137.          A large number of human rights defenders in the Americas are victims of reprisals and undue restrictions as a result of their work of promoting and protecting the rights of persons who live in the hemisphere. This makes the work of protecting and defending human rights difficult, and, in many cases, risky. By exercising its mandate, the Commission has verified the existence of a variety of practices and acts that hinder or nullify the exercise of human rights defense.[149] These practices, some of them violative of internationally protected human rights, are violations of the rights to life, integrity, liberty and security, due process and a fair trial, freedom of expression, privacy, and judicial protection. These practices also include other acts that encumber the protection and promotion of human rights, such as abusive administrative and financial controls imposed on human rights organizations, and the refusal of the state to reveal public information so as to review the actions of the authorities.


138.          In this chapter, the Commission will analyze the most common and representative actions entailing both violations of the human rights of defenders and restrictions on the defense of human rights, without claiming to exhaust all of them.[150]


139.          The Commission considers it necessary to clarify that patterns have been established based on disturbing incidents or incidents that constitute violations of rights.  Nonetheless, there are common characteristics that make it possible to determine and classify the patterns through other forms, such as: who commits the violations, when they are committed, and the persons or groups of persons who are the victims of such conduct.


140.          The Commission wishes to emphasize that one of the most serious consequences of these patterns of violations targeting human rights defenders is that they send society as a whole an intimidating message putting it in a defenseless situation. These acts are aimed at causing generalized fear, and so, at discouraging all other human rights defenders, and intimidating and silencing the denunciations, claims, and grievances of the victims of human rights violations, spurring on impunity, and impeding the full realization of the rule of law and democracy.


141.          Both the Commission and the Inter-American Court have found that grave violations of the human rights of human rights defenders have a direct intimidating effect on the processes of vindicating rights or denouncing violations.[151] The attacks on them may produce an immediate halt to or almost total reduction of their activities, as defenders must abandon the areas where they work, change their places of residence or work habits, or, in some cases, leave the country. In addition to these direct effects, the Commission has learned of collateral effects that have a detrimental impact on all other defenders, who even though not receiving the attacks directly, are victims of fear on seeing the situation of their colleagues and the ease with which the same arbitrary acts could be committed against them.


142.          This same chilling and deterrent effect is suffered by the victims of human rights violations, who under the effect of fear refuse to lodge complaints, will not meet with threatened human rights defenders, and stay away from the offices of organizations that have been threatened or attacked. Based on the information received, in more than one case it has been observed that the assailants seek to provoke generalized fear to avoid public denunciations not only of those who lead these processes, but of any other person who might need to pursue a human rights claim. To this end, the vulnerability-exacerbating effects of such conduct extend perversely to society as a whole, with a much more serious detrimental impact on defenders.  This effect, in addition, re-victimizes those who have been targets of violations, whose search for the truth, justice, and reparation is impeded.


143.          In some states violations are systematic and interrelated, producing a general atmosphere of danger for the defense of human rights. This danger is all the greater if there is a serious lack of state protection and a failure to investigate the violations.


144.          Similarly, the timing of acts carried out against human rights defenders is a common element in all the patterns described. Accordingly, acts or violations that appear subtle come to appear more serious or significant when carried out at moments crucial for pressing certain claims. The Commission has found, for example, an increase in acts directed against human rights defenders when official decisions are approaching in a judicial proceeding, when violations are publicly denounced, especially in the case of state or parastatal actors, or when there are changes or progress favorable to the interests of human rights defenders. 


145.          The Commission has observed that in certain stages of trials vindicating rights, there is an increased risk of defenders becoming victims of violations or interference with their work.  Many defenders are the victims of violations of their rights when it is known that they are going to lodge certain complaints before the national authorities such as the courts, or before international mechanisms for the protection of human rights. In these cases, one can find a direct link between the imminence of the complaint and the increased risk to defenders. In such circumstances, the assailants seek, by any means, including physical elimination, to prevent the violations from being made known, or to prevent efforts to punish the persons responsible for them.


146.          On other occasions, the risk increases when grievances are put forth by defenders advocating the adoption of administrative measures or changes in state policy.  This situation also arises at moments when it is crucial for defenders to give impetus to such proceedings. In other cases, the violations appear to be acts of retaliation when a favorable result is obtained, such as demarcating indigenous territories, expropriating lands for campesino communities, awarding compensation to the victims of violations, or publishing truth commission reports. These acts result in defenders having a well-founded fear that they will be punished as a result of their work, and, consequently, the stages of enforcing judicial decisions and other administrative measures become dangerous, hindering their enforcement as well as the collection of compensation by the victims of violations.


