Posted 2010/9/29

Mexico: Killing of photographer Mr Luis Carlos Santiago and deteriorating situation for journalists and human rights defenders in Chihuahua

Gusatavo de la Rosa Hickerson

Front Line is gravely concerned regarding the precarious situation for human rights defenders, in particular journalists, in the Mexican State of Chihuahua.

Further Information

On 16 September 2010 in Ciudad Juárez, photographer Mr Luis Carlos Santiago was shot and killed while Mr Carlos Sanchez, another photographer, was seriously wounded. In addition, it should be noted that Luis Carlos Santiago had borrowed the car he was driving from a friend, the son of an at-risk human rights defender Mr Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson.

On 16 September, Luis Carlos Santiago and Carlos Sanchez, photographers with the leading daily newspaper, Diario de Juárez, were driving to go for lunch after attending a photography workshop in Ciudad Juárez when they were intercepted by gunmen in two cars, who opened fire. Luis Carlos Santiago, a 21-year old photographer who had been interning for the newspaper, was killed. Carlos Sanchez, also an intern, was seriously wounded. Although the editor of the Diario de Juárez, Pedro Torres, told the press that he did not know why the photographers were targeted, Front Line urges the authorities to initiate an immediate investigation of this criminal act.

Luis Carlos Santiago had borrowed the grey sedan they were travelling in at the time of the attack from a friend. This friend is the son of a prominent human rights defender, Mr Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, an inspector with the Ciudad Juárez branch of the Comisión Estatal de Derechos Humanos Chihuahua (State Commission on Human Rights Chihuahua - “CEDH Chihuahua”). Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson's position involves monitoring the activities of the federal police and military confronting Ciudad Juárez' drug cartels. CEDH Chihuahua is a governmental body which receives complaints of human rights violations and publicly criticises abuses committed by the security forces as well the failure to take action by the authorities in the region. Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson has been receiving death threats and has been forced to live in the United States for the past six months since compiling a dossier of human rights violations committed by the military in Chihuahua. In addition, he is currently obliged to work within a framework of strict security measures. It is believed that the armed attack against Luis Carlos Santiago and Carlos Sanchez could have been intended for either Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson or his son.

Ongoing drug wars in the Chihuahua region, centring on the border city of Ciudad Juárez, have resulted in a culture of increasing violence which has been directed in particular against those who investigate, expose or criticise perpetrators of human rights violations. Hostility, violence and impunity have impacted in particular on human rights defenders and the media. It is estimated that at least 22 journalists have been killed in Mexico since 2006.

Front Line sees this case as emblematic of the prevailing violence against human rights defenders and journalists, and the climate of fear and intimidation in Chihuahua State.

Following Luis Carlos Santiago's death, Diario de Juárez issued a front page appeal to Ciudad Juárez' drug cartels, asking them as the city's “de facto authorities” to clarify and set the boundaries to what the media can and cannot report or publish, in order to prevent further killings of its staff.

Diario de Juárez' decision to stop reporting on the drug wars in the area reflects high levels of self-censorship practised by the media in Mexico out of fear of reprisals, and represents a further obstacle to the exercise of freedom of expression in the country.

In particular, these developments severely restrict reporting on the killings, shootings, sexual violence and other human rights violations taking place in Chihuahua, which will have the further effect of reinforcing the cycle of impunity and lawlessness in the region.

Front Line is gravely concerned for the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Gustavo de la Rosa Hickerson, his family, the staff of Diario de Juárez, and of all journalists and human rights defenders in Chihuahua State.

Front Line urges the Mexican and Chihuahua State authorities to immediately identify media freedom as an urgent priority, alongside bringing accountability and an end to impunity in the region.

Action Update Needed. Before taking further action on this case please contact info@frontlinedefenders.org for further information