Press Release

IACHR and UN Regional Human Rights Offices Express Concern over Deteriorating Situation for Rights Defenders in the Americas

December 8, 2017

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Washington, D.C./ Panama City / Santiago — On International Human Rights Defenders Day, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Regional Offices for Central America and South America of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) note that the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas has deteriorated and that the work of defending human rights has become extremely dangerous. In this regard, both institutions urge States to adopt or strengthen their prevention and protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.

In 2016, according to civil society organizations, three quarters of all killings of human rights defenders in the world occurred in the Americas. Some countries of the region, moreover, have seen a continued upward trend in the number of killings, attacks, or threats against human rights defenders. In addition, rights defenders in the region face a series of obstacles to their efforts, such as criminal cases brought against them for their work or smear campaigns to stigmatize and defame them.

Among the groups most affected by this violence are defenders of the land, territory, and environment. The growing number of socioenvironmental conflicts and the failure to adopt and implement effective measures to recognize and protect rights defenders have resulted in their becoming victims of violence over the causes for which they advocate or the content of their demands.

In addition, those who defend the rights of LGBTI persons also tend to be more vulnerable to suffering acts of violence, due to a combination of factors related to the perception of their sexual orientation and gender identity, their role as defenders, and the issues they defend, which seek to challenge traditional social constructs around sexuality. Meanwhile, women human rights defenders not only are discriminated against because of gender stereotypes ascribed to their sex, but they also face a series of specific challenges that put them in a particularly vulnerable situation as they work to defend human rights.

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which establishes that States shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, discrimination, pressure, or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration. Along these lines, the IACHR and the OHCHR Regional Offices in Central America and South America urge the States in the region to comply with the provisions established in that Declaration, urgently adopt all necessary measures to ensure that the conditions are in place so that rights defenders can carry out their activities freely, and adopt or reinforce their prevention and protection mechanisms.

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 defense of 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.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights leads UN efforts to protect and promote human rights worldwide. It also strives to ensure compliance with universally recognized human rights standards, including by promoting universal ratification and implementation of the principal human rights treaties, as well as promoting respect for the rule of law.

The IACHR and the OHCHR have begun a new, more extensive cooperation plan to address one of the most pressing problems in the Americas: the need to protect human rights defenders. This joint action mechanism intensifies the work done on behalf of human rights defenders, building on their national, regional, and international capacities, drawing on their complementary strengths, and creating stronger connections among their staffs.

No. 204/17