147.          The Commission has learned that several human rights defenders have recently been targeted by public accusations, the institution of criminal proceedings, and threats, merely for having participated in sessions and hearings before the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court.  In addition, the Commission has been informed that several persons have been subject to accusations and speeches aimed at discrediting their activities, by public authorities, because of having sought measures of protection from the oversight organs of the inter-American system. The

Commission reminds the states that such conduct, in addition to violating several provisions of the system
[152], increases exponentially the risk that these persons face.


A.         Extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances


148.          Human rights defenders are frequent victims of violations of the right to life such as extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances. Such violations are one of the most serious obstacles to the work of human rights promotion and protection by society in general. In addition, they cause irreparable harm for the direct victims of the violation, their family members, the community of human rights defenders, and the persons for whom they do their work.


149.          The Commission has continued to receive complaints related to forced disappearances of human rights defenders. In the vast majority of cases, despite several years having elapsed, the victims’ whereabouts remain unknown, even though the cases have been reported to the respective authorities. 


According to information brought to the attention of the IACHR, for several years the traditional authorities, leaders, and members of the different Embera Katío communities in Colombia have lived in a climate of threats and accusations by guerrilla and paramilitary groups who seek to control their ancestral territory. In this context, on June 2, 2001, Messrs. Kimy Pernía Domicó, Uldarico Domicó, Argel Domicó, Honorio Domicó, Adolfo Domicó, Teofan Domicó, Mariano Majore, Delio Domicó, and Fredy Domicó were kidnapped allegedly by the AUC from the office of the Cabildos Mayores (indigenous government) of the Sinú and Verde rivers, in Tierralta, department of Córdoba, Colombia.  Messrs. Uldarico Domicó, Argel Domicó, Honorio Domicó, Adolfo Domicó, Tegian Domicó, Mariano Majoré, Delio Domicó, and Fredy Domicó were subsequently released. Nonetheless, the main community and spiritual leader of the people, Kimy Domicó, continues disappeared. This disappearance was apparently motivated by the actions of Kimy Domicó in defense of the territory of the Embera people. In response, on June 2, 2001, the Commission granted precautionary measures on behalf of Kimy Domicó and all other members of the Embera Katío people of the Upper Sinú.


150.          In addition, the Commission has received, with concern, repeated reports of assassinations of human rights defenders in several countries of the hemisphere. Some of them had provided information to the Commission in recent years; in other cases, the persons assassinated were beneficiaries of precautionary measures issued by the Commission, whose lack of effective implementation facilitated their being assassinated.


According to information received by the IACHR, on Wednesday, the 27th of this month, in the Tinaquillo de Machiques housing development in the state of Zulia in Venezuela, the former Coordinator of the Human Rights Office of the Apostolic Vicariate of Machiques, Joe Castillo González, was assassinated when traveling in a vehicle with his wife and minor son. The incident occurred one-half block from his residence at approximately 7:30 p.m. The subjects, two in all, on a motorcycle, fired 13 shots; Joe Castillo died from the impact of nine bullets. Both his wife and his one-year-old child were wounded, she with a gunshot to the abdomen and arm, and the child in the arm.  According to his wife’s testimony, they also intended to assassinate her and her son. Joe Castillo had worked with his wife for more than five years in the Human Rights Office of the Apostolic Vicariate of Machiques, engaged in the promotion and defense of human rights, especially providing services to persons seeking refugee status coming from Colombia[153].


151.          In general, disappearances and extrajudicial executions are preceded by the lack of adequate protection for human rights defenders who report having been victims of persecution and threats. The Commission notes that the lack of adequate protection for defenders who report having been victims of persecution, surveillance, and threats, entails a lack of protection and total defenselessness that fosters attacks on their lives. In many cases, homicidal attacks may even take the lives of several persons who make up an organization, or several leaders of a community, yet the authorities fail to take adequate measures of protection. 


