Duncan Tucker/Amnesty International

Americas: Amnesty International sounds alert over killings of human rights defenders and journalists in first month of 2022

With at least 20 human rights defenders and four journalists killed across the region in January, the first month of 2022 has demonstrated once again the dangers of defending human rights and journalism in Latin America, said Amnesty International today.

“The killing of 20 human rights defenders and four journalists in just one month is alarming and paints a frightening picture of what the year may hold for those who speak out for human rights in the Americas if states do not take urgent action to reverse this trend,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

“We must build a future where defending human rights in this continent does not mean risking one’s life. It is imperative that states take urgent measures to guarantee a safe and conducive space for the defence of human rights and independent journalism in the region, and that these cease to be lethal activities.”

The killings have occurred precisely in the countries considered most dangerous for the defence of human rights in previous years: 13 in Colombia, three in Brazil and three in Honduras, while one human rights defender and four journalists have been killed in Mexico, the most lethal country on the continent for practicing journalism. Of the 20 human rights defenders killed, 18 were involved in defending human rights related to access to land and the protection of territories and the environment.

“States have an obligation to investigate the killings in a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial manner, and with a primary line of investigation that considers the work of human rights defenders or journalistic work. Eliminating impunity in these cases is crucial to achieving a safe environment for defending human rights and sending a clear message that these acts will not be tolerated,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Honduras

On 9 January, two unidentified men killed Pablo Isabel Hernández, an Indigenous leader, social communicator, and human rights and environmental defender, while he was on his way to a church in the municipality of San Marcos de Caiquín, department of Lempira. According to the Committee of Relatives of the Detained/Disappeared of Honduras, Pablo had been the victim of multiple threats for his human rights work, in particular for his reports on the community radio station where he worked.

The following day, Thalía Rodriguez, a trans human rights defender, was killed in Tegucigalpa. Thalía carried out her activism through several organizations, including Asociación Kukulcán, Cattrachas, Colectivo Violeta and Cozumel Trans, among others, raising awareness of human rights, leading self-help groups and promoting labour alternatives to sex work for transgender women.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that on 22 January, Melvin Geovany Mejía, a territorial defender and member of the Tolupán Indigenous community, was found dead with gunshot wounds in the municipality of Morazán, department of Yoro.

Colombia

According to the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz), 13 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in January, all of them linked to the defence of land, territory and the environment. In addition, the Institute has documented thirteen massacres resulting in the deaths of 40 people living in rural areas in Colombia.

Our region remains the most dangerous for the defence of human rights and independent journalism because human rights defenders and journalists threaten the political and economic interests of a few while states remain apathetic and negligent in the face of the violence they face

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International

One of the defenders killed was Luz Marina Arteaga. Her body was found on 17 January, after she had been missing for five days. Luz Marina was a well-known defender of the rights of campesino communities in the department of Meta. Amnesty International had visited her home in the municipality of Puerto Gaitán in 2019. On that occasion, Luz Marina mentioned that the situation in the area was complex due to historical neglect by the state, which resulted in the invasion of Indigenous and campesino territories by illegal armed groups, contributing to a series of threats and attacks on social leaders in Meta.

The National Protection Unit had granted Luz Marina protective measures since April 2019. However, the measures granted were mostly of a material nature and did not reduce the risk she faced. In October 2019 Luz Marina reported threats against her to the Public Prosecutor’s office and in 2020 she informed the National Protection Unit that one of the measures was not culturally appropriate for the region she lived in.

On 24 January, the Defence of Life and Human Rights Network (Tejido de Defensa de la Vida y los Derechos Humanos, TDVD) reported the killing of Albeiro Camayo Güetio, former regional coordinator of the Indigenous Guard in the Las Delicias reservation, municipality of Buenos Aires, in Cauca. According to information from the TDVD, Albeiro Camayo was killed when suspected members of a paramilitary group shot at the community after the Indigenous Guard had expelled them from the territory.

Amnesty International has reported on the failed prevention and protection policies that contribute to an unsafe environment for the protection of human rights defenders in Colombia. 

“The protection of Indigenous, campesino and Afro-descendant communities in Colombia is ineffective because it does not address the structural causes of violence and often occurs without the proper participation of those at risk. Defenders of communities at risk are constantly unprotected, and threats, attacks and killings are constant in the country considered the most dangerous in the world for defending human rights,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas.

Brazil

On 9 January, the bodies of three members of the same family known for releasing turtle hatchlings and for defending the land and environmental protection were found in San Francisco do Xingú, Pará state. On 14 January, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) stated that the events took place in a context of repeated attacks on environmentalists and human rights defenders in the country. The MPF also requested information from the Military Police on the measures taken for the protection of the victims’ families, as well as other human rights defenders in the region.

Mexico

The journalists José Luis Gamboa Arenas, Lourdes Maldonado, Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel and Roberto Toledo were killed in January. Amnesty International believes that journalism can only be practised freely in an environment free from threats, physical, psychological or moral aggression, or other acts of intimidation and harassment. The Mexican government must take concrete, prompt and effective measures to guarantee the lives and safety of journalists in Mexico, as well as to investigate these killings.

On 27 January, human rights defender Ana Luisa Garduño was killed in Temixco, Morelos. Ana Luisa was fighting for justice for the feminicide of her daughter. Amnesty International has shown that Mexico is a dangerous country for families seeking justice in cases of feminicide.

“Our region remains the most dangerous for the defence of human rights and independent journalism because human rights defenders and journalists threaten the political and economic interests of a few while states remain apathetic and negligent in the face of the violence they face. It is time to act, otherwise lives will continue to be lost, lives that are essential for building an equal and just region where human rights are a reality,” concluded Erika Guevara-Rosas.