IACHR: 2023 Ends with High Rates of Violence Against Human Rights Defenders in the Americas

March 5, 2024

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed its concern over the high rates of violence against human rights defenders in the Americas in 2023, which included the murder of at least 126 defenders.

Between September and December 2023, the IACHR learned of 54 murders of human rights defenders, in addition to the 69 cases recorded between January and August. As in previous years, this violence was particularly directed against those defending land and the environment, as well as leaders of indigenous groups and communities of African descent.

In Brazil, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded at least 30 attacks against human rights defenders in the last four months of 2023, including 10 murders. In December, indigenous leaders Alisson Lacerda Abreu Xakriabá and Lucas Santos de Oliveira were murdered in São João das Missões, Minas Gerais, and Itajú do Colônia, Bahia, respectively. November saw the murders of indigenous leader Turiwara Agnaldo da Silva in Acará, Pará, and campesino leaders Josimar Pereira da Silva in Vitória de Santo Antão, Pernambuco, and Ana Paula Costa Silva and Aldecy Viturino in Princesa Isabel, Paraíba. In October, campesino leader José Carlos dos Santos was murdered in Rondônia, as was quilombola leader José Alberto Moreno Mendes in Itapecuru Mirim, Maranhão. In September, indigenous religious leaders Sebastiana and Rufino Guarani Kaiowá were murdered in Guassuty, Mato Grosso do Sul.

The number of murders in the region continues to be highest in Colombia. The OHCHR verified the murders of at least 34 human rights defenders in the country during this period. The following defenders were murdered in December: community leader Martha Yolanda Benavides in Linares, Nariño; indigenous leader Eliécer Puyo Chocué in Caldono, Cauca; social leader John Freiman Ramos Ocaña in Santander de Quilichao, Cauca; campesino leader Carlos Arturo Quijano Velasco in Silvia, Cauca; social leader Carlos Alberto Romero Martínez in La Dorada, Caldas; indigenous leader Marino Paví Julicue in Toribío, Cauca; social leader Diego Antonio Arrieta López in Turbo, Antioquia; LGBTI defender Rozana Delgado in Bogotá; social leader Tulia Carrillo Lizarazo in Tame, Arauca; campesino leader Robert Fernández in Cajibío, Cauca; environmental defender Camilo Osuna in Cali, Valle de Cauca; social leader Robiro Rojas Benavides in Los Andes Sotomayor, Nariño; social leader Pedro Pablo Salas Sánchez in Puerto de Asís, Putumayo; indigenous defender Phanor Guazaquillo in Puerto Asís, Putumayo; social leader María Isabel Ramos in Solita, Caquetá; and indigenous defender Manuel Maria Carlosama Oco in Puerto de Asís, Putumayo.

Those murdered in November were community leader Daniel Andrés Rivas in Puerto Caicedo, Putumayo; community leader José Luis Alape in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo; community leader Hermilson Layton Forero in Tame, Arauca; community leader Lennis Rojas Silva in Tesalia, Huila; environmental defender Elkin Jesús Díaz in Puerto de Asís, Putumayo; indigenous defender Rogelio Chate in Caldono, Cauca; and community leader Luis Alberto Quintero Díaz in Tibú, Norte de Santander.

In October, the following defenders were murdered: defender of African descent Samuel Avendaño Lopez in Carmen del Darién, Chocó; community leader Rubén Darío Patiño Cuervo in Palmira, Valle del Cauca; defender of African descent Gustavo Adolfo Ortiz Murillo in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca; community leader Jamile Bernal García in Villagarzon, Putumayo; community leader Miller Silva Rosero in Argelia, Cauca; and defender of African descent Felipe Castro Pinillo in El Charco, Nariño.

The murders in September included environmental defender Johan Ferney Aguilar in Falan, Tolima; defender Silvio Rosero Arteaga in Taminango, Nariño; defender Steven Chalarca in Yolombó, Antioquia; indigenous defender José Arley Cruz Chucue in Miranda, Valle del Cauca; and indigenous defender Milton Santacruz Aguilar in Necocli, Antioquia.

