

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ECUADOR – On September 30, 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) referred the case of the Tagaeri and Taromenane Indigenous Peoples in Voluntary Isolation in Ecuador to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights following continuous violations of the tribes’ rights.

Yasuní National Park.

The Tagaeri and Taromenane are indigenous peoples of Ecuador who live in voluntary isolation. While the term “voluntary isolation” has taken on a different meaning in the post-COVID world, in this context it refers to the decision of the Tagaeri and Taromenane to live without contact with the modern world, and continue their traditional lifestyle within the limits of the Tagaeri and Taromenane Intangibility Zone (“TTIZ”). The TTIZ was created in 1999 with a presidential decree that permanently protected a section of Yasuní National Park from oil drilling and logging operations. The isolation provided by the TTIZ allows for the two groups to maintain a nomadic, hunter-gatherer existence and preserve the land of their ancestors.

The IACHR analyzed Ecuador’s obligations to the Tagaeri and Taromenane in its Merits Report. The Report detailed several areas where Ecuador had failed to protect the inviolability of the TTIZ. Specifically, Ecuador has failed in its obligation to prevent interference with the TTIZ by third parties. The IACHR found that title granted to the TTIZ is not a full title, which has led to numerous illegal trespasses of loggers. As a result of these trespasses, members of the Tagaeri and Taromenane people suffered violent deaths in three instances in 2003, 2006, and 2013. The IACHR attributes these altercations between loggers and the tribesmen to Ecuador’s shortcomings in preventing third parties from illegally interfering with the TTIZ.

The IACHR further found that Ecuador was responsible for the violation of personal rights and freedoms of two tribal girls were forcibly taken from their communities following the deaths of their parents. Finally, the IACHR observed that Ecuador did not offer any judicial recourse and that their remedies were ineffective, lacking due diligence in criminal investigations.

Therefore, the IACHR concluded that:

the State of Ecuador is responsible for the violation of the rights set forth in Articles 4(1) (right to life), 5(1) (right to personal integrity), 7(1) (right to liberty), 8(1) (right to judicial guarantees), 11 2 (right to honour and dignity), 19 (rights of the child), 21.1 (right to property), 22.1 (right to freedom of movement and residence), 25.1 (right to judicial protection) and 26 (right to health and cultural rights) of the American Convention on Human Rights, in relation to the obligations set out in its Articles 1.1 and 2.

The Report recommends that Ecuador correctly title the TTIZ with appropriate boundaries, provide necessary rehabilitation for the relocated tribal girls, investigate the deaths of tribesmen at the hands of loggers, and provided mechanisms for non-repetition and other adequate remedies.

For further information, please see:

OAS – IACHR Refers Case on Ecuador to the Inter-American Court – 5 Oct. 2020

WRM – Ecuador: The Tagaeri Taromenane Intangible Zone in Yasuní Park – 2 Oct. 2013

Continued Support of Abortion Rights Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman in Trouble Again

By: Elyse Maugeri

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala – In Guatemala, abortion is only legal if the woman’s life is in danger. However, if the country determines a woman’s abortion was due to her own negligence, she could face up to four years in prison.

Jordan Rodas, Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsperson, speaks during a press conference after a meeting with members of the organization “proud of my PNC” (Civil National Police), formed by relatives of police officers.

In August 2018, the Guatemalan Congress adopted a preliminary version of the “Life and Family Protection” bill which would raise the maximum prison sentence for abortion from three to ten years. It would also move to criminalize miscarriages, impose prison sentences for women who have miscarriages, and criminalize the promotion or facilitation of abortion access. As of right now, this bill is still pending in Guatemala’s Congress.

Regarding abortion, Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordán Rodas, is facing new troubles with his country’s government. On August 20, 2020, the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala ruled in favor of a complaint claiming that Rodas has failed to comply with the Court’s ruling in 2017, which called for him to cease his outward support for abortion.

In the 2017 ruling, the Court ordered Rodas to “suspend the presentation and distribution of the manual of ‘Human Rights, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, and Pregnancy care in Girls and Adolescents.’” His overt openness in advocating for abortion, access to abortion, and the promotion for its legalization has called his compliance with the court order into question. The Court has ordered the Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the claims of non-compliance. If Rodas is found guilty, he could face up to three years in prison.

This is not the first time that Rodas’ job has been threatened. Guatemala’s conservative government has largely opposed his stances on abortion and LGBTQI+ rights and has sought to remove him from office since he assumed his role in 2017. In 2019, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern regarding criminal proceedings submitted by the Human Rights Commission of the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala against Rodas. The IACHR acknowledged the repeated attempts by the government to remove Rodas from his position; the government claiming “abuse of authority, misuse of public office, and breach of public duties.”

The current investigation and attempt to remove Rodas stems from the Associación la Familia Importa (Family Matters Association). The association, a Guatemalan pro-life group, requested the Supreme Court revisit the 2017 ruling and address whether Rodas’ recent actions violated their ruling. The issue the group pinpointed was Rodas’ calling for the Guatemalan government to adopt recommendations presented by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding abortion access. Rodas asserts, however, that he called for the adoption of recommendations regarding gender-based violence and discrimination issues, not just abortion access.

While Rodas states that his office has suspended issuance of the disputed manual, the Guatemalan Supreme Court held that he has not done enough, and his office must “make an emphatic and categorical statement that it did not support abortion… in defense of the right of the unborn child.”

