Global Freedom of Expression

Víctor Manuel Oropeza v. México

Closed Expands Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    November 9, 1999
  • Outcome
    Violation of a Rule of International Law, ACHR or American Declaration of the Rights and Duties Violation
  • Case Number
    Informe No. 130/99
  • Region & Country
    México, Latin-America and Caribbean
  • Judicial Body
    Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Type of Law
    International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Violence Against Speakers / Impunity
  • Tags
    Academic Freedom

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the IACHR) found that the Mexican State violated “the right to freedom of expression in respect of Victor Manuel Oropeza and every citizen”, and the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection in respect of his family [para. 3]. The journalist Víctor Manuel Oropeza was murdered on July 3, 1991, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. More than eight years after his murder, neither the material perpetrators nor the masterminds were held into account and the investigation on the crime was still open. According to the IACHR, even when the judiciary was unable to determine who was responsible for the murder or their motives, it stated that Oropeza’s murder was linked to his role as a journalist. In this regard, it held that both the murder and the lack of a complete and thorough investigation of the events, constituted a violation to the right of freedom of expression. It also added that these crimes have a “chilling effect” over other journalists, and over society.


Facts

The journalist and M.D. Víctor Manuel Oropeza wrote the column “My view” (“A mi manera”) in a local newspaper from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico called Diario de Juárez, from where he criticized local authorities and exposed the “close ties between police force and drug traffickers” in the area [para. 2].

Víctor Manuel Oropeza received multiple threats based on his column and was finally murdered on July 3, 1991. The petitioners claimed that his murder sought to silence his reports and that the investigation was deliberately frustrated by the authorities involved in the activities he exposed. Over eight years after the murder the investigation was still open, and the only alleged suspect was imprisoned in the US for a different crime.

The IACHR analyzed the case and concluded that Mexico had violated “the right to freedom of expression in respect of Víctor Manuel Oropeza and of every citizen” [par. 3], and the rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection in respect of his family.


Decision Overview

The IACHR had then to determine whether an ineffective investigation of the murder of a journalist constitutes a breach to article 13 of the Convention.

For the Commission, the reluctancy of a State to adequately investigate the killing of a journalist is especially serious because of the impact it has on society. According to the IACHR, these crimes have a “chilling effect” not only on other journalists but on every citizen. Consequently, impunity derived from the lack of a thorough and complete investigation, intimidates citizens, and prevents further reporting any wrongdoings or misbehaviors.

To substantiate its assertion, the IACHR recalled that the right to freedom of expression is fundamental for democracy and for the full enjoyment of human rights, and that a free and independent press is essential to democratic institutions and the rule of law. In accordance with the Inter-American Court, the Commission has also highlighted that it’s a fundamental right that contributes to the development of other groups such as labor unions and political parties.

The Commission reiterated that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has established that “freedom of expression includes the giving and receiving of information and has a double dimension, individual and collective”; and that “the freedom and independence of the journalists is an asset which must be protected and ensured” [par. 51]. In addition to this, it recalled that the Inter-American Court upheld that this right is “universal and contains within it the legal power of people, individually or collectively considered, to express, transmit and diffuse their thoughts; in a parallel and correlative way, freedom of information is also universal and embodies the collective right of everyone to receive information without any interference or distortion” [para. 51].

Moreover, the Commission recalled that the Principles of the Declaration of Chapultepec state that: “[a]ssasination, kidnapping, pressures, intimidation, unjust imprisonment of newspaper reporters, physical destruction of the means of communication, violence of any sort and the impunity of the aggressors seriously hamper freedom of expression and of the press. Such acts must be promptly investigated and severely punished”.

In this respect, for the IACHR “the reluctancy of the State to thoroughly investigate the murder of a journalist is especially serious because of its impact on society. Likewise, this sort of crime has a “chilling effect” on other journalists, but also on every citizen, as it generates a fear of denouncing abuses, harassment, and all kinds of illegal actions. The Commission consider[ed] that such an effect can only be avoided by swift action by the respective State to punish all those that may be responsible, as is its duty under international law and domestic law” [para. 58]

The IACHR specifically analyzed that even when the judiciary was unable to determine who was responsible for the murder or their motives, “the facts show that Víctor Manuel Oropeza was threatened and subsequently assassinated because of the content of his articles in the press. Indeed, the judicial file contains abundant information—not disputed by the State—directly linking Oropeza’s public activities and the content of his column with the serious threats prior to his assassination” [para. 56].

The Commission concluded that the failure to adequately investigate and sanction the material perpetrators and masterminds of the murder of Víctor Manuel Oropeza in accordance with Mexican domestic laws and procedures, violates the right to freedom of expression. Accordingly, the IACHR added that the murder of the journalist implied “an aggression against all citizens inclined to report arbitrary acts and abuses to society, aggravated by the impunity of one or more intellectual perpetrators. Accordingly, Mexico is responsible for the failure to conduct a serious and complete investigation of the facts in the instant case and consequently for the violation of the rights to freedom of expression of Víctor Manuel Oropeza and citizens in general to receive information freely and to learn the truth about facts that have occurred” [para. 61].


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Expands Expression

In this decision the Inter-American Commission emphasized the importance of determining all authors of crimes against journalists and stated that the lack of a thorough investigation also implies a violation of freedom of expression.

For the Commission, a State’s refusal to conduct a full investigation of the murder of a journalist is particularly serious because of its impact on society. It also emphasized that this type of crime has a chilling effect most notably on other journalists but also on ordinary citizens, as it instills the fear to report arbitrary acts and abuses.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

  • ACHR, art. 13
  • ACHR, art. 5
  • ACHR, art. 4
  • ACHR. art. 25
  • ACHR, art. 8
  • UNESCO. Res. 120 (Nov. 2, 1997)
  • UNHR Comm., Observaciones y Recomendaciones al Estado de Guatemala, doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.63
  • IACtHR, Velásquez Rodríguez v. Honduras, ser. C No. 4 (1988)
  • IACtHR, Compulsory Membership in an Association Prescribed by Law for the Practice of Journalism, ser. A No. 5 (1985)
  • IACmHR, Report No. 50/99, Case 11.739, Héctor Félix Miranda, Mexico, April 13, 1999
  • IACmHR, Report No.3/98, Case 11.221, Tarcisio Medina Charry, Colombia, April 7, 1998

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The decision did not establish any binding or persuasive precedent inside or outside the jurisdiction. Up until now, the importance of this decision is undefined.

The decision was cited in:

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