IACHR and UN Human Rights Call on States to Guarantee Access to Justice for Defenders Who are Victims of Human Rights Violations

August 10, 2023

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Bogotá / Guatemala City / Mexico City / Panama City / La Paz / Lima / Tegucigalpa / Santiago de Chile / Washington, D.C. — The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) in Latin America expressed concern about the continuing impunity for violations committed against human rights defenders in relation to their work. The two organizations urged States to prevent, investigate, punish, and provide redress for these violations in order to guarantee the full and free exercise of the right to defend human rights.

Human rights defenders play a fundamental role in promoting and protecting human rights and in building more just, equitable societies that respect human dignity. Their work is essential to making violations visible and advocating for administrative and legislative measures to safeguard rights and promote access to justice. However, they are frequently the targets of threats, intimidation, harassment, stigmatizing speech, defamation, and acts of violence, including murder, as a result of their advocacy work.

The IACHR and UN Human Rights acknowledged the efforts made by some States to make progress on fulfilling their obligations by creating specialized prosecutors' offices and protocols to investigate murders, threats, and attacks against human rights defenders, in accordance with international standards in this area.

The IACHR received information on at least 126 murders of human rights defenders in 2022, and there were 33 murders in the first four months of 2023. It is of particular concern that in some countries in the region, the impunity rate for the murder of human rights defenders exceeds 90%.

Impunity perpetuates violence and repression, creating a climate of fear, lack of protection, and defenselessness for victims, their families, and their communities, who are left in a situation of absolute vulnerability and risk in the face of attacks and violence. Failure to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for human rights violations has a negative impact on the exercise of the right to defense of these rights.

The IACHR and UN Human Rights call on States to fully comply with their obligation to thoroughly, impartially, and effectively investigate violations committed against human rights defenders, taking the possible link between these acts and their work as an initial hypothesis, with the aim of punishing those responsible, guaranteeing the necessary reparations to victims and their families, and ensuring that such acts are not repeated.

The IACHR and UN Human Rights also reiterated that States are obliged to provide full protection for human rights defenders, particularly when they are at risk.

On the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the IACHR and UN Human Rights urged States to redouble their efforts in the fight against impunity by allocating sufficient resources, guaranteeing victims and their families access to simple, prompt, and effective judicial remedies, and incorporating successful experiences and best practices into investigative processes, such as the Protocol of Hope generated by civil society. States must also adopt comprehensive protection policies based on the recognition of the importance of defense work to ensure a safe, enabling environment for the exercise of this work.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 178/23

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