2022 Was a Violent Year for the Defense of Human Rights in the Americas, IACHR Says

February 21, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murders of 126 rights defenders in 2022, in a generally violent context against them. The Commission stresses its call on States to take urgent measures to protect rights defenders.

The Inter-American Commission has been informed of 42 murders of defenders during the last four months of the year, while 84 had been murdered over the period January–August 2022. Many of the defenders who were killed were indigenous or Afro-descendant persons or were active in the defense of territorial or environmental rights.

At least eight rights defenders were killed in Brazil during the last four months of 2022, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). In December, Raimundo Nonato Silva de Oliveira, a member of the Landless Workers Movement (MST, by its Portuguese acronym) was murdered in Araguatins, in the state of Tocantins. In November, Cleijomar Rodrigues Vasques, an LGBTI rights defender who belonged to the Guarani Kaiowá indigenous people, was murdered in Amambai, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, while indigenous Guaraní rights defender Nhandesy Estela Verá was killed in Japorã, also in Mato Grosso do Sul. In September–October, the following defenders were murdered in Brazil: Yanomami indigenous leader Cleomar Xirixana in Napolepi, Alto Alegre; Pataxó indigenous activist Gustavo Conceição in Comexatibá, Patax; indigenous defender Janildo Oliveira Guajajara, a member of the group Guardiões da Floresta, in Amarante do Maranhão, Maranhão; Guajajara indigenous defender Jael Carlos Miranda Guajajara in Arame, Maranhão; and Guarani Kaiowá indigenous leader Vitorino Sanches (who had already survived a murder attempt on August 2) in Amabai, Mato Grosso do Sul.

Colombia is the country with the highest number of defender murders in the last four months of 2022. The OHCHR confirmed 26 cases, while a further 20 were still being verified. In November–December, the following defenders were murdered in Colombia: social leader Filadelfo Anzola Padilla in the municipality of San Pablo, in the south of the Bolívar department; indigenous leader Yermi Chocué Camayo in Morales, Cauca; community leader Edgar Omar Ayala Pinto in Cúcuta, Norte de Santander; indigenous leader Juvencio Cerquera in Sotará, Cauca; indigenous leaders Francisco Sarco Pipicay and Carlitos Urágama Cano in Quibdó, Chocó; and social leader Carlos Andrés Posada in the municipality of Ituango, Antioquia.

In Colombia, the following defenders were murdered in September–October: social leader Natanael Díaz in Magangué, Bolivar; Afro-descendant social leader Edinson Murillo Ararat in Santander Quilichao, Cauca; social leader Rigo Alape in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo; social leader Ferney Morales in Puerto Leguízamo, Putumayo; Afro-descendant social leader Fredy Mena Oregón in Lloró, Chocó; Afro-descendant community leader Silvio Landazury Castillo in Mocoa, Putumayo; community leader Rafael Emiro Moreno Garavito in Montelíbano, Córdoba; social leader Gildardo Alonso Ríos in Fortul, Arauca; social leader Sócrates Sevillano and his wife in Orito, Putumayo; Afro-descendant social leader Adelmo Balanta in Buenos Aires, Cauca; social leader William Pedraza in Leticia, Amazonas; social leader Luz Angelina Quijano Poveda in Bucaramanga, Santander; social leader Sandra Patricia Montenegro in Palmira, Valle del Cauca; trade-union leader Sibares Lamprea Vargas in Barrancabermeja, Santander; social leader Luis Antonio Charry in El Paujil, Caquetá; social leader Frai Torres Marroquín in the village of Ciénaga, Magdalena; indigenous leader Diocelino García Bisbicus in Tumaco, Nariño; social leader Dinael González Criado in Tibú, Norte de Santander; and indigenous leader Clemencia Arteaga in Villagarzón, Putumayo. The Colombian Ombudsperson's Office reported a total of 215 murders of defenders during 2022, the highest figure for a single year since 2016.

The State of Colombia told the Commission that all these cases were being investigated. The State noted that, since 2016, the Colombian Public Prosecutor's Office has a specific strategy in place to investigate crimes committed against human rights defenders in the country and to prosecute their perpetrators and masterminds, in compliance with international due diligence standards. The State further said that the National Protection Unit (UNP) is currently providing protection to 3,067 social leaders. The State also stressed a series of measures that are currently being implemented to reinforce the safety of social leaders and human rights defenders, with differentiated individual and collective approaches. Colombia stressed that ending murders and other forms of violence against rights defenders and social leaders is one of its main goals.

In Guatemala, according to public reports, Tereso Cárcamo Flores, a member of the Peasant Development Committee (CODECA, by its Spanish acronym), was murdered in December in Aldea de La Paz, in the Jiménez area of Jalapa. The State of Guatemala informed the Commission that it was conducting the relevant criminal investigation to solve this case, establish what happened, and identify the perpetrators and masterminds of any wrongdoing.

In Honduras, the OHCHR recorded the murders of at least two defenders over the last four months of 2022. In December, Mauricio Esquivel, a human rights defender who was particularly active in defense of land rights and environmental rights, was murdered in Tocoa, in the department of Colón. In October, rights defender Melisa Núñez was murdered in Morocelí, in the department of El Paraíso.

In Mexico, the OHCHR reports that at least four defenders were murdered over the last four months of 2022. In November, María del Carmen Vázquez, a woman who had been searching for her missing son, was murdered in Abasolo, Guanajuato. In October, the following defenders were murdered: environmental defender Jesús Manuel García in Santo Domingo Tehuantepec, Oaxaca; environmental defender Filogonio Martínez Merino in Santiago Jamiltepec, Oaxaca; and Esmeralda Gallardo, a woman who had been searching for her missing daughter, in Puebla, Puebla.

In Peru, the OHCHR confirmed the murder of indigenous environmental defender Vilca Ampichi López, who was the leader of the native community in San Juan de Pachitea and was killed in December in Puerto Inca, Huánuco.

Further, between September and December 2022, the Commission was informed of several instances of stigmatizing comments aimed at discrediting efforts in defense of human rights. These comments were sometimes even made by high authorities of the State, as was the case in El Salvador, Mexico, and Venezuela. The State of El Salvador noted that it fully recognizes and respects the defense of human rights and guarantees protection for defenders, through solid institutions.

Concerning stigmatizing discourse, the Commission stresses that demeaning the work of human rights defenders through public comments made by State officials causes stigmatization and may also create a hostile, intolerant environment for defenders in certain social contexts, which may in turn undermine defenders' legitimate exercise of their right to freedom of association.

States must urgently conduct comprehensive, serious, and impartial investigations that start off with the hypothesis that the violence may have been linked to victims' efforts in defense of human rights. Similarly, States must seek to adopt differentiated gender and ethnic–racial approaches when investigating, trying, and punishing these crimes and when providing reparations for the families of all victims, as well as providing guarantees of non-recurrence.

The Commission stresses how important it is to protect the lives and integrity of human rights defenders and also the role defenders play to strengthen and consolidate democracy, as the IACHR already noted in various reports published in 200620112017, and 2019. The work of environmental defenders is also essential to ensure a balance between environmental protection and the sustainable development of countries in the Americas.

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. 026/23

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