The Commission was informed that on February 14, 2002, attorney María del Carmen Flores, a member of the Fundación Jurídica Colombiana (Corpojurídico), was traveling in a vehicle that was intercepted by six armed men in civilian dress while in the village of Guapá, department of Antioquia, Colombia. These men forced those who were traveling in the vehicle to get out, and then ordered them to get back in, and they ordered that Mrs. Flores stay with them. Mrs. Flores’s remains were found during the afternoon hours. The death of Mrs. Flores Jaimes occurred after a meeting with the victim’s mother, in preparation for the hearing scheduled for the 114th regular session of the IACHR in which matters were to be discussed related to a petition pending before the IACHR.  The Human Rights Defenders Unit of the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR issued a press release publicly repudiating this assassination. In addition, the petitioners informed the IACHR that two brothers of the victim in the individual petition, the attorney for whom was Mrs. Flores, had been assassinated after submitting the petition to the IACHR. On August 6, 2002, the IACHR issued precautionary measures for the family members of the victim of the individual petition, and for the members of Corpojurídico.


152.          The victims of homicides and disappearances are generally those who are most prominent for their work reporting human rights abuses, or for their leadership. In killing them, the assailants seek to make an “example” of the victims, bring a halt to reporting on violations, getting the human rights organizations to leave certain zones, and/or bringing about a drop in the number of complaints presented. 


In October 2003, the IACHR received a request for precautionary measures from two leaders of the Xucuru indigenous people, located in the state of Pernambuco, Brazil. The request adduced that for more than 13 years the members of this indigenous peoples were awaiting the conclusion of the process of demarcating their lands. They reported that during this whole process they have suffered killings and invasions of their lands. They alleged that every time it was announced that the demarcation was to take place, there was an assassination in the community. Following this pattern, in September 1992, José Rodrigues, the son of Paje Zequinha, the spiritual leader of the Xucuru, was assassinated in an ambush attributed to the invaders. In May 1995, with the news that the demarcation of lands was to be carried out, the attorney of the Fundação Nacional do Índio (FUNAI) and an active defender of indigenous rights in the region, Geraldo Rolim, was assassinated. In May 1998, just after the lands were retaken, the Cacique Francisco de Assis Araujo – Cacique Xicao Xucuru, indigenous chief of the Xucuru people known for his struggle for recognition and demarcation of his people’s lands, after having received several death threats and having survived one assassination attempt, was assassinated by three gunshot wounds to the back by a gunman whose identity is unknown to this day. Since then, every time the process of demarcation comes to a standstill, the indigenous once again take their invaded lands, and the conflict worsens. The petitioners report that in 2001, it was reported that the victims’ names appeared in a list of indigenous persons who were to be assassinated, and, in effect, a plan to assassinate them was discovered. In April 2001 the decree for demarcation of the indigenous the lands was issued by the President of the Republic, which led to increased tension in the region, and in August 2001, another indigenous person was assassinated in an ambush – the leader of the Pé de Serra do Oiti indigenous people, Francisco de Assis Santana, Chico Quelé. Because of these incidents, on October 29, 2002, the IACHR granted precautionary measures on behalf of the leaders Zenilda Maria de Araujo and Marcos Luidson de Araujo (Cacique Marquinhos).


153.          The Commission has also received reports of assassinations of family members or persons closely related to human rights defenders. Those assassinations are directly related to the defenders’ activities. In general, these assassinations follow the patterns of timing, impunity, and lack of prevention as the direct assassinations of human rights defenders.


The Commission received information that indicates that since June 2002, members of the Proyecto de la Alianza para la Prevención del Delito (APREDE), a coalition of Guatemalan nongovernmental organizations that work with gang youth to prevent crime, through training and activities with the residents of marginal neighborhoods, began to organize recreational activities with the youths of Villa Nueva, and as of November 2002, after they began their activities, the members of the project began to be followed, while 19 beneficiaries of the same project were assassinated. As of that moment, Juan Ixcol López and Gustavo Cifuentes, facilitators of the project, were followed and repeatedly threatened. Amidst these threats, Juan Ixcol López’s brother was assassinated, and a daughter of Gustavo Cifuentes was beaten. On February 16, 2003, APREDE organized an activity in the Colonia San Antonio Zona 6 of San Miguel Petapa, Guatemala. There, at about 1:30 p.m., a corinthian red vehicle was stopped; four or five men got out with pistols in hand, and some with extra cartridges. When they got out they shouted: “don’t run, halt; that’s the one who assaulted your sister.” The facilitator of the program, Antonio Montufar, intervened to try to calm the youths, but was violently moved away. Edgar Gómez, facilitator of the program, intervened at that moment, but one of the assailants shot him directly in the head, and then proceeded to shoot at the group that was participating in the activity. In addition to Edgar Gómez, the gunshots caused the death of William Estuardo Padilla Solares and injured another youth who had also participated in the activity. On March 17, 2003, the Commission granted precautionary measures to protect the life and personal integrity of Emilio Goubaud, Juan Luis Ixcol, José Antonio Montufar, Gustavo Cifuentes, and Gabriela Flores, all members of APREDE.


