The prestigious prize honors journalists who risk their lives to cover human rights abuses in Mexico, one of the world's most violent nations.
Mexican journalist Daniela Rea, known for her searing chronicles of the violence gripping her native country, was awarded the first edition of the Breach-Valdez Prize in Journalism and Human Rights on Thursday.
The jury of the award – sponsored by the United Nations, Agence France-Presse, the French embassy in Mexico and the Ibero-American University – praised Rea for her heartrending articles, books and documentary film telling the stories of missing and murdered Mexicans and the toll such violence is taking on Mexico.
Journalists are both chroniclers and victims of that violence: at least 12 were murdered in Mexico last year, and more than 100 have been killed since 2000.
"We are gathered here today for them, for a prize born out of pain," Rea said on accepting the award from Valdez's widow.
"But we are also here for all those other colleagues, many of them anonymous, who continue going out into the street, notebooks in hand, to ask questions, to write, to try to understand the workings of this machinery of death... despite our narco-government."
The prize was awarded on World Press Freedom Day, as tributes poured in for 11 journalists killed in two attacks in Afghanistan on Monday, including AFP's chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai.
"Freedom of speech and of the press are under attack," said Giancarlo Summa, director of the United Nations Information Center in Mexico. "Journalists are the ones who give a voice to victims' calls for justice when the authorities don't deliver it."
Rea, 35, was born in Guanajuato, in central Mexico, but launched her journalism career in the eastern state of Veracruz, one of the most violent in the country because of turf wars between rival drug cartels.
From 2005 to 2012 she worked in Mexico City for respected newspaper Reforma, focusing on the consequences of the Mexican government's decision in 2006 to deploy the military to fight drug trafficking.
Since then, Mexico has been torn asunder by violence that has killed more than 200,000 people so far. Another 30,000 people are missing.
"I didn't make a conscious choice and say 'I'm going to write about human rights.' It was the natural result of writing about Mexican life," Rea told AFP.
"One of the consequences of crimes like 'forced disappearances' is to 'disappear' not only the victim but also everyone around them," she said.
In her work, Rea said she tries not to reduce people's lives to the crimes that ended them, telling instead their stories and those of their families and communities.
A contributor to many of Mexico's top magazines and The Harvard Review of Latin America, Rea has also written and contributed to several books and directed the award-winning documentary film 'Eternity Never Surrendered.'
Miroslava Breach, a correspondent for Mexican daily La Jornada in the state of Chihuahua on the U.S. border, was a celebrated investigative journalist known for hard-hitting reports on links between politicians and organized crime. She was shot dead in broad daylight on March 23, 2017 as she drove her son to school.
Javier Valdez, a long-time AFP collaborator, was gunned down on May 15, 2017 outside the offices of Riodoce, the newspaper he co-founded in Culiacan, the capital of his native Sinaloa state. An award-winning journalist, he was known for his in-depth knowledge of the dirty workings of power in a state where Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, now imprisoned in the United States, once reigned.
Investigators believe Valdez was murdered for his investigative reporting on drug trafficking, Mexico's national security commissioner said last month after a suspect was arrested in the high-profile case.