The Colombian State informed the Commission on various measures implemented for the promotion and protection of human rights, among which stand out: the enactment of Law 2273 of 2022; approving the Escazú Agreement; the issuance of Presidential Directive 07 of December 13, 2023, which supports and recognizes the work of human rights defenders in Colombia; the development of the Public Policy to Ensure the Work of Human Rights Defenders, aiming to incorporate the results of the "Territorial Roundtables on Guarantees for Human Rights Defenders and Social Leaders in the Departmental Development Plans 2024-2027".

In Guatemala, the OHCHR reported the murder of at least three defenders. In October, the indigenous leader of the Xinca Parliament, Noé Gomez Barrera, and Francisco Gonzalo Velázquez Gómez, a farmer from San Marcos, were murdered during the protests that took place in the country during this period, as was the indigenous leader Sonia Janeth Guevara Ávila.

In Honduras, the OHCHR recorded the murder of at least two human rights defenders during this period. In September, transgender defender Soraya Álvarez was murdered in ComayagŁela, Francisco Morazán; and campesino defender David Fortín was murdered in Trujillo, Colón.

In Mexico, the IACHR appreciates the efforts made to strengthen the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, particularly in the increase of budgetary resources for its operation. At the same time, notes with concern the assassination of at least four human rights defenders, according to the OHCHR's record. In November, defender Artemio López Aguilar was murdered in Chicomuselo, Chiapas, and environmental defender Higinio Trinidad de lahe IACHR appreciates the efforts made to strengthen the Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, particularly in the increase of budgetary resources for its operation Cruz was murdered in Cuautitlán de García Barragán. In October, indigenous defender Jesús Toral García was murdered in Uruapan, Michoacán, and defender Adolfo Enríquez Vanderkam in León, Guanajuato. Additionally, the IACHR received information about accusations from the highest authorities of the Executive branch regarding organizations and individuals defending human rights, seeking to discredit their defense efforts.

In Peru, the OHCHR recorded the murder of indigenous defender Quinto Inuma Alvarado in the indigenous community of Santa Rosillo de Yanayacu, in San Martín, San Martín. He was a beneficiary of the Intersectoral Mechanism for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. The Peruvian State informed the IACHR that indeed, the defender was a beneficiary of the Intersectoral Mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders and had carried out various measures to ensure his protection since 2022. It stated that, following his assassination, the Third Supraprovincial Corporate Prosecutor's Office against Organized Crime initiated the corresponding investigations that led to the detention of 5 individuals allegedly responsible.

In Venezuela, the IACHR is aware of the continued detention of human rights defenders, such as the case of defender Javier Tarazona, who has been deprived of his freedom since July 2021. On February 9, 2024, defender Rocío San Miguel was arbitrarily detained. Likewise, there are ongoing speeches from state authorities that stigmatize human rights defenders, labeling them as 'destabilizing agents,' 'enemies,' among other terms.

The IACHR noted that the most effective way to protect human rights defenders is to combat impunity. It thus called once more on States to investigate these events in a thorough, serious, and impartial manner, starting with the hypothesis that these crimes may relate to their work as defenders. At the same time, States should incorporate an intersectional gender and racial/ethnic approach in the investigation, prosecution, and punishment of these crimes, as well as in the implementation of reparation measures for the families of all victims.

Finally, regarding the speeches to delegitimize and discredit the work of defenders observed in the region, it is of special concern that they come from the highest authorities, who publicly and repeatedly question the independence and truthfulness of the work carried out by human rights organizations. This type of narrative fosters a climate of hostility and intolerance among different sectors of the population, hindering the legitimate defense of human rights.

Human rights defenders are a cornerstone in the process of ensuring and consolidating stable and lasting democracies. The protection of human rights defenders depends first and foremost on the firm resolve of States to take effective measures to ensure an environment conducive to the defense of human rights. This means not only preventing violations committed by State agents or private individuals but also creating the conditions needed to actively and freely support the invaluable work of those who dedicate their lives to defending human rights.

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mandate stems from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote the observance and defense of human rights in the region and acts as an advisory body to the OAS on the matter. The IACHR is made up of seven independent members who are elected by the OAS General Assembly in their personal capacity, and do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 045/24

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