Press Release

IACHR Condemns Murder of Human Rights Defender in El Salvador

June 24, 2011

Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemns the murder in El Salvador of human rights defender Juan Francisco Durán Ayala, who was an activist with the Comité Ambiental de Cabañas para la Defensa del Agua y los Recursos Naturales (Cabañas Environmental Committee for the Defense of Water and Natural Resources, or CAC for its acronym in Spanish). The CAC is an organization that defends the environment from the impact of mining activities in the area of El Dorado, in San Isidro Cabañas. The IACHR urges the State of El Salvador to investigate and legally clarify this crime, and punish the perpetrators and masterminds.

According to the information received by the IACHR, on June 2, 2011, Juan Francisco Durán Ayala allegedly hung posters and banners calling for the approval of an anti-mining law and demanding that a mining company cease its activities in Cabañas. The following day, Juan Francisco Durán was reportedly seen alive for the last time when he left his house to take classes at the Universidad Tecnológica in San Salvador. The information received alleges that the body of Juan Francisco Durán was found June 4, with two gunshot wounds to the head, in the municipality of Soyapango.

The IACHR stresses that the murder of Juan Francisco Durán is the fourth case the Commission has been informed about in the last two years involving the murder of human rights defenders who had opposed mining activities in Cabañas. According to information presented to the Commission during its 140th session, Marcelo Rivera Moreno, a member of the Asociación Amigos de San Isidro Cabañas (Association of Friends of San Isidro Cabañas) and an activist who had opposed the operations of the El Dorado mine, was found dead in a well on June 30, 2009, after having been missing for 12 days; Ramiro Rivera Gómez, a CAC member, was murdered on December 20, 2009, when he was traveling in a pickup truck on a rural road in the canton of Trinidad; and Dora Alicia Sorto, also a CAC member, was killed with a firearm on December 26, 2009.

The IACHR calls to mind that it is the State's obligation to investigate such acts of its own accord and to punish those responsible. The Commission also urges the State of El Salvador to immediately and urgently adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and security of environmentalists in the country.

In the last few years, the defense of the environment and its relationship to human rights are issues that have arisen more frequently in the Commission's work and in the petitions and requests it receives. At the same time, the IACHR is receiving more and more complaints about killings, threats, and harassment against those who work in defense of the environment. The Commission recalls that the work of human rights defenders is critical for building a solid and lasting democratic society, and that defenders play a leading role in the process to fully implement the rule of law and to strengthen democracy. As the Commission has previously said, acts of violence and other attacks perpetrated against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees that belong to all human beings; they also undermine the essential role human rights defenders play in society and contribute to the vulnerability of all those whose rights they champion.

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 human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in a personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 62/11