Peace Brigades International Human Rights Concerns 2015 06 (PDF)

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JUNE 2015
Peace Brigades International (PBI) is an independent, non-governmental organisation, which has used international
protective accompaniment for over 33 years to protect and open space for Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) at risk. PBI
currently has four field projects in Latin America, namely in Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, and our field
teams constantly monitor and analyse the human rights situation in these countries. In light of the II EU – CELAC
Summit to be held in Brussels in June 2015, PBI wishes to highlight a series of human rights issues in the
aforementioned countries, which we believe EU Member States should raise with their Latin American counterparts
during bilateral meetings and dialogue within the context of this summit.


Call for protection measures for HRDs that focus on prevention and the underlying causes of attacks. Such
measures should be agreed upon in consultation with the beneficiaries and implemented with the utmost
urgency. According to Colombian NGO We are Defenders, attacks against HRDs have increased every year
since 2010. In 2014, 626 acts of aggressions were committed against HRDs, a 71% increase from 2013. During
the first quarter of 2015, 295 such acts of aggression were documented, compared to 96 cases during the
same period in 2014. Of the 55 HRDs killed in 2014, 31 of them, or 60%, had previously denounced receiving
death threats. This increase in acts of aggressions continues, despite advances in human rights norms and
legislation. In August 2014, Todd Howland, Representative of the UN-OHCHR in Colombia, stated that the
Colombian government’s measures to protect HRDs do not work considering that many of those who are
threatened, are beneficiaries of such protections measures. While recognizing the need for such measures,
HRDs insist that until they are combined with “political” measures, like the prosecution of those responsible
for the acts of aggressions against HRDs, the defence of human rights will continue to be a high risk activity.

Urge the Colombian government to conduct investigations, leading to prosecutions, documenting patterns
of abuse which serve to identify, prosecute and sanction both the intellectual and material authors of
human rights violations, and to guarantee non-repetition. The OHCHR in Colombia has reported that the
work of the Colombian Attorney General’s office results in very few convictions in crimes against HRDs,
creating a climate of impunity, where this lack of sanctions transmits the message that it is possible to commit
such crimes without consequences. According to We Are Defenders, there is a 95% impunity rate for the 219
assassinations of HRDs between January 2009 and June 2013, and 100% impunity for threats against HRDs.

Underscore the importance of investigating and taking measures to respond to the presence of neoparamilitary groups. The UN-OHCHR report for 2014 stated that “the violence and social control exercised by
successor groups to paramilitaries and criminal organizations affect the full range of human rights of the
population, and in particular those of HRDs.” According to We Are Defenders, those primarily responsible for
the acts of aggressions against HRDs during 2014 were: neo-paramilitary groups in 73% of cases, unknown
actors in 19%, Colombian security forces in 7% and guerrilla groups in 1.5% of cases. The Colombian
government does not recognize the political nature of neo-paramilitary groups, instead referring to them as
criminal gangs or “bacrim” considering that they are mostly involved in common crime and drug-trafficking.


This contrasts sharply with the findings the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) which noted
that “the violence resulting from the lack of an effective and complete dismantling of the armed structures of
the paramilitary groups continues to severely impact the rights of the inhabitants of Colombia.” Furthermore,
the IACHR identified “elements of continuity between the old self-defence forces” (paramilitaries) and the

Demand the implementation of the Land Restitution Law guaranteeing the rights of rural farmers, AfroColombian communities and indigenous peoples displaced from their lands. Similarly, it is of particular
importance that land restitution be one of the priorities for the implementation of post-conflict Trust Funds.
According to Oxfam, violence and forced displacement in Colombia has resulted in between 6-10 million
hectares of stolen land. Both Amnesty International and the UN-OHCHR, found that such land grabbing was a
result of economic and political interests. International NGO Global Witness stated that in 2014, 116 land and
environmental HRDs were killed in 17 countries across the world, 25 of whom were killed in Colombia. These
crimes were linked to the entry of large-scale development projects such as hydroelectric dams, mining,
industrial agriculture, and logging; in other words, the context for these crimes was the struggle over the
control and use of land. The EU is already supporting the Land Restitution Law through its political and
financial instruments and must continue to do so.
More information on Colombia:


