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Costa Rica
05.10.20
Urgent Interventions

International organisations call for an end to violence and impunity against indigenous human rights defenders

In March last year,indigenous leader Sergio Rojas was killed at his home after being shot 15times. This brutal attack drew international attention and condemnation. Lastweek, the State of Costa Rica, typically considered a human rights leaderwithin the hemisphere, unexpectedly announced that they would be closing thecase and archiving all the documentation, despite the fact that perpetratorshave not been caught or punished.

Given the context ofviolence and impunity faced by indigenous defenders in Costa Rica, national andinternational organizations call on the Costa Rican Government to take thenecessary measures to end impunity and violence.

The below human rights organisations express deep concern over asituation of structural impunity that exists in Costa Rica regarding indigenouspeople’s rights defenders. The official response to the repeated threats,harassment, violence, and homicides that indigenous leaders and human rightsdefenders currently face in the country continues to be characterized byimpunity. This impunity puts the lives of all human rights defenders in CostaRica at risk.

Since 2012, national and international human rights organisations havedocumented and denounced several cases of violence and impunity against Bribriand Brörán human rights defenders in Térraba and Salitre, territories locatedin the southern region of Costa Rica. Within this context of increasingviolence against the Bribri and Brörán, and their continuous efforts denouncingviolations before national and international instances, the communities hadbeen granted international precautionary measures (MC-312-12) by theInter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). However, these precautionarymeasures have not been respected or fulfilled. Since 2019, two community members have been killed and dozens others shot,seriously injured, forcibly evicted, and threatened with death.

In March 2019, the Bribri indigenous leader Sergio Rojas beneficiary of IACHR precautionary measures, who defended the rights ofindigenous peoples against the illegal occupation of their territories, wasassassinated. At this time, Rojas was a beneficiary of IACHR precautionarymeasures. On 24 September the Prosecutor's Office notified Sergio's family ofits decision to close the investigation, after a brief and inadequate investigation.They argued it had not been possible to identify the accused. Thisaction essentially guaranteed impunity for the those responsible and is inviolation of the State’s duty to identify and punish the material andintellectual authors of the crime.

Since the killing of Sergio Rojas, indigenous communities in theIndigenous Territories of Salitre, Térraba, Cabagra, China Kichá, Maleku andothers have experienced an increase in attacks. However, these communitiesexperience significant obstacles to accessing justice. Investigations areinadequate, protection is not granted to victims or witnesses of crimes,effective precautionary measures such as preventive detentionare notimposed on the aggressors, and no one responsible for any of the aboveviolations has been convicted. Thus, State structural impunity has contributedto the repetition of attacks against human rights defenders in theirterritories.

On February 2020, a second beneficiary of IACHR precautionary measuresand Brörán indigenous leader, Jehry Rivera, was killed while peacefullydefending his ancestral lands. He died in the presence of the police, who didnot intervene while the perpetrators attacked him. Despite having confessed tothe crime, perpetrators were released and not charged. Furthermore, his familyand the main witnesses of the case have suffered various threats and attacks,which have not been investigated, and adequate protection measures have notbeen put in place for them.

Pablo Sibar, Bröran community leader, also a beneficiary of IACHR precautionarymeasures, has suffered various death threats and physical attacks, as a resultof his work promoting initiatives of peaceful resistance for the restitution ofindigenous lands. Threats and attacks have increased since March 2020. Thesehave not been properly investigated and remain unpunished.

Minor Ortíz, Bribri indigenous defender, has suffered frequent death threats andassaults, including at least six attempted murders. Following the most recentmurder attempt in March 2020, in which he was shot in the leg, the perpetratorwas released and only received direction to stay a certain distance from MinorOrtíz that have not been respected. Despite the many formal complaints broughtto authorities and reports of the death threats against Minor and his family,the State has still not put in place any concrete measure to protect their lifeand integrity.

