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IACHR Launches Report on Comprehensive Protection Policies for Human Rights Defenders

February 28, 2018

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Bogotá, Colombia - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today is presenting its report “Toward a Comprehensive Policy to Protect Human Rights Defenders,” in the context of the 167th session of the IACHR taking place in Colombia. The purpose of this report is to provide the States in the region with guidance in developing their domestic policies, programs, and protection mechanisms for human rights defenders, in keeping with inter-American human rights standards.

“The work of defending human rights in the countries of the Americas has become extremely dangerous,” said the President of the IACHR, Commissioner Margarette Macaulay. “The levels of violence against people who defend human rights in our region are alarming, and the rates of impunity for these types of crimes are very high. The focus of the IACHR’s concern is on the violent deaths of rights defenders, the impunity that tends to surround these types of crimes, and the remaining vulnerability of all persons and groups on whose behalf the defender had worked. This makes it essential and urgent for the States to adopt effective measures to put an end to this situation,” she added.

Human rights defenders in the region are victims of killings, attacks, disappearances and forced disappearances, threats, illegal searches, stigmatizing remarks by high-level authorities, and criminalization, as well as financial or administrative restrictions to their work. Problems with corruption, the judiciary’s lack of independence and impartiality, impunity, the stigmatization of human rights defenders and the accompanying disparaging discourse, along with barriers in access to justice, all converge to perpetuate the current situation of risk faced by human rights defenders in the countries of the Americas.

Certain groups of defenders are at special risk, and the IACHR is alarmed by the escalation of violent attacks against them. Some of the groups with especially high rates of violence and harassment against them include those who defend land and territories, advocate for environmental rights, and oppose certain economic megaprojects and natural resource development projects; those who advocate for women’s rights, on issues related to sexual violence and sexual and reproductive rights; health and rights defenders who work on issues related to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Public policies in the region to prevent violence against rights defenders have been few and far between, and many of the mechanisms and policies that some States have implemented must be improved to produce the required result. Physical security measures constitute an urgent and necessary response for the effective and immediate protection of human rights defenders. However, such measures are not enough; rather, they should be implemented in conjunction with others designed to solve the structural problems that accentuate the risks.

“We are aware of and welcome the efforts made by some States to implement different mechanisms, laws, and policies to protect rights defenders, but unfortunately these have not been effective enough,” said the IACHR Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren. “That is why the IACHR in this report has laid out the main components of a comprehensive protection policy, so that such a policy can be effective and so that we can manage to stop the killings and other attacks that are putting an end to the lives of rights defenders or preventing them from doing their work. The aim of the IACHR is to provide the States with a guide on developing domestic policies, programs, mechanisms, and practices for the effective protection of human rights defenders, in accordance with Inter-American human rights standards,” he indicated.

A comprehensive protection policy is based on a recognition of the State’s interrelated and interdependent obligations to enable rights defenders to freely and safely carry out their work of defending human rights. In this sense, a comprehensive protection policy refers to a broad, all-encompassing approach that requires extending protection beyond physical protection mechanisms or systems when defenders experience situations of risk. It requires implementing public policies and measures designed to respect the rights of defenders; prevent violations of their rights; diligently investigate acts of violence against them; and punish the perpetrators and masterminds of any attack on human rights defenders.

The report also analyzes the main steps forward and challenges in terms of the efforts underway in some States, such as the national protection mechanisms, legislation, and policies and programs that exist in some countries. It also makes recommendations to the States on how to ensure better implementation of prevention, protection, and investigation measures to achieve a comprehensive protection policy.

The work of human rights defenders is essential to the realization of human rights and the attainment of the rule of law. Human rights defenders are an essential pillar for the strengthening and consolidation of democracies in the hemisphere. Acts of violence against human rights defenders not only infringe on the defenders’ own rights as human beings but also undermine the critical role they play in society and in upholding democratic standards.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 039/18