Alarming criminalisation of human rights defenders in Latin America

February 27, 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 points to the role of businesses, civil servants, public prosecutors, judges, and the State. The report issued by OMCT and FIDH (in the context of their Observatory for Human Rights Defenders) on 25 February 2016 describes the specific cases of human rights defenders criminalized in eight Latin American countries (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru).


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 land rights 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 act.

Secondly, 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 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.

Criminalizing 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.

 Organizations who contributed to the elaboration of this report, in addition to FIDH and OMCT :logo FIDH_seulOMCT-LOGO



  • Justiça Global – Brazil
  • CAJAR – Colombia
  • INREDH – Ecuador
  • CEDHU – Ecuador
  • UDEFEGUA – Guatemala
  • COFADEH – Honduras
  • COPINH – Honduras
  • CMDPDH – Mexico
  • CENIDH – Nicaragua
  • APRODEH – Peru

The report is also available in Spanish: Informe Observatorio Criminalización América Latina_Español

See also:

Source: Criminalisation of human rights defenders: an alarming phenomenon in Latin America – Publication of a report / February 25, 2016 / Reports and Publications / Human rights defenders / OMCT

4 Responses to “Alarming criminalisation of human rights defenders in Latin America”

  1. […] see also:… […]

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  3. […] In 2016/17 an Amnesty International team took two trips to Peru and one to Paraguay and spoke with representatives of 10 human rights groups in Peru and 14 in Paraguay. AI concludes that environmental leaders are under constant threat. Authorities in Paraguay and Peru are unjustly criminalizing activists who speak out to protect their environment and land, an Amnesty International report released Thursday revealed. [see also:…] […]

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