On Monday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Mexico said that Mexico's government program to protect journalists and activists is underfunded and cannot guarantee safety amid widespread im punity and threats.

At least 11 reporters and 13 human rights activists have been murdered this year , according to the U.N. group. That nearly exceeds last year’s tallies and suggests death tolls could reach record levels in 2019 .

Jan Jarab

, head of the OHCHR in Mexico , said the country's “ political commitment ” to protecting journalists and activists had proven to be a challenge on various levels.

The concern raises questions about how much President López Obrador sees the issue as a priority. Mexico ’s total murder tally has also continued rising, underlining the scale of the task he faces.

Also, very few cases result in convictions or even arrests . Furthermore, more than half of the suspects identified by the program were public officials .

Human rights groups

say that officials who threaten journalists and activists are often seeking to hide corruption and protect their personal interests.

Mexico lacks sufficient recognition for the work of human rights defenders and journalists ,” Jarab told a news conference where he presented a 410-page OHCHR repor t, which argues impunity in Mexico was a key reason to bolster the program.

Authorities need to publicly condemn all aggressions ,” he added.

The government’s Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists , which provides resources such as panic buttons, surveillance systems , and bodyguards , currently serves 903 people, up from 48 at its launch five years ago.

However, budgets and staffing have not kept pace, and the program could comprise more than 3,400 people by the end of Lopez Obrador’s six-year term in 2024, Jarab said.

“The growth we’ve had in recent years could accelerate if things don’t change,” he added. “The mechanism needs strengthening, it needs to have sufficient staffing to protect the beneficiaries and take preventative actions.”

Staffing has stagnated since 2014 , while this year’s budget is less than what was spent in 2017 and 2018 , the report said.

The government has not yet responded to an April request to increase the budget .

Faced with scant resources, the program cannot guarantee efficient and proper functioning, the report said. For example, staff often suffer delays in reacting to threats because they cannot access work email outside of the office, or have difficulty navigating the internet on government computers.

A company monitoring panic button alerts cannot quickly evaluate and react to new risks , including emergencies , the report says.

This month, at least four reporters were killed in Mexico , which Reporters Without Borders has called the most dangerous country for journalists in the Western Hemisphere.


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