Needless to say, Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) have a key role in the protection and promotion of human rights. Notwithstanding their irreplaceable and indispensable function in pushing for an effective protection of the most elemental rights, however, it has been an undisputable fact that they often are the most targeted groups by governments and vulnerable, mainly due to the confrontational character of their job. Subsequently, as activists, they are viewed as dangerous, not only because of the subjects and areas of their activities but also due to the lack of effective protective mechanisms for HRDs.
Even though this problematique can be seen all over the world, it is more evident in the African, Asia and American continents due to the characteristics of the current issues in these regions.
In the American continent, with a focus on Latin-America and the Caribbean countries, the nature and context of the challenges that the affected HRDs are facing depend on the issues involved and the kinds of protected rights at stake. In this regard, the most common reports about the risks they face correspond to threats against defenders and their families, especially death threats, arbitrary arrests, and detention, (with the addition of ill-treatment while held in detention, murders, attempted murder, enforced disappearances, break-ins and any other kind of harassments). In addition, the restriction of the right to freedom of association and expression is still worrying in most of these countries, particularly against those in the profession of journalism.
The issues which are related to the economic, social and cultural rights revolve around the extractive industries and environmental rights issues involving indigenous people, afro-descendant, land defenders and environmentalist HRDs. The most affected defenders are thus the leaders of these communities and environmental movements. Further, a special concern is women, who face, not only general issues relating to HRDs but, also those that stem from the macho cultural atmosphere within these countries. In this regard, countries like ARGENTINA, CHILE, COLOMBIA, BOLIVIA, BRAZIL, COSTA RICA, ECUADOR, GUATEMALA, HONDURAS, MEXICO, NICARAGUA, PANAMA, PARAGUAY and PERU are facing serious challenges regarding the prevention of harm and the protection of HRDs within an alarming context of violence, persecution, impunity, and aggression in the region.
Moreover, in most cases, the difficulties are indistinctly suffered, both by women and men, HRD’s as the defended rights are more in connection with civil and political rights. The individual rights mostly subjected to the oppressive governmental system and the non-observance to the notion of the rule of law are the main points of hurdles to deal with in countries such as CUBA, VENEZUELA, and EL SALVADOR. In addition, HRD’s in COLOMBIA are permanent targets of killings, intimidations and other harassment and the corresponding encounters in the course of denouncing the multi-faceted human rights international humanitarian law violations committed by paramilitary groups and members of the security forces, as well as accompanying victims and survivors of violence. Even in countries such as Argentina, where crimes against humanity committed during the military dictatorships are being actively persecuted, HRD’s continue to face risks. HRD lawyers, who are legal representatives of relatives of the disappeared, or victims held in clandestine detentions during the dictatorship, suffer threats, harassments, break-ins and thefts – most of them in the Tucuman and Mendoza provinces. HRDs in the DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, PANAMA, and HAITI, have also been suffering many forms of harassment due to their pivotal role as defenders of the rights of migrants and internally displaced people, minorities, and stateless persons.
In addition to this, there is a special concern, in terms of growing risks, for defenders of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons, as well as defenders within the LGBTI community itself. Countries like BELIZE, HONDURAS, JAMAICA and SAINT LUCIA are worth of mentioning in the context of the lack of harm prevention, and the protection of HRD’s in the alarming prevalence of violence and aggression in the region.
As it is observed, the challenges in the region are high and present a wide range of issues. Therefore, the concern is deep in going beyond providing effective support and protection for HRD’s.