            B.         Attacks, threats, and other forms of harassment


154.          Attacks, threats, and harassment, used as an instrument to thwart and hinder the work of human rights defenders, constitute a pattern that can be discerned in many countries of the region.  The Commission states its concern over the magnitude and systematic nature of the attacks and threats against persons engaged in the defense, promotion, and protection of human rights in the hemisphere. The Commission notes that a large proportion of precautionary measures of protection granted in recent years have been motivated by situations of risk, threats, and attacks on human rights defenders. In addition, the United Nations Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders has expressed constant concern over the high number of communications from countries of the Americas, and has indicated that the Americas is the most dangerous region in the world for human rights defenders.[154]


1.         Assassination attempts and assaults


155.          The Commission has taken note of the constant attacks on the personal integrity of human rights defenders in several countries of the hemisphere. Physical assaults on defenders include both those acts of physical violence aimed at causing the death of the defender, but which due to circumstances beyond the control of the assailant may not cause death; and those acts of physical violence whose sole purpose is to inflict physical pain on a defender or a member of his or her family. 


156.          Failed attempts to kill take various forms, varying in the intensity of the violence used. Many such attacks are carried out by paid gunmen. Also common is the use of explosives, which are set off in the offices, residences, or vehicles of defenders. The intensity, violence, and timing of the attacks show that the intent of the assailants is to cause death.


On February 11, 2004, the Commission received a request for measures of protection indicating that on February 1, 2004, Mr. Leonidas Iza, an Ecuadorian indigenous leader, president of the Confederación de las Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador (CONAIE), returned from Cuba where he had participated in the regional meeting against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). After being picked up by his wife, his two children, his brother, and his nephew at the Quito airport, he took a taxi to the CONAIE office. Two unknown men in a car with polarized glass followed them from the airport, shot at the president of CONAIE and his family members, and made death threats. The assailants shouted at Mr. Iza “we’re going to kill you!” and tried to enter the CONAIE offices. The assailants began to shoot at the moment that three relatives of Leonidas, from inside the offices, were struggling to close the main door to the building. The 9-millimeter bullets passed through the door, and hit the three relatives (Javier Iza, Camilo Tixe, and Rodrigo Iza). These persons were taken to the Clínica Cotocollao, in the north of Quito, where they received medical care. On February 27, 2004, the Commission adopted precautionary measures for Mr. Leonidas Iza, his family members, and other members of CONAIE.


157.          In addition, there have been other non-lethal attacks or physical assaults carried out as a warning, to ensure defenders know the risk to which they’re exposing themselves, how far their aggressors are willing to go, and the relative ease with which they or their family members could be harmed. In other cases, non-lethal attacks are intended to inflict pain, fear, anguish, and a sense of vulnerability in order to humiliate and degrade the victims and break their physical and moral resistance.


On October 10, 2002, the IACHR received information that indicated that Mr. Lysias Fleury, a member of the Bishops’ Commission for Justice and Peace and Haiti, was detained by police agents on June 24, 2002, at approximately 7 p.m., and was pistol-whipped as he was being arrested. Subsequently, Mr. Fleury was deprived of liberty, with a guard in sight, for 17 hours at the police station in Bon Repos, Haiti.  That same night he was subjected to several forms of degrading treatment. For example, the officers forced him to pick up excrement with his hands. In the afternoon the police beat him, inflicting 15  double ("kalots marasa") blows, 64 blows to the abdomen, and several kicks in the clavicle. On October 15, 2002, the Commission adopted precautionary measures to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. Lysias Fleury. On November 12, 2002, February 10, 2003, and March 5, 2003, the Commission reiterated those precautionary measures and asked the state to report on the measures adopted. On March 13, 2003, the IACHR asked the Inter-American Court to issue provisional measures to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. Fleury. The Court, by order of June 7, 2003, granted provisional measures in the case.


