IACHR: Ongoing Violence Against Human Rights Defenders in the First Four Months of 2023

June 27, 2023

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the ongoing violence and intimidation against human rights defenders during the first four months of the year. It called on States to protect those who defend human rights by implementing concrete measures and actions that include investigating acts of violence.

Between January and April, the IACHR observed that violence against human rights defenders has remained at alarming levels: at least 33 defenders have been murdered in countries in the Americas, more than the 27 cases recorded during the same period in 2022. The IACHR is concerned that the majority of these crimes continue to target those defending the environment, the land, or the territory.

In Brazil, United Nations Human Rights has recorded the murder of eight defenders. In January, the Pataxó indigenous defenders Samuel Cristiano do Amor Divino and Nauí Brito de Jesus were murdered in Itabela, Bahia. Likewise, the indigenous defenders Valdemar Marciano Guajajara and José Inacio Guajajara and the defender Raimundo Ribeiro da Silva were murdered in Araiboia, Maranhão.  That same month, the defenders Raniel Barbosa and Rodrigo Hawerroth were murdered during a rescue operation in Nova Mutum-Paraná, Rondônia. Likewise, Patrick Gasparini Cardoso was murdered in the district of Nova Mutum-Paraná in the rural area of Porto Velho and Nova Dimensão, in Nova Mamoré municipality, Rondônia.

In Colombia, UN Human Rights has received 71 reports of killings of defenders, 13 of which have been verified. In April, the environmental defender Diana Carolina Rodríguez Madrigal was murdered in San Cayetano, Norte de Santander, as was the indigenous defender José Isaías Quiguanás in Corinto, Cauca. In March, those murdered included the indigenous defender Marlon Hernando García Pascal in Tumaco, Nariño; the indigenous leader Wilson Bomba Piamba in Caldono, Cauca; Néstor Yesid Martínez Pinto, a community defender of African descent, in Riohacha, La Guajira; Weimar Possu Diaz, a defender of African descent, in Puerto Tejada, Cauca; the indigenous leader Raúl Antonio Nastacuas in Ricaurte, Nariño; and the community leader Mariela Marínez Gaviria in Tumaco, Nariño. In February, the community leader José Antonio Santiago Pérez was murdered in Tibú, Norte de Santander, as was the peasant leader Jorge Orlando Cárdenas Fajardo in Cantagallo, Bolívar. In January, the community leader Cristian David Salinas Chocué was murdered in Ginebra, Valle de Cauca, as were the indigenous leader Jaime Álvarez Romero in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo, and the peasant leader Edilsan Andrade Avirama in Rosas, Cauca.

The Colombian State reiterated its commitment to respecting fundamental freedoms and human rights, being a rights-based government, and providing all possible guarantees for human rights defenders to continue doing their valuable work. The State noted that between January and May 2023, the Attorney General's Office made progress on clarifying 44.17% of the homicides under investigation in the ordinary jurisdiction, including 16 cases that have resulted in convictions, 51 cases being tried, 41 cases in which charges have been pressed, 65 cases under investigation for which arrest warrants have been issued, and 7 cases that have been closed due to the death of the accused. It also observed that the National Protection Unit protects and guarantees the individual security of 3,745 social leaders and human rights defenders and is deploying a series of actions to protect and guarantee the security of 220 groups.

In Honduras, UN Human Rights recorded the murder of at least six human rights defenders in the first four months of 2023. In April, peasant leader José Gilberto Martínez Cardona was murdered in Olanchito, Yoro. In February, the IACHR expressed its concern over the murder of the campesino defender Santos Hipólito Rivas and his son in Trujillo, Colón, and the land defender Benigno Maldonado in Tela, Atlántida, as well as the murders of the land defender José Omar Cruz Tomé in Tocoa, Colón, and the environmental and territorial defenders Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla in the municipality of Tocoa, Colón, which occurred in January. The Honduran State acknowledged its responsibility for protecting defenders and expressed its commitment to doing so and promoting a working environment that is conducive to their work.

