Press Release

One Year After the Murder of Sergio Rojas, the IACHR Expresses Concern Over the Threats, Harassment, and Violence Experienced by Indigenous Leaders and Human Rights Defenders in Costa Rica

March 18, 2020

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) expressed its concern over the threats, harassment, and violence currently being faced by indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in the Buenos Aires area in Puntarenas province, Costa Rica, where there is an ongoing conflict between indigenous communities and third parties.

Specifically, in recent weeks, the IACHR has received information regarding death threats and incitement to violence against human rights defenders Gustavo Oreamuno Vignet and Jeffrey López Castro, both members of the Ditsö Association of Popular Initiatives in Puntarenas province. Relatives of members of the Ditsö Association of Popular Initiatives have also allegedly received threats. According to the information that was received, these threats intensified in response to work defending human rights and the public reporting of the murder of human rights defender Jerhy Rivera Rivera on February 24, 2020, a day after a new attempt took place to recover lands in Bröran de Térraba territory, also in Puntarenas province. According to information provided by the state, the alleged perpetrators of the events were identified by the authorities, arrested, and investigated, and the appropriate legal proceedings were initiated.

In response, given the context in which these events occurred, the IACHR emphasized the importance of territory for the physical and cultural survival of indigenous peoples. It also reiterated what has been established by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights regarding indigenous lands, namely that when states do not effectively identify these and mark their boundaries, it can create a climate of permanent uncertainty, thus affecting social peace within communities.

The IACHR also noted that March 18 marked the first anniversary of the murder of Sergio Rojas, an indigenous Bribri leader who was the beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR in April 2015. On this point, the IACHR warned that, according to published information, the lack of substantive progress on the line of investigation has resulted in a failure to prosecute those responsible. The IACHR reiterated that investigations into this crime should be conducted in a serious, prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial manner, and those responsible for masterminding it and carrying it out should be punished.

The IACHR also noted that, in accordance with Precautionary Measure 321-12, the state must take the necessary measures to guarantee the life and personal integrity of the members of the Teribe and Bribri indigenous peoples in Puntarenas province. The IACHR called on the state of Costa Rica to reinforce the comprehensive protection measures adopted in favor of indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in Salitre and Térraba territories and to investigate these events promptly and diligently. In the investigation, the state should include lines of inquiry that consider the hypothesis that these acts of violence might have been motivated by the victims’ work as human rights defenders.

The IACHR also noted that acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders do not only affect the guarantees owed to every human being, they also undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society. These acts also harm all of those for whom they work, leaving them more vulnerable and even helpless.

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. 057/20