IACHR Press Office
Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the continued violence against human rights defenders recorded in the Americas between May and August 2022 and urged States to step up their efforts to protect those who work to defend human rights.
The IACHR noted that acts of violence continued to be recorded against human rights defenders during the second quarter. Specifically, the IACHR is concerned over the high number of murders of defenders in various countries in the region, as well as acts of harassment and criminalization in relation to their work.
According to information from the the OHCHR, 19 attacks on human rights defenders were recorded in Brazil during this period, including 7 murders. In July, the indigenous Guarani Kaiowá defender Marcio Moreira was murdered in Amambaí municipality in Mato Grosso do Sul, as was Severino Bernardo da Silva, a member of the Rural Landless Workers Movement (MST), in Pedras de Fogo, Paraíba. In June, the indigenous Guarani Kaiowá defender Vitor Fernandes was murdered in Amambaí, Mato Grosso do Sul; as was the campesino defender Wesley Flávio da Silva in Campo Novo de Rondônia municipality, Rondônia. At the same time, the IACHR condemned the murder of journalist Dom Phillips and Bruno Araújo Pereira, defender and expert on indigenous peoples, who were seen for the last time on June 5, 2022, in São Rafael. In May, Guarani Kaiowá indigenous defender Alex Vasques Lopes was murdered near the Taquaperi reserve in Coronel Sapucaia, Mato Grosso do Sul.
In Colombia, according to information from the Ombud's Office, it received and verified 62 cases of homicides of social leaders and human rights defenders between May and August 2022.
According to public information in Guatemala, at least three human rights defenders have been murdered. In August, Santos Samayoa Osorio, a member of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) was murdered in Guatemala City, Guatemala. In July, the lifeless body of indigenous Maya K'iché mayor Apolinario Morales Orozco was found in the village of Las Majadas, Quetzaltenango. In June, CODECA member Pablo Ramos was murdered in the municipality of Morales, Izabal.
The OHCHR documented two murders in this second quarter of the year in Honduras. In June, LGBTI defender Brayan Josué López Guzmán was murdered in San Pedro Sula, Cortés. In May, environmental defender Donaldo Rosales Meza was murdered in minas de Oro, Comayagua.
In Mexico, the OHCHR recorded the murder of at least six human rights defenders. In August, Rosario Lilian Rodríguez was murdered in the municipality of Elota, Sinaloa. She was a mother who was searching for her disappeared children. In July, indigenous human rights defender Crispín Reyes was murdered in the municipality of San Juan Juquila Mixes, Oaxaca. In June, the IACHR condemned the murder of Jesuit priests Javier Campos Morales and Joaquín César Mora Salazar on June 20 inside the community church in Cerocahui, Urique municipality, Chihuahua. The human rights defender Jesús Bañuelos Acevedo was also murdered in the municipality of Atitalaquia, Hidalgo. In May, land defender Humberto Valdovinos Fuentes was murdered in Pinotepa Nacional municipality, Oaxaca.
In Peru, the OHCHR recorded the murder of one human rights defender: indigenous defender Genaro Comisario Bitap, was murdered in Datem de Marañón, Loreto, in August. The State informed the IACHR that the case is being investigated by the Public Prosecutor's Office.
The IACHR urged States to conduct exhaustive, serious, impartial investigations and to include the hypothesis that these acts of violence may be related to their work as defenders from the outset. Likewise, States should include a differentiated gender and ethnic-racial approach during the process of investigating, prosecuting, and sanctioning these crimes, and in implementing reparation measures for the relatives of all victims, along with guarantees of nonrepetition.
In terms of criminalization, Venezuela continues to use antiterrorism legislation to hinder the work of human rights defenders. Indeed, agents of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service detained union leader Alcides Brancho on July 4. On July 5, trade unionist Emilio Negrin was arrested under similar circumstances. Similarly, humanitarian worker and trade unionist Gabriel Blanco was arrested on July 7. The three defenders were charged with crimes listed in the Organic Law against Organized Crime and the Financing of Terrorism and brought before courts with specific jurisdiction over terrorism.
Furthermore, on August 24, 2022, defender Ana Leonor Acosta and defenders Kelvin Zambrano and Alonso Medina Rosa were informed that charges were being pressed against them by the Antiterrorism Division at the Scientific, Penal, and Criminal Investigations Department (CICPC) after Alonso Medina was prevented from leaving the country.
The criminalization of human rights defenders promotes collective stigmatization and sends a message of intimidation. Likewise, the bringing of unfounded criminal investigations or lawsuits against these groups or individuals may hinder or paralyze their work defending human rights. In the specific case of women human rights defenders, criminalization may limit them from going about their work while also increasing and exacerbating existing social inequality.
The IACHR called on States, particularly the judicial authorities, to conduct jurisdictional monitoring of the reports it receives and to prevent people who legitimately protest or demand respect and protection for human rights from being subjected to unfair or unfounded trials and criminal proceedings.
Human rights defenders play a fundamental role in strengthening and consolidating democracies, as the IACHR has noted in the reports it published in 2006, 2011, 2017, and 2019. Similarly, the work carried out by environmental defenders is essential to guaranteeing the equilibrium between environmental protection and sustainable development in the countries in the region.
In response to how extreme the current situation of violence is, the IACHR notes that it States' obligation to provide full protection for those who are working to protect human rights. Political will and action on the part of States is needed to create an environment that fosters the right to defend human rights. As a result, countries urgently need to adopt affirmative measures that promote a culture of rights and an environment free of violence and threats, acknowledge and promote the value and significance of the work of human rights defenders, protect them when they are at risk, and investigate acts of violence against them swiftly and effectively.
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.