Mexico: Killings of journalists under state protection show urgent need to strengthen federal mechanism

Eight journalists have been killed while enrolled in Mexico’s Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in the last seven years, a figure that highlights the urgent need to strengthen and reform the institution, said Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today upon publication of a joint investigation into the Mechanism.

The report, ‘No one guarantees my safety’: The urgent need to strengthen Mexico’s federal policies for the protection of journalists,analyzes the federal Mechanism created in 2012 to protect rights defenders and journalists in the country at extreme risk of threats and attacks due to their work. While Amnesty International has previously published research on the Mechanism’s deficiencies in protecting human rights defenders, this new report, conducted with press freedom group CPJ, specifically focuses on the Mechanism’s work to protect journalists.

“The federal Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists continues to be a crucial part of government efforts in Mexico to make the country a safer place for journalists but can only fulfil that role if it addresses its own failings adequately,” said Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico representative. “After years of incessant bloodshed and corrosive impunity, the time is now for the Mexican state to take action and show that it is finally willing to take its obligations towards freedom of the press seriously.”

Mexico is the Western Hemisphere’s most dangerous country for journalists, according to extensive documentation by CPJ since 1992. Since the turn of the century, at least 141 journalists and other media workers have been killed, according to CPJ research; at least 61 of those killings were found to be directly related to their work. Impunity is the norm in crimes against the press. According to CPJ’s yearly Global Impunity Index, Mexico consistently ranks among the 10 countries with the highest number of journalist murders that remain unsolved. CPJ has also found that Mexico is the country with the highest number of disappeared journalists in the world, yet not one case of a disappeared journalist in Mexico has ever led to a conviction.

The time is now for the Mexican state to take action and show that it is finally willing to take its obligations towards freedom of the press seriously.

Jan-Albert Hootsen, CPJ’s Mexico Representative
The facade of Arre, a bar in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

The killing of Rubén Pat

Wearing a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers, the journalist Rubén Pat Cauich left Arre, a bar and live music venue in downtown Playa del Carmen, with a female companion shortly before 6 a.m. on 24 July 2018. According to state investigators, a slim man in his early thirties approached them as they descended the wooden steps out front. Presenting himself as a street vendor, the man offered them a flower before pulling out a pistol…

In addition to killings and disappearances, journalists in Mexico face constant threats, harassment, and physical and psychological abuse, both by public officials and by members of organized crime groups. Most threats and attacks are linked to the country’s ongoing struggle with violent criminal groups, the militarization of the so-called “war on drugs” and the failure of law enforcement agencies to keep journalists and the public safe amid alleged corruption. In fact, the Mechanism itself has found that public officials are responsible for almost half of the attacks it has recorded against journalists in Mexico.

Weak and ineffective protection

The Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists was created in 2012 by the Mexican federal government after years of pressure by journalists and civil society organizations to address the constant threats and attacks against defenders and media workers.

Over the past 18 months, Amnesty International and CPJ examined the Mechanism by reviewing a broad range of publicly available information on the institution and through documents acquired through freedom-of-information requests with Mexico’s National Institute for Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data.  Amnesty International and CPJ also conducted field research in the states of Oaxaca, Quintana Roo and Tlaxcala, and administered a questionnaire to 28 journalists enrolled in the Mechanism.

The Mexican authorities must do everything in their power to protect the press and guarantee journalists’ rights to life and to freedom of expression.

Edith Olivares Ferreto, Executive Director of Amnesty International Mexico

On paper, the Mechanism evaluates the risks that journalists face, provides them with protective measures and coordinates with state and federal agencies to mitigate risks. In reality, while the Mechanism has provided much-needed protection for some journalists, it is failing to adequately protect many others.

As of November 2023, there were 651 journalists enrolled in the Mechanism: 469 men and 182 women. But the number of requests for protection that the Mechanism has rejected has risen sharply in recent years, from just one in 2020 to 14 in 2021, 49 in 2022 and another 49 in the first 11 months of 2023.

Almost all the journalists that Amnesty International and CPJ spoke to said that they had continued to suffer security incidents after enrolling in the Mechanism and many described the Mechanism’s response as slow, bureaucratic, and lacking in empathy. Many female journalists also felt that Mechanism staff minimized the risks they faced and failed to take their gender into account.

Emblematic cases

Amnesty International and CPJ profiled three emblematic cases of reporters who were enrolled in the Mechanism: Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera, Rubén Pat Cauich and Alberto Amaro Jordán. Sánchez and Pat were both killed while under the Mechanism’s protection and their stories serve as painful reminders of the consequences of inadequate protection by the government agency. The case of Amaro, who has petitioned the Mechanism not to withdraw his protective measures after it deemed them no longer necessary, offers insights into journalists’ struggles with bureaucracy, the Mechanism’s failures to adequately evaluate risks and public officials’ shocking lack of interest in taking threats against reporters seriously.

Gustavo Sánchez's widow Marilú Salinas Zárate holds a framed photo of him

The killing of Gustavo Sánchez

A small metal cross, half obscured by the parched undergrowth, marks the spot where the journalist Gustavo Sánchez Cabrera was gunned down. Inscribed only with his name in white capital letters, this modest memorial stands beside a dirt road leading to the village of Morro de Mazatán, where Sánchez lived with his wife and their 15-year-old son, in the southern state of Oaxaca…  

“You call the Mechanism on the phone and sometimes it's like they're ignoring you. They think you're lying to them,” Amaro said. “I emphasized that the risk assessment contained many mistakes. They ignored me and decided to withdraw my bodyguards.”

“Our investigation highlights how the killings of journalists like Gustavo Sánchez and Rubén Pat Cauich could have been avoided if the authorities had taken swifter and more decisive action to protect them. The Mexican authorities must do everything in their power to protect the press and guarantee journalists’ rights to life and to freedom of expression,” said Edith Olivares Ferreto, Executive Director of Amnesty International Mexico.


The investigation paints an alarming picture of a deeply flawed institution that needs a major overhaul to answer to the needs of journalists in one the world’s most violent countries for the press. Of particular concern is the apparent lack of basic knowledge of human rights issues among its personnel, the Mechanism’s significant failures to adequately assess risks journalists are facing or take gender considerations into account, and the institution’s poor communication practices with beneficiaries. The investigation also reveals an increasing tendency by the Mechanism to deny, weaken or withdraw journalists' protective measures, despite the clear and present dangers journalists continue to face.

Among other recommendations, Amnesty International and CPJ call on the Mexican authorities to guarantee proper funding and adequately train the Mechanism’s personnel, review its risk evaluation processes, and implement a gender perspective into its protocols to better address the specific needs of female journalists.

The organizations also call for much closer collaboration between the Mechanism and Mexico’s federal and state investigative bodies to address impunity and the root causes of threats and attacks against journalists.

The Mexican government must take immediate action to address the problems the Mechanism faces. This is particularly urgent at a time when Mexico heads into a new election cycle that could impact the way the country deals with grave human rights violations and fundamental rights such as freedom of the press.

Mexican journalist Alberto Amaro working at his desk

The plight of Alberto Amaro

For Alberto Amaro Jordán, a 35-year-old journalist from the state of Tlaxcala, just east of Mexico City, his profession is not just a passion but his family heritage. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who were both journalists, Amaro founded the digital outlet La Prensa de Tlaxcala in 2018. But within a year he began to receive threats linked to his investigations into local politics, crime and corruption…

The independent journalists Primavera Téllez Girón, Luis Miguel Carriedo, Juan Pablo Villalobos Díaz and Cecilia Suárez all contributed to this investigation.