On July 1, 2018 general elections will take place in Mexico, which, as well as determining the presidency for the next 6 years, coincide with several local elections. These will be the largest elections in Mexican history with 3,400 positions being decided.
Throughout the past months, the country has witnessed an unprecedented increase in violence. The number of open investigations for homicides is the highest of the past 20 years according to the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH). Furthermore, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights has alerted over the specific violence within the framework of the electoral process in Mexico that is specifically affecting people in political positions or those waiting to assume such positions, as well as people affiliated with political parties and candidates. It is currently estimated that 102 people have been killed for political reasons since the start of this electoral process, mostly at the local level.
In the states with high levels of violence such as Guerrero or Oaxaca, the register of political killings is particularly high. According to journalistic sources, 35 municipalities are considered "red zones" in the electoral context, including Chilapa de Álavarez (Guerrero) where three politicians have been killed so far. It is important to recognize that these elections are taking place within an extremely concerning situation of an increase in human rights violations in many parts of the country, the majority of which remain in impunity, a situation that was emphasized by the CNDH in their most recent human rights report.
It is worth highlighting that last December the Interior Security Law was enacted, normalizing the intervention of armed forces in public security activities which has prompted various reactions from international institutions due to the negative impact the law would have on human rights. From our experience on the ground offering international accompaniment, we have been able to observe that in the federal states where a security strategy based on militarization has been implemented, the risk and attacks against human rights defenders and organizations have increased significantly. This analysis indicates a closing of spaces and a worsening of the situation for human rights defenders if the law is to enter into force.
The violence linked to the elections is also particularly affecting human rights defenders. In February, the representative of the UN's Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) Jan Jarab mentioned that "during this electoral year, given the size and the political context in the country which will increase social conflictivity; an increase in risk for human rights defenders could take place." In addition, Mexico is living through a context of increased attacks against journalists, for example, from 2015 the network #RompeElMiedo (Break the Fear) has documented 131 aggressions against journalists in electoral contexts, given that these are situations that can cause increased risk for the press.
In the state of Oaxaca specifically it has been observed that elections can be accompanied by spikes of violence, and that these events are often characterized by high levels of social protest. Throughout the past months there has been a concerning increase in attacks against human rights defenders in the state, with civil society organizations reporting cases of break-ins, arbitrary detentions, disappearances, and killings of human rights defenders.
We are particularly concerned that during the governmental transition and until the new executive power takes full possession, many processes currently underway tackling human rights issues will be put on hold. In fact a few spaces have already been cancelled or postponed such as the round-tables following up on the Contingency Plan in Chihuahua. This Contingency Plan, accompanied by PBI since its implementation, features an Early Warning system to prevent attacks against human rights defenders and journalists by tackling the structural causes of the violence against defenders in the state of Chihuahua.
Given this situation, we express our concern over the risk for human rights defenders in the electoral context, and for the impacts that a militarized response to contexts of social protest or an increase in political violence could cause, and we urge the Mexican Government to adopt a protection plan that includes preventative actions as well as plans in case of emergency, with participation of the human rights organizations.
It is of utmost importance that governmental entities in charge of guaranteeing security for human rights defenders continue with their functions throughout the post-election period. With this in mind, it is important that the institutions of the three levels of government responsible for implementing governmental protection mechanisms and the public protection policy for human rights defenders continue to be operative and they communicate with the human rights organizations and individuals about personnel or other changes that may take place within this electoral year.