22 April 2020

Protection mechanisms for journalists

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Brief description of the systems and their current problems in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay.
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The problems that protection systems go through are recurrent in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Paraguay.

In general, the systems lack the professional, technical and economic resources to operate efficiently and, furthermore, there is no adequate coordination between the agencies and groups responsible for their operation.

The following is a brief description of the systems and their current problems.

Brazil

Since 2018 the Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Communicators and Environmentalists (Programa Nacional de Proteção aos Defensores de Direitos Humanos) - established in 2004 - includes journalists. However, the Program lacks methodology and protocols to meet the needs of communicators.

In 2019, the government reduced the funds assigned to several committees within the National Human Rights Council, thus impacting the Permanent Committee on the Right to Communication and Freedom of Expression, a forum through which entities make demands to adapt the Program.

Between 2010 and 2011, were presented two bills to Congress - one was a constitutional reform - to federalize crimes against journalists.

Colombia

The Protection Program for Journalists and Social Communicators (Programa de Protección a Periodistas y Comunicadores Sociales) was established in August 2000, and since 2011 it has a National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección).

Reactive and non-preventive protection model. It does not have comprehensive prevention plans with defined managers to mitigate risks.

It is considered the most effective in the continent, and served as a model for other countries. However, the system still requires additional economic and technical resources, as well as training. For some critics, the system has not really improved in 20 years and it has failed to deactivate risk sources for journalists.

It has been a mechanism that has saved lives, despite the shortcomings.

Ecuador

In May 2019, the Inter-Institutional Committee to Protect Journalists and Communication Workers (Comité Interinstitucional de Protección a Periodistas y los Trabajadores de la Comunicación) was established with the aim of implementing protection mechanisms for journalists and communication workers.

It is criticized for not including journalists' groups or press associations in its structure. It is made up only of official entities: The Ministries of the Interior and Foreign Affairs, the Council for the Regulation, Development and Promotion of Information and Communication (Cordicom) and the General Secretary for Communication.

Guatemala

On November 15, 2019, the Office of the Prosecutor for Journalists and Human Rights Defenders (Fiscalía de Periodistas y Defensores de Derechos Humanos) was created as part of the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Defensoría de Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas).

However, due to criticism from journalists and press associations, which were not included, former President Jimmy Morales was unable to create the Protection Program for Journalists, Communicators and the Media (Programa de Protección a Periodistas, Comunicadores y Medios de Comunicación) that was scheduled to start on November 30, 2019. .

There is a Crimes Against Journalists and Trade Unionists Unit, created in 2001, attached to the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor. Their work has been questioned because most of the cases did not progress or were filed. It had been created at the request of the IAPA following a friendly settlement agreement on the case of the journalist Irma Flaquer.

Honduras

On May 15, 2015, the Protection System for Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Social Communicators and Justice Workers (el Sistema de Protección para las y los Defensores de Derechos Humanos, Periodistas, Comunicadores Sociales y Operadores de Justicia) was established. The General Directorate of the Protection System receives all petitions for protection, requests the implementation of the protection plan for those at risk, and coordinates the actions of State agencies with civil society.

In general, it provides police or military protection, it offers panic buttons, security cameras, movement systems and lighting for homes, video door phones, escorts and armored vehicles, among others.

It is criticized for the lack of technical and financial resources for its proper operation, which was even more evident with the increase in attacks on journalists in 2019.

Mexico

In 2012, the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists (Mecanismo de Protección de las Personas Defensoras de Derechos Humanos y Periodistas) was established.

A Federal Superior Audit determined that the budget in 2019 was lower than in previous years, even though the population at risk had grown. Currently, more than a thousand people - including informants and human rights defenders - receive some kind of protection. The Audit also denounced that the personnel were not properly trained or had experience and showed that the Mechanism also does not supervise the services provided by the contracted provider to provide security.

Although the Mechanism has saved the lives of dozens of reporters by providing personal protection to them in their places of origin or removing them from their cities where they are in danger and has helped to create State Protection Units, the Mechanism never had the sufficient financial, human and technical resources.

It is known that there is no coordination between the Mechanism and the 28 state protection units. Nor does it have adequate coordination with institutions dedicated to risk assessments, such as the National Guard, the Armed Forces, and the state police. Neither with the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic, the Attention to Victims unit and the National Commission on Human Rights.

At the legislative level, reforms have been announced so that the Mechanism can have an adequate budget and can better coordinate with the states.

Paraguay

In 2017 - at UNESCO's recommendation - the Bureau for the Protection of Journalists (Mesa de Protección a Periodistas) was established. It is made up of the three most important journalists' associations in the country: the Paraguayan Journalists' Forum (FOPEP), the Paraguayan Journalists' Union (SPP) and the Paraguayan Association of Graphic Reporters (ARGP). Other participants include the Supreme Court of Justice, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Republic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Police, the Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture, and the Ministry of Technology and Information, among other official entities.

After poor and intermittent work, the government reactivated the Bureau earlier this year after the murder of Brazilian journalist Leo Veras in Paraguay. However, there is criticism that the mechanism doesn't have the funds or the means to remove a potential victim of aggression or threat from the danger zone and, overall, it doesn't have an adequate budget. There is no continuity in the participation of officials after changes of government.

Despite all its shortcomings, the Bureau has served to create security protocols, alerts, and has raised awareness of violence against journalists.

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