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The most dangerous region for human rights defenders
Latinamerica Press
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More than half of the activist deaths in the world have occurred in Latin America.

2015 was a dismal year for those who defend human rights in the region. According to Front Line Defenders, an international organization dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders, with headquarters in Ireland, 156 people died in the past year for defending human rights, 87 of them in Latin America and 54 alone in Colombia.

“Defending human rights in Latin America remained extremely dangerous and the criminalization of the defense of human rights and peaceful protest movements persisted,” states Front Line Defenders in their Annual Report 2016 titled “Stop the killings.”

The report, released on Jan. 8, points out that “most at risk were environmental, indigenous peoples and land rights defenders; they were the victims of 41percent of the killings in the region. Almost all of these cases were linked to opposition to so-called ‘mega-projects,’ especially those conducted by mining companies.”

Also, the organization emphasized that that persons who work on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity also were victims of violence.

“LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex] rights defenders accounted for 15 percent of the killings reported in the region, making them the second-most targeted group,” the organization declared.

The report also denounced that human rights defenders in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay and Peru have been victims of judicial harassment, physical attacks, threats, intimidation and defamation campaigns due to their denouncing the negative impacts of extractive activities and the absence of an adequate previous consultation of the affected communities.

The situation of journalists that report on human rights issues has continued to be precarious in the region. Front Line Defenders cited the assassination on July 31 of Mexican photojournalist, Rubén Espinoza, and human rights defender, Nadia Vera, both having denounced the alleged abuses committed by the governor of the southeastern state of Veracruz, Javier Duarte.

Police and judicial harassment
The report detailed the case of Ecuador, emphasizing the government’s response to social protests in 2015, including a general strike in August to demand an agrarian reform and improvements in access to health care.

“Human rights defenders reported an increase in police and judicial harassment, particularly in connection with these protests. In August, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights defender Margoth Escobar was held in preventive detention for over a week on grounds of disturbing the peace following a general strike and demonstration in Puyo. Journalist Manuela Picq was forced to return to Brazil, her country of origin, following the cancellation of her residence permit. She was arrested in August during a march organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador. Despite a court ruling stating that there were no grounds for her arrest or deportation, her permit was not reinstated.”

Attacks on freedom of expression and access to information have also been common in Ecuador. Since a new Communications Law was approved in 2013, the situation for independent media has deteriorated further and self-censorship by journalists has increased, according to Front Line Defenders. Also, measures have been adopted to restrict freedom of association and several non-governmental organizations, particularly those defending human rights, were dissolved without clear reasons.

Mary Lawlor, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, said in the presentation of the report that “human rights defenders face increasingly restrictive and brutal environments in every region of the globe. Extreme violence is being used more frequently and in more countries, while fabricated prosecutions and unfair trials have become the norm in many parts of the world. Those who target human rights defenders have stepped up their efforts to silence them, both within their borders and internationally.”
—Latinamerica Press

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