Insist that the shortcomings observed in the implementation of the Protection Mechanism for HRDs and
journalists be addressed. In 2012, HRDs welcomed the creation of a Protection Mechanism for HRDs and
Journalists, however concerns regarding the highly flawed implementation of this Mechanism have been
brought to PBI’s attention. The following shortcomings place HRDs at greater risk: inadequate training and
number of personnel, limited financial resources, slow pace of implementation, lack of prevention measures,
unclear admission criteria, lack of political will, impunity and the absence of notable advances in investigations
regarding crimes committed against HRDs as a result of their work. According to the UN Special Rapporteur for
HRDs, defenders in Mexico work in a persistent climate of violence, hostility and insecurity. Mexican human
rights NGO ACUDDEH reported that acts of aggression against HRDs have doubled over the past four years.
The UN has reported that impunity prevails in more than 95% of these cases. More information:

Encourage the Mexican State to enact a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights including
participatory and protection mechanisms for HRDs and affected communities. HRDs report that the entry of
large-scale development projects often leads to an increase in human rights violations, social conflict, and
attacks against HRDs and communities who question such projects. Business enterprises and authorities often
pay little attention to indigenous rights, particularly their right to free, prior and informed consent and often
fail to act with due diligence. Environmental and Human Rights Impact Assessments and prior consultations
are rarely carried out. Recently the Mexican government has introduced a series of reforms that prioritize the
extractive industry over communal or rural land use. The Mexican government has expressed interest in
developing a NAP to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Through funding
allocated within the framework of the Social Cohesion Laboratory II, the EU has pledged support for the
advancement of business and human rights issues in Mexico. It remains unclear however how this process will
involve civil society.

Urge the Mexican State to develop public security policies from a human rights perspective, guaranteeing
the participation of HRDs in order to address torture, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial killings and enforced
disappearances. Since 2006, Mexico has experienced a context of extreme violence, insecurity and an
increase in human rights violations, as a result of the public security policies implemented to fight organized
crime which relied heavily on militarisation. Despite President Peña Nieto announcing a new security strategy,
HRDs have reported little change on the ground.


Violations committed by Mexican armed forces and institutions responsible for administering justice continue
to occur. Journalistic sources report that 41,000 persons were killed during the first 23 months of the current
administration; a figure confirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary
Executions, who concluded that violations of the right to life continue to occur at an alarming rate partly due
to deficiencies in the legal system, impunity and the involvement of the army in policing tasks. Additionally, the
PGR recognized that between 2006 and 2014, more than 23,000 persons were disappeared, 44% of these
cases took place under the current administration. In 2015, the UN Committee on Enforced Disappearances
concluded that disappearances are widespread across Mexico and the UN Special Rapporteur against Torture
reported that torture is a generalized
practice, used as punishment or as a
Ayotzinapa Case
means of investigating. HRDs working
On the night of the 26 September 2014, municipal police officers, in
on issues such as torture, enforced
collusion with an organized crime gang, acting presumably under
disappearances or impunity, confront
the orders of the Mayor of Iguala, Guerrero, killed 6 persons,
the causes and consequences of the
injured 20 others, and detained and disappeared 43 students from
governmental security strategies and
the Normal Rural School of Ayotzinapa. In February 2015, the
are often attacked, criminalised and
Mexican Attorney General's Office (PGR) released a final report on
defamed by judicial bodies, members
the case which found that gang members had killed the missing
of the security forces and non-state
students, burning them at a landfill site and disposing of their
charred remains in a local river. While the remains of one of the
actors, including organized crime
students were identified through DNA testing of a bone fragment,
groups, acting in collusion or with the
the whereabouts of the other 42 students is unknown. The version
presented by the PGR has been questioned by the families, the
According to HRDs, laws and
Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the Interdisciplinary
regulations enacted over the past two
Group of Independent Experts appointed by the IACHR. In calling
years which claim to promote greater
for justice and questioning the official version of events presented
security, tend to restrict freedom of
by the PGR, the relatives of the students and the HRDs
accompanying them have been the target of defamation,
expression and social protest,
harassment and surveillance. The events of Ayotzinapa should not
particularly when combined with a
be considered as an isolated incident but rather as a paradigmatic
climate of excessive use of force and
example of the broader human rights crisis in Mexico with regard to
arbitrary detention by police during
enforced disappearances, corruption, and impunity and other grave
human rights abuses.
The priority of the families continues to focus on searching for their
loved ones and they consider that the international community
should address several issues in its exchanges and dialogues with
the Mexican authorities:
 Underline the vital importance of
 Conduct an exhaustive investigation to scientifically prove
respecting rule of law and
the whereabouts of each of the disappeared students and
the chain of command of the authorities at all levels who
strengthening a proper justice
may by directly or indirectly implicated in the case.

