Mexico: UN experts call for an independent and impartial investigation into the use of spyware against rights defenders and journalists

GENEVA – A group of United Nations experts* today called on the Government of Mexico to carry out a transparent, independent and impartial investigation into allegations of monitoring and illegal surveillance against human rights defenders, social activists, and journalists.

The experts’ call comes a month after civil society organizations and the international media revealed allegations that the Mexican authorities deployed a spyware called ‘Pegasus’ to hack and monitor the mobile phones of people involved in the investigation and denunciation of cases of corruption and serious violations of human rights during 2015 and 2016.

The allegations of surveillance, which represent a serious violation of the rights to privacy, freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of association, are highly concerning and are evidence of the hostile and threatening environment that human rights defenders, social activists and journalists face in Mexico today,” the experts said.

The surveillance has reportedly targeted human rights defenders from the NGO Centro de Derechos Humanos Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez (Centro Prodh), as well as members of other civil society organizations such as Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad and Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad.

The Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and some members of the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI), appointed to take part in the investigation into the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa, are also said to have been affected.

Among the journalists who claim to have been monitored are Carmen Aristegui and Carlos Loret de Mola. In addition, evidence suggests that a child of one of the affected journalists was also monitored, as were certain members of political opposition parties.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, the government must ensure the conditions necessary for the investigation to be carried out with independence and transparency,” said UN experts.

“We are concerned about the alleged implication in the purchase and use of Pegasus of the same authorities that are now in charge of conducting the investigations”, they noted. “In that sense, we call on the Government to take all the necessary steps to ensure the impartiality of the investigating organ”.  

The experts also called on the Government to ensure that victims are allowed to participate in the investigation and that the general public is informed in a timely manner of the results.

We urge the Government to commit to cease the surveillance immediately,” they emphasized. “Such commitment must include effective controls over the security and intelligence services in order to prevent unlawful use of the State's monitoring tools.”

For the UN experts, “the resolution of this case through an independent and credible investigation is a key step in demonstrating the will of the Government in the fight against impunity in the administration of justice in Mexico”.

(*) The experts: Mr. Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Houria Es-Slami, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Mr. Joseph Cannataci, Special Rapporteur on the right toprivacy.