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Guatemala: Reject ‘Life and Family Protection’ Law – 31 Aug. 2020

Human Rights Watch – Guatemala: Rights Official at Risk of Criminal Prosecution – 9 Sept. 2020

Amnesty International – Guatemala: Discriminatory law puts at risk the lives and rights of thousands of women, girls and LGBTI people – 4 Sept. 2018

IACHR – IACHR Expresses Its Concern over a New Attempt to Dismiss the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsperson – 19 Nov. 2019

Peru Found Guilty of Torturing Transgender Woman in Custody

By: Elizabeth Wright

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

CASA GRANDE, Peru — On April 6, 2020, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights published a decision which found the country of Peru guilty of torture and rape of a transgender woman while she was in police custody.

Azul Rojas Marin. Photo Courtesy of BBC.

Azul Rojas Marin was arrested in February 2008, for what has now been determined to be an arbitrary and discriminatory purpose. While in police custody her legal team reports that, Azul was stripped naked, beaten, and brutally raped with a police baton by three officers.

Following the incident, Azul filed an initial criminal complaint against the officers involved, but it was dismissed by the state. After hearing about her case, several human rights organizations joined to help and brought her case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court ultimately found for Azul. The Court ordered Peruvian government to pay Azul damages and provide her with psychological treatment. Furthermore, the Court ordered Peru to track data regarding violence of those in the LGBT+ community, and to create protocol for investigating such violence.

Evidence shows that LGBT+ individuals experience much higher rates of violence than others. This is the first time the Inter-American Court has made a ruling on torture of any person identifying as LGBT+. Thus, many feel the verdict legal validation for transgender and LGBT+ individuals.

For further information, please see:

NY Daily News – Top Human Rights Court Finds Peru Responsible for Raping, Torturing Transgender Woman – 8 Apr. 2020

PinkNews – Peru is ‘responsible’ for Rape and Torture of Trans Woman While in Custody, Top Human Rights Court Rules – 7 Apr. 2020

BBC NEWS – Azul Rojas Marin: Peru Found Responsible for Torture of LGBT Person – 7 April 2020

Reuters – Top Americas Court Finds Peru Responsible for Torture of Trans Woman – 6 Apr. 2020

Inter-American Court of Human Rights Officially Condemns Cuba for Restrictions on Free Expression

By: Ben Kaufman

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

HAVANA, Republic of Cuba – In response to a renewed wave of imprisonment of critical journalists in Cuba, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression issued a condemnation of the Cuban government’s crackdown on journalists and other citizens. This condemnation comes after a series of requests for inspections and records concerning the arrests, detention, and state pressure to self-exile of journalists in the last year.

Despite anticipation for a more engaged press and civil society launched by the words of President Raul Castro in 2010 concerning reforms, journalists have felt increasing pressure by the state to cease dissenting and critical coverage or to leave the state entirely. A representative of the Cuban Prisoner Defenders and member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba told the Guardian that journalists were being increasingly pressured to choose the exile option as a result of prisons overfilled with political prisoners. “We have found a variety of cases. Cases where the activist cannot be broken and is put on a plane, cases where the activist has a weak point, through their child or mother, and they attack there hard, leading the activist to give in and he goes to Guyana to beg.”

The official condemnation specifically refers to the arrest of Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces – a Cuban lawyer and journalist who was arrested on April 22, 2019 for trying to report on the trial of Cuban pastors who were educating their children at home for Cubanet. Quiñones Haces was charged with resistance and disobedience and was sentenced by the Municipal Court of Guantánamo to one year in prison. He has been in prison since September 11, 2019. The condemnation includes statements by his family that his condition has deteriorated due to poor hygienic conditions. Furthermore, the condemnation refers to the disciplinary process stemming from his reporting from prison on October 1, 2019.

Pursuant to Resolutions 34/18, 42/22, 34/5 of the Human Rights Council and Article 18 of the IACHR Statute, the condemnation states that the Office of the Special Rapporteur sent a letter to the Cuban government seeking information on Quiñones Haces’s punishment, concerns regarding the lack of due process by the Cuban government, and the “motivation of the judgment against said independent journalist.” In its response to that letter, the Cuban government denied the allegations and reiterates that the motivation behind his punishment was “‘the disobedience, disrespect, and resistance of police authorities on April 22, 2019,’ when he intended to cover a trial.”

The condemnation further references artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara who was arrested on March 1 for his attendance at a protest in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television to protest a film broadcasted on Cuban television which censored a gay kiss. Otero’s 21 prior arrests for activities associated with freedom of expression and association were of chief concern to the Office of the Special Rapporteur. In urging the Cuban government to end its harassment of members of civil society, the condemnation also refers to the situations of journalists Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and Luz Escobar who have been detained and are barred from leaving the country.

Directly accusing Cuban authorities of being “the main source of threats and attacks against the press in the country,” the condemnation refers Cuba to its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, as well as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect journalistic work, artistic work, and the defense of human rights.

For further information, please see:

OAS – The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression condemns increased criminalization and harassment of journalists, activists, and artists who exercise freedom of expression in Cuba – 17 Mar. 2020

The Guardian – Cuba is driving dissidents off island with threats of violence and jail, report finds – 19 Jun. 2019

Radio Television Marti – Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces humillado en prisión – 26 Dec. 2019

CPJ – Connecting Cuba: More space for criticism but restrictions slow press freedom progress – 28 Sep. 2016