Facilitate the work of the independent international
International Commission against
experts working on the case: the Argentine Forensic
Impunity (CICIG), together with the
Anthropology Team and the Expert Group appointed by
the IACHR, and comply with the recommendations of the
investigation and penal process
UN Special Procedures and Treaty Mechanisms.
against a network of high-level state
 Guarantee the physical and psychological integrity of the
and non-state actors allegedly
families and HRDs who represent them.
involved in corruption and tax
evasion. Those under investigation include the private secretary of former Vice-President Baldetti, the head of
the fiscal system, the customs office and others. On 20 May 2015, these politicians were arrested together
with 16 other persons, including members of the Governing and Tender Boards of the Guatemalan Institute for
Social Security (including the president who is accused of approving irregular contracts with pharmaceutics
companies). As a result of this investigation and due to the massive wave of social pressure and protests
demanding an end to corruption, several high-ranking representatives of the Government resigned from their


positions, including Vice-president Roxana Baldetti, Interior Minister Mauricio Bonilla, Environment Minister
Michel Martínez, Mining and Energy Minister Edwin Rodas, among others. Although the investigation process
is a positive step in the fight against corruption, the situation remains one of deep concern. The Guatemalan
justice system is weak in general, and is constantly undermined and threatened by powerful criminal
organizations and corruption. In October 2014, the UN-OHCHR, as well as the Special Rapporteur for the
Independence of Judges and Lawyers pointed out the flawed process of appointing judges to the Supreme
Court, Appeals Court and Attorney General's Office. It is therefore vital to demand the reinforcement of the
rule of law and to provide strong support to address the shortcomings of the justice system. On 21 April 2015
the EU publicly declared that it would to support efforts to fight against corruption.

Demand effective protection of HRDs from attacks and dubious legal processes. In 2014, the Unit for the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders registered 805 cases of repression against HRDs. This was the highest
number registered since the Unit began compiling figures in 2000. 689 of the 805 documented attacks
concerned HRDs working on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. Within the context of
aforementioned weak state of the justice system, one of the increasing threats against HRDs is the use of
fabricated charges, a lack of due process, arbitrary detentions and the criminalisation of social protest. More
than 90% of attacks against HRDs remain in impunity. The UN OHCHR and the IACHR addressed this problem in
November 2013 and urged States to “ensure that their authorities and third parties do not manipulate the
punitive power of the state and its organs for justice to harass those engaged in legitimate activities such as it
is the case of HRDs“.

Call on the Guatemalan State to guarantee free, prior and informed consent; promote protection
mechanisms for HRDs and communities, as well as effective participatory dialogue mechanisms in the
context of large-scale development projects. HRDs report that the entry of large-scale development projects
has been linked to an increase in human rights violations similar to the situation described in Mexico.
Multinational and national business enterprises do not generally respect indigenous rights, particularly that of
free, prior and informed consent and often fail to act with due diligence, by not carrying out environmental or
human rights impact assessments prior to the entry of large-scale development projects. Dialogue processes
were found to be biased in favour of business enterprises and have been described by local human rights
organizations as “delay tactics”, used to identify community leaders who are often subsequently the target of
reprisals for having engaged in such processes in good faith. Such processes often lead to violence and are
therefore unable of delivering solutions negotiated in a peaceful manner. More information:


Insist in the necessity to strengthen an independent justice system and put an end to impunity. Despite the
initiatives taken by the Honduran State to ensure the independence of the judiciary (creation of the Judicial
Council) and to strengthen the work of the Public Prosecutor (creation of the Prosecutor for Crimes against
Life) rates of impunity have not decreased for human rights violations in Honduras. According to information
provided by the IACHR in December, there has been little or no progress made in investigating murders of
activists. This situation leads to the general perception that there is no cost to attacking HRDs. The Honduran
government must resume its efforts to purge State institutions for security and justice. Moreover, the
government must continue to strengthen the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor by providing it with
technical and financial resources, and evaluate its performance in consultation with organisations which have
suffered attacks. In particular the State must guarantee that its investigative system has the necessary tools to
recover evidence, and to guarantee an effective witness protection program.

