Impunity Persists in LatAm Cases of Murdered Journalists

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A new report says that authorities in Latin America continue to struggle in prosecuting cases of murdered journalists, suggesting an unwillingness to adequately investigate these cases. But this grim picture could grow worse as incoming administrations fail to support the role of the media in rooting out corruption and crime.

Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil are ranked among the worst countries in the world for solving cases of murdered journalists in the last 10 years, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) 2018 Global Impunity Index published on October 30.

At least 324 journalists have been murdered around the world in the last decade, with the killers not having been brought to justice in 85 percent of those cases. The 48 cases that remain unsolved in Mexico, Colombia and Brazil accounted for more than 20 percent of all such cases included in the index.

The situation in Mexico worsened in 2018, with the country ranked as the worst in Latin America and the Caribbean with a total of 26 unsolved cases of murdered journalists. This was the second-most in the CPJ’s index, only behind the Philippines.

(Graphic courtesy of CPJ)

After staying out of the index for the past several years, Colombia reappeared in 2018 after three Ecuadorean press workers were kidnapped and murdered by an ex-FARC mafia group along the Colombia-Ecuador border in April 2018. For its part, Brazil had the tenth-worst record in the world and 17 unsolved cases of murdered journalists.

To create the index, CPJ calculated the number of unsolved cases of journalists murdered between September 2008 and the end of August 2018 as a percentage of each country’s population. Only those countries with five or more unsolved cases were included.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the CPJ reports that the situation has improved in Brazil and Colombia, newly elected presidents may further jeopardize the future safety of journalists in those countries.

The majority of victims in these cases are local journalists, often targeted for their work investigating hot topics such as corruption and organized crime, which at times can implicate powerful individuals. Impunity so often reigns because the suspects in these crimes “have the means and influence to circumvent justice through political influence, wealth or intimidation,” according to CPJ.

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It comes as no surprise that Mexico continues to rank as the worst country in Latin America for solving cases of murdered journalists. Press workers in Mexico are targeted by both organized crime groups and government officials, and the country has one of the highest levels of impunity in the Americas. The six journalists murdered in the country in 2017 marked a record high, but the situation has worsened since, as at least 10 journalists have been killed so far in 2018.

After exiting CPJ’s Global Impunity Index in 2015, Colombia reappeared in 2018 just as conservative Iván Duque from the Democratic Center (Centro Democrático) political party was elected as the country’s president. Journalists in the country say a “dangerous new atmosphere” has surfaced since Duque’s election. Back in June, a number of journalists voiced concerns about a wave of death threats against them and their work.

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Despite occasional promises to protect journalists, Mexico President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Duque have seemed nonchalant about attacks on the press, doing little to raise hopes that these crimes will be treated more seriously in the future.

In Brazil, the recent election of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro as president “poses a serious threat” to journalists in the country, according to Reporters Without Borders. Throughout this year’s election cycle, the Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Associação Brasileira de Jornalismo Investigativo — ABRAJI) recorded more than 130 cases of violence against journalists. In particular, journalists from Brazil’s biggest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, have been threatened for writing reports critical of the president-elect and his campaign. 

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