2.         Threats


158.          Threats are generally intimidating notices that an act may be committed that will produce serious pain, such as torture, kidnapping, rape, or death. Such acts are aimed at intimidating human rights defenders or their family members, so as to get the defenders to refrain from pursuing certain investigations or complaints. The special seriousness of threats is found in the high likelihood that they will be carried out. Therefore, threats cause psychological and moral injury to human rights defenders, pushing some to distance themselves from their regular work, or to diminish their public exposure.


On March 8, 2005, the IACHR received a request for precautionary measures that alleged threats and other acts against the Centro de Estudios Jurídicos e Investigación Social (CEJIS), a Bolivian organization that for years has supported the process of clearing up title to lands, which has gone forward in order to regularize the rights of more than 500 campesino communities engaged in extracting rubber, chestnuts, and walnuts, and acknowledging their ancestral rights to the territories of the Esse Ejja, Tacana, Cavineño, Chacobo, Pacawuara and Araona indigenous peoples of Bolivia. According to the communication, on January 5, 2005, approximately 30 armed persons violently entered the offices of CEJIS, and, amidst death threats, looted and destroyed office equipment and evidentiary documents regarding the existence of a latifundio owned by a U.S. citizen in the northern Amazon region, which were incinerated in the street. As they left these men gave “48 hours for CEJIS to leave Riberalta,” and they threatened to burn Cliver Rocha, director of the office, if he returned to Riberalta. In response, attorneys Cliver Rocha (director of the CEJIS office in Riberalta) and Fredy Vásquez submitted their irrevocable resignations. On March 10, 2005, the Commission decided to grant precautionary measures for the members of CEJIS. On May 9, 2005, the Commission reiterated the measures and extended the protection to other members of CEJIS.


159.          The Commission has received complaints of direct and indirect threats. Direct threats are received by the human rights defenders themselves, warning them of possible attacks against them or their family members. Indirect threats are aimed at family members or persons close to them, to send a message to the defender to abandon the cause. 


On May 31, 2005, the Commission was informed that even though the members of the human rights NGO Colectivo de Abogados “José Alvear Restrepo” have been beneficiaries of precautionary measures since 2000, and despite the efforts to monitor compliance with them, the pattern of attacks, harassment, and threats against the members of the Colectivo de Abogados continues. The information received indicated that on the night of Friday, May 13, 2005, on arriving at her home, located in Bogotá, Colombia, the president of the Colectivo de Abogados, Soraya Gutiérrez Arguello, received from the hands of the watchman for the apartment complex where she lives a strange package left by a courier company, which was opened by members of the National Police, given the fear that it might be an explosive artifact. Inside the package was a beheaded and dismembered doll, burnt in some parts of the body, and the whole body splattered with red nail polish – like blood – with a cross drawn on the torso. Next to the doll was a hand-written note that said: “You have a very nice family, take care of it, don’t sacrifice it.”  On May 11, 2000, the Commission granted precautionary measures of protection to the members of the Colectivo de Abogados. The measures have been extended on several occasions due to the persistence of the risks its members face.


160.          Threats are usually sent through telephone calls, physical mail, emails, anonymous warnings, and other means, which are received at the organizations’ offices, at the defenders’ homes, and in the general milieu in which they work and operate. These acts show that defenders are victims of prior surveillance through the identification of telephone numbers or of the places where they work or spend their free time. Oftentimes the person receives a warning that indicates that he or she is being watched. In general, these warnings are made by an unidentified person. One type of threat, which has been the subject of some complaints, and which stands out for its sophistication, is the use of condolence cards or invitations to their own funeral. Another form of intimidation that has been the subject of complaints lodged with the IACHR is the payment of anonymous ads in large-circulation newspapers announcing job openings in a given human rights organization. The organizations have indicated to the IACHR that in the context of threats and harassment such as one finds in some countries, such ads suggest that the current members of human rights organizations could be the victims of assassination attempts, which would be the reason for the supposed openings. 


161.          The Commission has found that in other cases the threats are directed not against particular individuals, but generically against an organization or community. According to the information analyzed by the Commission, the purpose of such threats is to veto an activity and it makes any person related to it a target. In some cases, for example, the threats are aimed at discouraging campaigns to denounce violations or to accompany communities.


