Olivier Acuña case: The Mexican State refuses to negotiate a friendly settlement

In the field of journalist’s human rights, Mexico’s government keeps on stumbling over the same obstacles to impart justice efficiently and properly

Olivier Acuña case: The Mexican State refuses to negotiate a friendly settlement
Mexican journalist Olivier Acuña Barba - Photo: Courtesy of Olivier Acuña
English 24/04/2020 13:31 Gabriel Moyssen Mexico City Actualizada 14:07
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In the field of journalist’s human rights, Mexico’s government keeps on stumbling over the same obstacles to impart justice efficiently and properly that characterized the past PRI and PAN administrations, as evidenced by the case of Olivier Acuña Barba within the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

As EL UNIVERSAL in English reported last August, after Acuña Barba rendered his testimony before the 67th session of the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) in Geneva, the Mexican journalist was arbitrarily detained and tortured by police officers in 2006 in the north western state of Sinaloa, Mexico, where he spent two years in prison accused of a murder he did not commit.

His nightmare was far from ending after he was acquitted and released from the Aguaruto prison in Culiacán, the state capital; due to harassment and death threats he fled Mexico, lost his home and is now still living in exile separated from his wife and two sons who, as he stressed during the CAT session, were also victims of the Sinaloa government abuses.

Recommended: Families are also direct victims of torture: the case of Mexican journalist Olivier Acuña

After a long legal process in which Acuña Barba has been represented by Redress, a non-governmental human rights organization based in London and The Hague, on June 20, 2019 the Mexican federal government notified to the IACHR the beginning of a process of approach in order to study the possibility of negotiate a friendly settlement agreement in Case 13.432 Olivier Acuña Barba y Familia.

However, in response to an information request sent by the IACHR, on March 19 the Mexican government argued that after a “thorough review” made by the Interior Ministry, “it is not identified that the [Mexican] State has committed human rights violations that warrant the conclusion of such an agreement”.

The response detailed that medical examiners concluded Acuña Barba had no traces of injuries, as part of an official investigation undertaken in 2006 by Sinaloa authorities, also reporting that the crimes charged against the journalist are not crimes of opinion, nor were damaged the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, it recalled, “has no evidence to infer that their detention and subsequent criminal prosecution for common offences were in retaliation for his professional activities or writings.”

The Mexican State, said the response, “considers that the detention of Mr. Olivier Acuña was legal and not arbitrary, nor was it committed as a tool to curb his freedom of expression,” adding that for these reasons, “the Mexican State is unable to reach a friendly settlement.”

In short, with this position the case has returned to the same situation it was 14 years ago, despite the numerous evidence presented in various instances by Acuña Barba and his legal representatives. Just as an example, in 2018 Redress submitted to the IACHR an updated petition highlighting that during 16 hours of torture Acuña Barba suffered waterboarding, was beaten, and received death threats against him and his family.

Medical report

Also in 2018, a medical report elaborated by Dr. Pau Pérez-Sales, a World Psychiatric Association leading expert on the preparations of reports complaint with the Istanbul Protocol concluded that the earlier medical examinations on Acuña Barba lacked the necessary objectivity and rigor to be expected in information of this kind.

The analysis of Dr. Pérez-Sales affirmed that Acuña Barba continues to suffer a severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his torture.

Redress remarked that the detention and torture occurred in the context of Acuña Barba’s work as a journalist, which included investigations on Sinaloa officials’ corruption and organized crime, published in his newspaper Sinaloa Dos Mil. In the newspaper he exposed the alleged complicity between organized crime groups and the judicial police, as well as its role in murders, drug trafficking, and car theft.

Given the success obtained by the publication, then-governor Juan S. Millán Lizárraga through an aide offered Acuña Barba funding it in exchange for censorship; after the journalist rejected this proposal, the company’s truck, driven by his wife, was rammed by another vehicle and she, along with an employee, was detained.

Afterwards, the state monopoly of paper PIPSA refused to sell Sinaloa Dos Mil the material necessary for its publication, thus contributing to an indirect restriction on freedom of expression and, consequently, to a violation of the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights.

Speaking to EL UNIVERSAL in English, Acuña Barba expressed his concern over the Mexican government decision to abandon the possibility of a friendly settlement, arguing that its own investigation on the case did not establish new evidence and information.

“I find its decision absurd in the existence of three independent reports that prove that I was tortured, in addition to the intervention of the UN Working Group for Arbitrary Detention and of Rupert Knox, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International (AI), saying it was obvious that I was detained and my individual rights were transgressed,” he underscored.

The Sinaloa Human Rights State Commission, he recalled, carried out a full investigation pointing out that he was never presented by the police to the Public Ministry, concluding that he was kidnapped, tortured, and detained under false accusations. The commission report also confirmed that his family’s rights were violated.

Acuña Barba stressed that Iván Alonso Báez, who worked as a lawyer at the NGO Artículo 19 Mexico, visited Culiacán for the collection of evidence regarding his case, where three journalists, including Javier Valdez Cárdenas, founder of newspaper Riodoce, assassinated in 2017, confirmed to him that his detention “happened for higher orders from Mexico City and for my journalistic work.”

For his part, Chris Esdaile, a Redress lawyer working in the case, said that the Mexican government seemed interested in a friendly settlement. In April 2019, they sent a formal proposal to the Mexican Foreign Affairs and the Interior ministries, regarding the terms on which Acuña Barba would be prepared to resolve the case.

Nevertheless, “after a delay of almost a year, they finally notified the IACHR that they were no longer interested in settling the case. We continue to believe that Olivier has a strong case. We must now wait for the IACHR to resolve the case,” added Esdaile.

In spite of the good faith and the willingness to change the past corrupt structures inherited by the current Mexican federal administration, its authorities have found a series of hurdles and long-entrenched customs that seem insurmountable.

This year alone, EL UNIVERSAL revealed that Mara Gómez Pérez, head of the Executive Commission of Attention to Victims (CEAV)—an agency created in 2013 to assist and compensate victims of government abuse and human right violations—complained during private conversations about the groups taking advantage of its support and funding.

“Everybody believes we are the national lottery,” said Gómez Pérez in a leaked audio. She later explained that less than 10 corrupt lawyers convinced victims that they are entitled to a full reparation suing the CEAV for millionaire quantities, in order to charge them with nearly 60% of the money.

There are more than 32,000 people registered as victims and the agency is facing a backlog of 5,000 files, while its annual budget amounts to MXN $650 millions (USD $26 million).

Editing by Sofía Danis
More by Gabriel Moyssen

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