OHCHR figures suggest that at least four defenders were murdered in Mexico. April saw the murder of the land defender Félix Vicente Cruz in San Francisco Ixhuatán, Oaxaca, and the environmental defender Eustacio Alcalá Díaz in Chinicuila, Michoacán. In March, the LGBTI defender Gustavo Robles Taboada was murdered in Cuautla, Morelos; and in February, the environmental defender Alfredo Cisneros Madrigal was murdered in Los Reyes, Michoacán.

Furthermore, the disappearance of the indigenous human rights defender Alejandro Ortiz Vázquez in Metlatónoc, Guerrero, was reported in April. In January, the disappearance of the human rights defenders Antonio Díaz Valencia and Ricardo Lagunes in Colima was reported. Regarding the latter two cases, the State informed the IACHR that it was carrying out investigations and searches in the area where the two defenders were last seen. It also noted that local and federal institutions were working together to identify the whereabouts of Ricardo Lagunes and Antonio Díaz and understand their conditions.

In Peru, UN Human Rights recorded the murder of at least two human rights defenders. In April, the territorial defender Cristino Melchor Flores was murdered in the city of Piura, Piura, as was the Asháninka indigenous defender Santiago Contoricón, in the Puerto Ocopa Native Community, Río Tambo district, Satipo, Junín. In relation to the case of Cristiano Melchor Flores, the State announced through the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights (MINJUDH) that it would be providing legal assistance and economic benefits to his family members. With regard to Santiago Contoricón, the State reported that it had committed to providing his family with financial assistance and had requested that the Public Prosecutor's Office appoint a forensic doctor and create an office to investigate organized crime in Satipo.

The IACHR urged States to conduct exhaustive, serious, impartial investigations and to begin by considering the hypothesis that these acts of violence may be related to the victims' work as defenders. Likewise, States should include a differentiated gender and ethnic-racial approach while investigating, prosecuting, and sanctioning these crimes, and when implementing reparation measures for the relatives of all victims, along with guarantees of nonrepetition.

During this period, the IACHR also received reports of other forms of violence against human rights defenders.

In Mexico, the IACHR was informed of the disappearance of the indigenous defender Wixariti Santos de la Cruz Carrillo in January in Nayarit and the indigenous defender Daniel Gómez Sántiz in February in Chiapas, both of whom were subsequently found alive.

The IACHR also received information regarding the State's use of Pegasus malware to spy on human rights defenders and organizations, including the human rights defender Raymundo Ramos and two members of the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center (Centro Prodh). In response, the IACHR has indicated that any action pertaining to the surveillance of communication devices must be backed by a transparent legal framework that is in accordance with international human rights norms and standards, guaranteeing the principles of necessity, proportionality, and an objective that is legitimate and in accordance with said norms.

Furthermore, the IACHR expressed its concern regarding the approval of the first debate concerning the draft law entitled "Law for the Control, Regularization, Operation, and Financing of Nongovernmental and Related Organizations" in Venezuela. In addition to limiting the activities that can be carried out by organizations, this grants State authorities the power to unilaterally dissolve any organizations that it deems to be participating in political activities or activities that jeopardize national stability and the institutions of the Republic.

During this period, the IACHR also received information on stigmatizing speeches that seek to discredit the work of human rights defenders in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru. These have been made by the highest authorities in these States, who have accused human rights defenders of being "terrorists" or "international criminals," among other things. Both El Salvador and Guatemala acknowledged the importance of the work carried out by human rights defenders in strengthening and consolidating democracies. Peru stated that it does not discriminate against or stigmatize citizens, nor does it use terms such as "terruco" to address individuals.

The IACHR noted that when State officials disqualify the work carried out by human rights defenders in public statements, it generates stigmatization. It can also create a climate of hostility and intolerance on the part of different sectors of the population, which prevents defenders from legitimately exercising their freedom of association.

Human rights defenders play a fundamental role in strengthening and consolidating democracies. Similarly, the work carried out by environmental defenders is essential to guaranteeing the equilibrium between environmental protection and the sustainable development of the countries in the region.

It is imperative for States in the region to adopt the necessary measures to prevent violence against human rights defenders from continuing. To achieve this, they need to implement a comprehensive protection policy based on the recognition of the importance of defense work in the consolidation of democracies and the rule of law. States urgently need to adopt affirmative measures that promote a culture of rights and an environment free of violence and threats while protecting defenders when they are at risk and investigating 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.

No. 138/23

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