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Defamation Campaigns against Group of Experts, Executive Secretary of the IACHR Are Dangerous, Unacceptable

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Author: Daniella Burgi-Palomino

By Daniella Burgi-Palomino, April 14, 2016

LAWG strongly condemns the nature of the escalating defamation campaigns against human rights defenders and independent experts in Mexico. While the Mexican government took an important step forward in accepting the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) appointed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to investigate the case of the enforced disappearance of the 43 students from the Ayotzinapa rural teacher’s college, ongoing pushback from the government and concerted media campaigns evidence a lack of political will to bring this case, and thousands of others, to justice. Furthermore, a criminal complaint was filed in mid-March against the Executive Secretary of the IACHR, Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria. While the investigation into the complaint was closed last week by the Federal Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, or PGR), it represents a continuation of the attacks against the work of the GIEI and the government’s refusal to recognize and denounce this defamation campaign.

LAWG joined other organizations in denouncing the defamation campaign against the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts two months ago on February 5, 2016. In a joint statement, we communicated our concern regarding the silence from the Mexican government in the face of the ongoing attacks in the media, urging the Mexican government to publicly acknowledge the important work of the GIEI and expend maximum efforts to pursue the new lines of investigation proposed by the Experts.

Since then, the negative campaign has only strengthened (see timeline below). Instead of simply remaining silent on the attacks against the GIEI, the Mexican government, and more specifically the PGR, appears to have legitimized the attacks by initially opening an investigation into the complaint filed by one of the individuals leading the defamation campaign. This complaint against the Executive Secretary of the IACHR was unprecedented in the history of the regional body and completely unfounded. Instead of denouncing it immediately, the PGR did not close the complaint until three weeks later, just days before the Mexican government’s hearing at the IACHR in Washington D.C., on the grounds that “it did not meet the sufficient requirements for moving forward with the procedure.” During the hearing on April 7, 2016, IACHR Commissioners called the processing of opening an investigation into the complaint a “cowardly move” and stated that it represented “irreversible damage” for the Executive Secretary of the IACHR. In response, Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Miguel Ruiz Cabañas, stated that the government had a responsibility to open an investigation, as it would for any complaints filed and that the government had nothing to do with the origins of the complaint.

Throughout its now seventeen-month-long mandate, the work of the GIEI has been fundamental to uncovering the truth surrounding the disappearance of the 43 Ayotzinapa students. LAWG continues to stand by all five members of the GIEI and supports the many recommendations they as well as other independent experts including the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (Equipo Argentino de Antropología Forense) have made in the Ayotzinapa case.

A summary of the series of events unfolding since mid-March is listed below. LAWG expresses deep concern over the implications of these actions not only for the remainder of the mandate of the GIEI through the end of April but for the situation of human rights in Mexico overall. LAWG urges the Mexican government to denounce these attacks and recognize and protect the work of all human rights defenders across Mexico.

March-April Timeline of Events against IACHR Executive Secretary and GIEI

  • On March 15, 2016, the organization, Citizen’s Council on Public Security and Justice (Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y Justicia Penal) led by Jose Maria Ortega Sanchez, filed a criminal complaint within the PGR in Mexico against Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria, the Executive Secretary of the IACHR, for the alleged crime of fraud consisting of a sum of $2 million. According to the organization, the amount corresponded with the amount that the Mexican government paid the IACHR to cover the costs of the GIEI for their work on the Ayotzinapa case. The complaint stated, “With the argument of bringing in a group of experts in various criminal matters, with the promise that they would meet the highest international standards and best practices in the region, and that they would be independent, Mexican citizen Emilio Álvarez Icaza Longoria deceived the Government of the United Mexican States, because instead of that, he brought together, knowing full well each of their backgrounds, the participation of individuals who in their previous work and duties and government terms failed the test of truth and legal probity and violated different laws in their respective countries.” The organization claimed that the experts have not met the requirements under the IACHR agreement, have not contributed sufficiently to the search for the disappeared students, and have misused funds to carry out activities outside of the official agreement. The organization also outlined the supposed “dubious” past of three specific members of the GIEI including Angela Buitrago, Claudia Paz y Paz, and Carlos Beristaín and demanded an end their work immediately.
  • On March 22, 2016, thePGR initiated a preliminary inquiry into the aforementioned criminal complaint, UEIDFF/FINIM17/123/2016 filed under the Special Unit to Investigate Fiscal and Financial Crimes within the PGR (Unidad Especializada en Investigación de Delitos Fiscales y Financieros de la Subprocuraduría Especializada en Investigación de Delitos Federales).
  • On March 29, 2016, the IACHR published a strong statement categorically rejecting the “smear campaign” in Mexico against the Group of Experts and Emilio Álvarez Icaza. The IACHR expressed its consternation and stated that it was unacceptable to open a preliminary inquiry based on this complaint, which was “reckless and unfounded, as it does not contain any fact that would constitute a crime.” The Commission reiterated its support for the work carried out by the Group of Experts in all its aspects, including their reports and recommendations. Moreover, the IACHR emphatically supported the actions of its Executive Secretary, who at all times acted in accordance with the decisions and instructions of the members of the IACHR.
  • In the days following this statement, Emilio Alvarez Icaza made several public statements to the press and on social media, reiterating the danger of the complaint filed against him and the initial inquiry by the PGR. He stated that the complaint was a clear message against human rights defenders in the country and if continued, would represent a return to an “authoritarian Mexico.” “There are no precedents for opening an investigation against the Executive Secretary in the history of the IACHR,” he said on the IACHR Twitter account.
  • On March 29, 2016, in an interview with the Mexican Senate, Assistant Secretary for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Miguel Ruiz Cabañas stated that there was no defamation campaignagainst the GIEI and that the Mexican government maintained a policy of total openness to international human rights observers.
  • On April 4, 2016, the complaint filed against Emilio Alvarez Icaza was closed by the PGR based on the grounds that “it did not meet the requirements for moving forward with the procedure”.
  • On April 7, 2016, IACHR Commissioner Paulo Vannucchi questioned Mexican government representatives about the complaint during the government’s hearing on the situation of human rights in Mexico, calling it a “cowardly move” and one that created “irreversible damage” for Emilio Alvarez Icaza and for Mexico’s relationship with the IACHR. (Video from the hearing is available here.)

Additional Resources:

  • For our Huffington Post article on the situation of human rights in Mexico in February 2016, click here.
  • For our latest update on the Ayotzinapa case click here.
  • See letter from LAWGEF and partners denouncing the defamation campaign against the GIEI here.
  • For information on the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team’s report refuting the Mexican government’s Cocula trash dump theory, click here.
  • For a summary and analysis of the GIEI’s September 2015 investigation report, click here.