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Journalism - one of the world’s most dangerous professions

“One day three years ago, I sat down with all my team and said, “Let’s make a safety plan. In case I get murdered, this is what you will do.” Because that’s what you have to do – we are in a high risk job, and if you don’t accept that, you could be killed and nothing would be done… I know I’m messing with organized crime: I’m not a kid anymore.” Lydia Cacho, interview with “Mother Jones”, a non-profit web and print news organization in the U.S., May 2007.

Undeterred by death threats and harassment which continue to this day, Mexican journalist and rights campaigner, Lydia Cacho has continued to write stories based on her investigations of corrupt and illegal practices and to work for the rights of abused women.

Cacho is courageous.  In many countries journalism is a very dangerous profession; in Mexico this is particularly the case.  This year, nine journalists have been murdered. Since 2005, 13 journalists have disappeared and 18 media outlets have been attacked.  Investigations of these and prosecutions of the perpetrators are rare.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists puts the number of journalists killed in 2010 at 44 worldwide: in 2009 it says 73 journalists died as a result of their profession – 29 in a single incident in the Philippines alone.

Human rights chief Navi Pillay says there can be no doubt about the value of the work of journalists.  In a message to a UNESCO organized meeting on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity, Pillay drew attention to events unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East saying journalists are central in times of both peace and conflict: “They report on human rights violations and bad governance, give voice to the victims and the oppressed, and contribute towards raising awareness of human rights issues.”

States have “an obligation to end impunity for attacks against journalists,” she said.

The High Commissioner pledged the support of her Office to a common strategy to ensure the protection of journalists. “Mapping out a UN plan of action on the safety of journalists and to put an end to impunity for perpetrators of violations against them is essential,” she said.

Lydia Cacho’s situation has worsened dramatically.  Despite a request from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights two years ago that the Mexican Government take the necessary measures “to guarantee the life and physical integrity” of Cacho and her fellow workers at a Cancun women’s shelter, only some of the recommendations have been implemented.

Cacho’s personal safety is regarded as so compromised that a number of global organizations including the UN Human Rights Office, Pen International, and the Committee for the Protection of Journalists amongst others have taken up her case, urging the Mexican Government to take urgent steps to ensure she is protected. 

Earlier this year on a visit to Mexico, Pillay urged the Government to do more to safeguard freedom of expression. “Not only by allowing a plurality of views and media to disseminate information, but also by ensuring that those who do so, are able to carry out their task without paying a high price – sometimes their lives.”

While she was in Mexico, the High Commissioner launched “Yo me declaro“/” I declare myself”,  the campaign by the Human Rights Office in Mexico to rally awareness of, and support for, human rights defenders – the people and organizations who, often at great risk to themselves, defend and promote human rights. As one of the country’s most prominent writers and activists, Cacho was invited to participate in the event.

 “It (the campaign) reminds us that there are options, that we are still alive, that we are here and that every time that someone tries to violate human rights –be it mine or yours- there will always be someone next to him or her, in the office, at home, in the neighbourhood, in the university, that will recognize us as human beings and that will tell us “what is happening to you matters to me””,  Cacho said in her speech at the launch of the campaign,  “If we all become human rights defenders, not only organized crime will lose power, but all the corrupt power structures will lose as well.”

5 October 2011