Criminalisation of human rights defenders: an alarming phenomenon in Latin America - Publication of a report
Mexico, 25 February 2016 –
The criminalization of human rights defenders in the context of the extraction
of natural resources and megaprojects is becoming a very worrisome phenomenon
in Latin America, denounces the
Observatory in a report published today in Mexico. Entitled “The criminalization of
human rights defenders in the context of industrial projects: a regional
phenomenon in Latin America”, this document also points to the role
of businesses, civil servants, public prosecutors, judges, and the State, among
others, in this phenomenon.
describes the specific cases of human rights defenders criminalized
in eight Latin American countries (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras,
Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru).
and harassing those who defend human rights and land rights is becoming a
recurring pattern in Latin America. It is not an isolated phenomenon”
points out the Observatory. “Judges and attorneys often have their share of
responsibility with regard to this criminalization. This must end immediately.
They can no longer be complicit”.
The report especially stresses two core issues common to all
the countries studied:
Firstly, it is in the contexts of extraction of natural
resources and of megaprojects that criminalization of human rights defenders is
most virulent. They are targeted because they promote landrights and defend
vulnerable groups, such as indigenous, afro and rural communities. But also
because they have a key role in drawing attention to human rights violations
related to property, exploitation of land and resources, the environment, water
rights and respect for labor rights, among others. All of the cases documented
in the report demonstrate how the inappropriate use of criminal law to
criminalize community leaders contributed to the collapse of their capacity to
Moreover, the report emphasizes the key role of businesses
and the judiciary in criminalizing defenders, despite their human rights
obligation and the legitimacy of peaceful social protest. Nearly all criminal
cases against defenders have been initiated by businesses, who request the
application of emergency laws such as, for example, anti-terrorism legislation.
Furthermore, the report denounces the lack of independence
and impartiality of justice and its determining impact on the criminalization
of defenders. In most of the cases presented, additionally to charging
abusively the defenders, the Public Ministry leads criminal action and calls
regularly for preventive prison. In many cases defenders are prosecuted once,
twice or more. This is extremely serious in that it violates the minimum guarantees
of due process and the right to personal liberty. Likewise, although judges do
not always convict defenders, they almost systematically assent to requests for
cautionary measures such as preventive arrest.
The Observatory urges the judiciary of the above-mentioned
countries not to be accomplices to the undue criminalization of human rights
defenders and to initiate a period of reflection within the judicial system
on the need for practicing justice in a way that respects the equality of all
parties without favoring political and economic interests.
The report is
available here in Spanish: Informe Observatorio Criminalización América Latina_Español
The infographics is
an FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rights
defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
Organizations who contributed to the
elaboration of this report :
within the framework of the
Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory
for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Global – Brazil
APRODEH – Peru