On September 20, 2004, the Commission received a request for precautionary measures signed by the Consejo Indígena Popular Oaxaqueño “Ricardo Flores Magón” (CIPO  RFM), on behalf of Mr. Raul Javier Gatica and other members of the organizational board of the Consejo Indígena Popular of Oaxaca, Mexico. The request noted, among other facts alleged, that beginning on September 1, 2004, the organization had been receiving threatening phone calls. On September 1 alone, 13 calls were received threatening to “romper la madre” (“tear apart”), Raúl Javier Gatica Bautista and the other members of the CIPO RFM. On September 13, 2004, a new phone call was received threatening to kill one of the members of CIPO RFM.  On September 15, four more calls were received. In one of them they said “what comes next for you is the death of you all, mainly Raúl Javier Gatica Bautista.” Due to these incidents, plus other acts of harassment denounced by the members of CIPO, on September 27, 2004, the Commission granted precautionary measures to ensure the life and personal integrity of Mr. Raúl Javier Gatica Bautista. Notwithstanding the granting of those measures, the beneficiary of the measures informed the Commission that due to the situation of risk, he had to leave the state of Oaxaca and cease his activity defending the human rights of indigenous communities in Oaxaca.


162.          Another form of threat is that which circulates in public opinion, either as generic threats, or as lists of persons threatened. These have a chilling effect on society and especially on victims and witnesses, who don’t dare report incidents or turn to those organizations that have been publicly accused through lists. 


On September 10, 2003, the Commission received a request for precautionary measures on behalf of the Empresa Comunitaria de Acueducto y Alcantarillado de Saravena-ECCAS, founded more than 20 years ago by leaders of the Juntas de Acción Comunal (community action boards) of the municipality of Saravena, department of Arauca, Colombia. This self-managed and community-owned company provides drinking water and sanitation services to the inhabitants of Saravena. The ECAAS has been characterized by offering support and solidarity to cultural, sports, social, and protest initiatives of the inhabitants of Saravena and the department of Arauca.  The petition indicated, inter alia, that on July 25, in central Saravena, an employee of ECAAS was detained by two persons from outside the region who were part of a group of men who have set themselves up near the police station in this locality. These men made death threats to him, and said that all the employees of ECAAS were members of the guerrillas, and then they asked him to warn his fellow-workers “that they would be given all the lead they could swallow.” Subsequently, on August 15, 2003, at approximately 8:00 p.m., community leader and ECAAS assembly member Edgar Mantilla was assassinated, near the police station of Saravena. On the morning of August 31, 2003, the main office of ECAAS, situated just seventy (70) meters from one of the permanent observation, control, and security posts of the police station of Saravena, had a series of inscriptions and slogans painted on its outside walls, threatening the workers of that company. The intimidating signs read: “last judgment: death to ECAAS,” “death to the militia members of ECAAS,” “let’s clean up Saravena, let’s finish off ECAAS,” and others along the same lines, which were signed by the paramilitary group ACC-AUC. In response to the seriousness of these incidents, on September 22, 2003, the Commission granted precautionary measures for 20 persons, all of them directors or employees of ECAAS.


163.          The Commission has verified that the lack of an effective policy for the protection of threatened human rights defenders encourages assailants to carry out their threats, especially if they feel certain that it is unlikely that they’ll be convicted for these deeds. In most cases, the latent threat of being the target of an attack remains for a long time, even years, condemning the victims and their families to a life of uncertainty and fear.


3.         Surveillance


164.          According to the information received by the Commission, it is also common for human rights defenders or their family members to be followed constantly wherever they go, or to be kept under surveillance at their offices, residents, and elsewhere. There are many methods used to follow these persons. In many cases, these methods are practically imperceptible; in other cases they are detected easily, since that is the assailant’s intent: for the victim to know that he or she is being watched, and that his or her movements, as well as all the persons with whom he or she meets, are known. 


165.          When persons are followed it is generally by vehicles without license plates. In other cases such vehicles have been reported to have official license plates. The Commission has received information that indicates that in some cases those who follow human rights defenders intercept and threaten them with firearms, or physically assault them, when they are in desolate places.