Similarly, various reports and complaints have been made at national andinternational levels, in relation to the attacks suffered by women leadersdefending the rights of their Bribri and Brörán territories. On 12 July 2019,one woman leader was sprayed in the face with chemicals and at least two womendefenders reported having been threatened with weapons within their territory.

We express our deep concern that to date, the Costa Rican State has notbrought to justice any perpetrator of violence against the Bribri and Brörán.

We call on the Government of Costa Rica to carry out immediate,exhaustive and impartial investigations with a view to identifying and holdingaccountable the persons responsible for the persistent attacks, murders, andthreats against indigenous defenders.

We urge the State of Costa Rica to reopen the case of Sergio Rojas andfulfill its duty and obligation to punish his aggressors.

We call on the State to carry out effective and transparentinvestigations aimed at revealing the extent of such attacks, and theprosecution and proportional punishment for all acts of violence and threatsagainst all human rights defenders in accordance with international standards.

Costa Rica is home to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, a beaconfor human rights in the hemisphere. With this honour comes the obligation todemonstrate that human rights defenders are safe within its borders. Thisimpunity cannot be tolerated.


Listof organisations supporting the statement

1. Agora Association, Turkey

2. AIDA Americas

3. Arraigo ONG, Costa Rica

4. Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

5. Asociación Paz y Esperanza, Perú

6. Asociación Servicios Educativos Rurales, Perú

7. Center for International Environmental Law(CIEL)

8. Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

9. Centro de Investigación y Defensa Sur (CIDSUR),Chile

10. Centropor la Justicia y el Derechos Internacional (CEJIL)

11. Chirapaq,Centro de Culturas Indígenas del Perú, Perú

12. ComisiónIntereclesial de Justicia y Paz, Colombia

13. ContinentalNetwork of Indigenous Women of the Americas (ECMIA)

14. CorporaciónLa Caleta, Chile

15. CultureHack Labs

16. DueProcess of Law Foundation (DPLF)

17. EmmausAurinkotehdas ry, Finland

18. EnvironmentalDefender Law Center (EDLC)

19. EnvironmentalJustice Foundation (EJF)

20. Federaciónpor la Autodeterminación de los Pueblos Indígenas (FAPI)

21. ForestPeoples Programme (FPP)

22. FrontLine Defenders (FLD)

23. groundWork,Friends of the Earth, South Africa

24. IndigenousPeoples Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)

25. IniciativaMesoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (IM-Defensoras)

26. InstitutoInternacional de Responsabilidad Social y Derechos Humanos (IIRESODH)

27. InternationalIndigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination & Liberation (IPMSDL)

28. Lawyers'Association for Human Rights of Nepalese Indigenous Peoples (LAHURNIP)

29. Lawyers'Committee for Human Rights, YUCOM,Serbia

30. LegalResources Centre

31. Londres38, Chile

32. NationalAlliance of People's Movements of India

33. NewWind Association, Finland

34. Observatoriopara la Protección de los Defensores de los Derechos Humanos (FIDH-OMCT)

35. OrganizaciónFraternal Negra Hondureña OFRANEH, Honduras

36. OyuTolgoi Watch and Rivers without Boundaries Coalition, Mongolia

37. OpenBriefing

38. PorgeraRed Wara (River) Women's Association Incorporated (PRWWA INC.), Papua NewGuinea

39. ProjectHEARD

40. ProtectionInternational Mesoamérica

41. PublicAssociation “Dignity”

42. RainforestFund

43. InternationalNetwork of Human Rights

44. RESAMA- Red Sudamericana para las Migraciones Ambientales

45. Sisters'Arab Forum for Human Rights (SAF), Yemen

46. SuccessCapital

* Dr. Marco GuevaraBerger, catedrático, Universidad deCosta Rica

* PrafullaSamantara (Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient 2017 for Asia)

*Pofesora Xinia Zuñiga Muñoz, Investigadora Cicde- Uned y Ucrea, Universidad deCosta Rica

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