Press Release

“Human rights defenders are one of the essential pillars that hold up democracy.”

International Human Rights Defenders Day, December 9, 2018

December 7, 2018

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Washington DC, Mexico City, Guatemala City, Tegucigalpa, Panama City, Bogotá, and Santiago de Chile — As part of the Joint Action Mechanism to Contribute to Protection of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, and to mark International Human Rights Defenders Day (December 9), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) for Central America, South America, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico are joining forces to urge states and society to step up their efforts to ensure that the regional context is one in which human rights defenders are safe and can thrive.

The IACHR and OHCHR wish to stress that human rights defenders play an essential part in strengthening and consolidating the region’s democracy. The driving force behind their work is to ensure that all individuals can fully exercise their fundamental human rights. Their actions have positive repercussions for the whole of society, all members of which stand to benefit from their work. Their work involves monitoring, reporting, raising awareness, providing support for victims, and representing and defending people whose rights are under threat, as well as fighting against impunity and corruption. Through these actions, they make a special contribution to respecting, protecting, and promoting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people in the Americas.

Their contribution to society as a whole has been recognized in documents such as the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of this year. The declaration highlights the importance of defenders’ work and calls on states to protect them.

To mark the occasion, the IACHR and the OHCHR wish to acknowledge and support as fully as possible the work of these individuals and groups, who play such a vital part in our two organizations’ being able to fulfill our respective mandates. Human rights defenders’ commitment to the cause of guaranteeing that all people can enjoy and exercise their human rights is an inspiration to the IACHR, the staff of its Executive Secretariat, and to OHCHR officials as they go about their work.

It is with mounting alarm that our two organizations have documented the recent increase in threats, harassment, surveillance, smear campaigns, physical aggression, arbitrary detentions, criminalization, torture, and even forced disappearances and homicides against human rights defenders in the region.

Due to the violence against them, it is urgent to make a joint stand to stop and reverse these patterns of behavior, which are making the Americas one of the most dangerous places in the world for human rights defenders. States must take concrete, appropriate, and effective measures to protect human rights defenders, prevent harm from coming to them, investigate into crimes against them, and ensure access to justice to guarantee that they can go about their work freely and safely, as their role in our societies is vital.

The strength of democracies in the Americas can be measured by the recognition and respect that are afforded to human rights defenders, who play an essential part in all of us being able to enjoy freedom, equality, and justice.

The IACHR and the Offices of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterate their total availability to continue supporting the States and human rights defenders in the creation of a proper and safe environment for the development of their activities.

No. 261/18