Americas: Human rights activists increasingly targets of violent attack says new report
Posted: 07 December 2012
People who stand up for human rights and speak out for minorities are themselves increasingly becoming the target of violent attacks and systematic intimidation across the Americas, according to a new report from Amnesty International out today.
The report Transforming pain into hope: Human rights defenders in the Americas (PDF), reveals an alarming increase in intimidation of human rights workers by state security forces, paramilitary groups and organised criminal gangs.
It also exposes a consistent failure of the authorities to protect the human rights of those who speak out for others, leaving them vulnerable to further violence and intimidation. Of the 300 cases Amnesty analysed for the report, only four ended in the conviction of those directly responsible.
The new report reveals that women human rights activists have been raped, faced intimidation and their relatives have been threatened. Most at risk are those working on land rights; women’s rights; gay rights and abuses against migrants. Journalists, bloggers and trade unionists are also at risk.
Nancy Tapias-Torrado, Amnesty’s Americas researcher on human rights defenders said:
“Human rights defenders are systematically harassed, attacked and subjected to unfounded criminal charges in almost every country in the Americas to prevent them from speaking out for the rights of the most marginalised.”
“When authorities fail to protect those who work to defend everyone’s human rights and fail to investigate attacks against them, they send a signal that those attacks are tolerated.”
”Governments must guarantee that human rights defenders enjoy comprehensive protection, which includes as a minimum recognising the importance and legitimacy of their work, the full investigation of abuses they face and the provision of effective protection measures.”
Cases include Honduran journalist Dina Meza, who earlier this year received death threats by text message in response to her work with human rights organisation the Committee for Relatives of the Disappeared (COFADEH).
One message read: You’ll end up dead…there’s nothing better than f***ing some bitches”. She has continued to be harassed throughout 2012 and the Honduran government has failed to provide protection despite repeated orders from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to do so. Send a message of support to Dina and her colleagues
Almost half of the cases Amnesty documented took place in the context of disputes over lands, in countries including Brazil, Colombia and Honduras; several were related to large-scale development projects led by private companies.
In countries including Cuba and Mexico, human rights activists have suffered judicial harassment, have been detained on the basis of flawed evidence or have had spurious charges hanging over them for years because arrest warrants are issued then not acted on.
Examples of other cases
Dr George Tiller was one of the very few doctors who were still providing lawful late-term abortions to women whose pregnancies presented a grave risk to their health or who were carrying non-viable foetuses. He was shot dead on 31 May 2009 in Wichita, Kansas, USA, by an anti-abortion activist. The threats to Dr Tiller and his clinic were well known. His clinic was bombed in 1986 and he was shot in 1993, after which threats and attacks on his clinic continued right up to the day he was killed. Dr Tiller was killed because of his dedicated work to make their right to life, health and to reproductive and sexual health-related services a reality for the women who came to his clinic seeking help.
The perpetrator of the attack was convicted of first-degree murder in January 2010 and sentenced to life in prison. After Dr Tiller’s murder, the federal government increased security protection for some other abortion providers. However, threats and harassment of doctors and clinics continue.
On 9 November 2011, an armed man and a woman entered Jackeline Rojas Castañeda’s home in Barrancabermeja, Santander Department. They held Jackeline a member of the Popular Women’s Organisation, and her 15-year-old daughter at gunpoint in separate rooms. They told Jackeline that they would kill her daughter if she screamed or tried to call for help. She was tied up and gagged, and red paint was sprayed on her body and clothes. The words “Son of a bitch” was daubed on the walls. The attackers repeatedly demanded information on the whereabouts of her son and her husband. In addition to the attack, two laptops, USB sticks, mobiles and documents were taken from her house. She reported the attack at the Attorney General’s office but staff initially accused her of making it up.
Jackeline and her husband, a trade unionist, have both received repeated death threats from paramilitaries over the past 10 years. No one has been brought to justice and the authorities have failed to provide them with protection.