Call on the Honduran Government to recognize and support the defence of human rights. According to
figures from the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH), since 2010
there have been 3,064 cases of criminalisation as a result of the improper use of criminal law to weaken the


defence of human rights (in particular rights to land and territory). These actions cause a serious deterioration
of the space needed to carry out work to defend these rights. The following recommendations made by a
number of international bodies to the Honduran State could be used as a reference: i) make public
declarations and devise campaigns which recognize the work of HRDs, with the aim of minimizing the
stigmatization they often suffer; ii) deter and sanction in a timely manner any stigmatization of HRDs by either
the public or private sector; iii) ensure that, as part of the revision of the Criminal Code and in accordance with
international standards, crimes such as defamation, libel and slander are decriminalized; making them crimes
of a civil nature. Legislation that sanctions the crimes of sedition, “prevarication” and unlawful demonstrations
should also be adapted to comply with international law; iv) improve training for the judiciary and law
enforcement officers on economic, social and cultural rights; v) Review legislation and adopt all appropriate
measures to resolve issues related to land tenure, legitimising the demands of small-scale producers and
indigenous and Garífuna peoples. More information:

Urge the Honduran State to develop security policies from the perspective of the promotion of and respect
for human rights. One of the strongest criticisms levelled against current President Juan Orlando Hernández is
related to the use of the military in public safety matters. This setback to security policy not only violates the
recommendations of international bodies, it has also resulted in an increase in cases of human rights
violations. Indeed, PBI has received several complaints about the impact of militarisation on the defence of
human rights. According the international conventions Honduras has ratified on this issue, the State should: i)
refrain from using military forces and military intelligence agencies for citizen security purposes; ii) review the
creation and regulation of the Military Public Order Police and its possible inclusion as part of the public
security forces, under the Constitution; iii) implement the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on evictions and
displacement by refraining from using violence, respecting the dignity and human rights of all evicted people
and avoiding the use of private security forces when carrying out evictions.

Demand adequate and effective protection mechanisms for HRDs. While civil society has recognised some
progress on this issue, such as the announced opening of the OHCHR Office and the approval of the Law on the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, Communicators and Justice Officials in 2015, there have
also been reports of serious setbacks in this area. During the presidency of Juan Orlando Hernández there
were significant cuts and restructuring of institutions for the promotion and realisation of human rights, such
as the CONADEH, and the Ministries of Justice and Human Rights and of Indigenous and Afro-Honduran
Peoples. As a result, the relevant human rights institutions have been weakened. We therefore suggest that
the international community urges the Honduran government to: i) incorporate the UN Declaration on Human
Rights Defenders into national legislation; ii) revise and strengthen the CONADEH to guarantee an effective
and independent body that can supervise the country’s compliance with its international human rights
obligations; iii) ensure that the Bill for the protection of journalists, HRDs and law enforcement officers meets
international human rights standards, and that its content is agreed with human rights organisations; iv)
protect all those who cooperate with the Inter-American Human Rights System.

Underline the importance of free access to information, participation and the right to free, prior and
informed consent. The power and resources of institutions in charge of these issues have been cut under the
current government. This is the case for example of the Ministry for Indigenous Peoples and Peoples of African
Descent responsible for leading consultation processes with indigenous peoples. PBI asks the international
community to urge Honduras to ensure the effective and informed participation of civil society, with special
emphasis on the rural population, in institutional fora and processes to review and evaluate public policies, in
particular, national mechanisms for the protection of HRDs. Furthermore, the government should establish
national mechanisms to ensure compliance with the provisions of ILO Convention 169 and the Declaration on
the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in relation to free, prior and informed consent.


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