Latin America: a deadly region for human rights defenders

With 106 homicides in 2017 and 46 in the first three months of 2018, Colombia is the most lethal Latin American country for human rights defenders

Latin America: a deadly region for human rights defenders

At least 212 human rights defenders were killed in Latin America in 2017, according to figures from the non-governmental organization Front Line Defenders.

Colombia is the most deadly country in the region for human rights defenders (HRDs). In the coffee nation, 50% of assassinations of leaders in Latin America are committed. According to the organization Somos Defensores, in 2017, 106 of these homicides were reported and in the first three months of 2018 there were 46 new fatalities.

Leer en español: Latinoamérica: una región letal para los defensores de Derechos Humanos

Brazil follows Colombia with at least 65 homicides and Mexico with 48 (2017). Apparently, the reason for these murders is the leaders’ denunciation work. However, due to the speed and resolution of these cases, the motives for the crimes cannot be officially confirmed.

What causes their deaths?

Approximately 70% of human rights defenders murdered around the world defended the land, the rights of indigenous peoples and / or the environment, especially mega construction activities and extractive industry, explained Front Line Defenders in its report.

According to the NGO, 84% of murdered human rights defenders had received at least one threat prior to their death related to their activism and, despite the indications left by the aggressors, only in 12% of the cases people responsible for the crimes were arrested.

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"In many countries, governments and security forces were, at best, impassive in the face of threats and attacks suffered by human rights defenders and, in the worst case, were the security forces themselves", claimed the NGO reported in its report.

What is happening in Colombia?

In Colombia, the high murder of HRD is related to groups of paramilitary violence, drug trafficking, and organized crime. The report ‘Stone in the Shoe’ of 2017 gathers that during that year 560 attacks were reported to these leaders: 106 murders (32.5% more in relation to 2016), 370 threats, 50 attacks, 23 arbitrary detentions, and nine judicial proceedings.

The Office in Colombia of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned, at the end of 2017, that the cases of homicides of HRDs in the country occurred, mainly, "in areas from which the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) left, and in which there is State’s power vacuum".

According to this entity, the murders were committed against these leaders for "exercising human rights defense work such as: denouncing or opposing the existence of illicit economies and the act of crime; claiming own or collective rights; supporting policies derived from the Peace Agreement and conflict".

"In 59% the murders of leaders were perpetrated by hired assassins," they concluded.

Mexico, murders that combine the political and the criminal

A report presented in 2018 by HRD Memorial - a project developed by an international coalition of national and international organizations with support from the Cerezo de México organization - documented that of the 48 murders of HRDs reported in 2017, 58% were defenders of freedom of expression, indigenous peoples, territory or land, and of the right to a decent standard of living.

"An important element of these crimes is the combination of the criminal and the political," they highlighted in the document.

Brazil, violence also reaches the big cities

In Brazil, various social organizations have reported that the number of murders of HRDs in 2017 is between 60 and 70, according to the Don Tomás Balduino Documentation Center, which also warns that 40% of these homicides occurred in the context of a massacre.

"Although most of the murders in the country are related to the defense of the right to land and the rights of indigenous peoples, this violence has spread beyond these sectors and includes violations in urban areas, for example, against HRDs working in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro or groups of LGBTI activists in Curitiba", stand out in the report Stop the Killings of HRD Memorial.

Latin America in the world

The American continent, in recent years, has had the highest figures of human rights defenders’ murders. Colombia is not only the country with more DDH murders in the region, it is also in the world, surpassing countries such as the Philippines.

Venezuela, a country facing an acute political-economic crisis, officially reported a single social leader killed in 2017. However, the strong onslaught of Nicolás Maduro's regime in the 2017 anti-government protests left at least 110 people dead and a wave of political prisoners that exceeds 250 cases.


Latin American Post | Jhon González
Translated from “Latinoamérica: una región mortífera para los defensores de Derechos Humanos”