On November 6, 2002, the Commission received a request for precautionary measures on behalf of Ms. Elma Soraya Novais. The request indicated that her son was assassinated in December 1999. Apparently the assassination was committed by four police officers from the state of Pernambuco who thought that the assassinated youth had killed a police officer’s brother. Since then she has been engaged in a campaign of judicial actions and dissemination to public opinion to try to get the assassins convicted. This has entailed various sorts of threats. In July 2000, the alleged assassins surrounded her car. In September 2000 she was shot at, but she  saved herself by dropping to the floor. In February 2001, there was an accidental explosion in the yard of her home that burned 45% of her body. On November 8, 2002, the Commission issued precautionary measures on her behalf, which were later extended to her children, who were threatened. In the context of those measures, on May 17, 2005, the IACHR was informed that on March 22, 2005, when Ms. Novais was heading to the local police station escorted by two police officers, she observed that she was being followed by a car in which there were two men. Further on, the car reached the escorts and tried to bump Ms. Novais’s vehicle, and then it fled at high speed. The escorts tried to follow it, but returned so as not to leave her without protection. Once at the police station, Ms. Novais perceived a car suspiciously driving around the police station at low speed, and that two men then got out of the car, and kept looking inside the police station. Ms. Novais asked the Federal Police to clarify the situation, and was informed by them that she should take a different route to go home while they looked into the situation. The inquiry of the Federal Police determined that the car belonged to a member of the Civil Police who was on trial on charges of forming death squads.


166.          The Commission has also received many complaints from human rights defenders regarding suspicious persons who move about or remain at the headquarters of the organizations or at their residences.  In other cases, it has been denounced that those persons are constantly seen in places where human rights defenders work or that they frequent, such as, for example, their children’s schools, or the residences of their relatives and friends.  It is also common to find suspicious vehicles posted in front of the headquarters of the organizations at different times of the day or night.


On July 24, 2002, the members of the Fundación Rigoberta Menchú Tum (FRMT) asked the IACHR to grant precautionary measures, adducing that they had been victims of threats, and another series of acts of intimidation. On July 29, 2002, the IACHR decided to grant the measures requested in view of the seriousness of the risk the members of the Fundación were facing. In the context of monitoring those measures, the beneficiaries reported that on July 26, a couple was seen posted across from the organization’s offices. The woman was vigilant, informing the man of everything going on. The couple came on a yellow and gray Scramber motorcycle. On July 29 and 31, the same situation was repeated. On July 31, Mr. Gustavo Meoño perceived a yellow motorcycle with two people following him one block from the offices of the Fundación. When he parked he saw how they remained across from the Fundación; the man didn’t show his face. From the Fundación’s camera one could see that the woman was attentive to the movements about the Fundación. On August 1, the members of the FRMT realized that the same couple was posted in the same place. On August 6, the couple returned. That day, the members of the institution and visitors were able to observe rotating surveillance.  The members of the Fundación took their photos and observed that every time someone left the Fundación they made calls. Later, they saw someone approach them and have an exchange of words, and then that person took up a position a short distance away. Two more people with binoculars approached that man. At 7:40 p.m. those staff of the Fundación who were still inside refusing to leave out of fear of what appeared to be an operation outside the house asked for help. After they spoke with the special prosecutor for human rights defenders, the various persons left. On August 8, surveillance was observed once again. In addition, in the early morning hours, when Ms. Rigoberta Menchú Tum left the house, a white dual-cabin pick-up truck was observed with an old SUV-type vehicle that was outside the house. This car followed Ms. Menchú’s car until she reached the offices of the Fundación.


167.          In many cases, the persons entrusted with surveillance approach persons who enjoy the trust of the human rights defenders (such as domestic employees, private guards, or neighbors) stating that they are friends, to inquire about their activities or schedules, or to leave them messages.


4.        Identifying human rights defenders as "enemies" and "legitimate targets" by parastatal groups


168.          In some countries the acts of harassment, intimidation, and attacks against human rights defenders unfold in a context of systematic threats and selective assassinations by private groups, guerrillas or paramilitary groups, who operate outside the law, and on some occasions with the acquiescence or tolerance of the states in which they act. Notwithstanding the recommendations made by the IACHR and the United Nations about the duty of the state to dismantle such illegal groups, they persist in their threats.


169.          The Commission observes that in some situations human rights defenders become a target of those groups, because of their work reporting violations perpetrated by such groups. On other occasions, the defenders are accused of being members or sympathizers of these groups. 


170.          The Commission notes that in several countries of the region high-level agents of the states have expressed hostility towards human rights defenders and international personnel who accompany communities at risk.  The IACHR must reiterate once again that such declarations may be considered by armed groups as an accusation that not only increases the risk to which human rights defenders are exposed, but which could suggest that the acts of violence aimed at suppressing them in one way or another enjoy the acquiescence of the governments.[155]


171.          The IACHR has received several complaints describing attacks on life and personal integrity, threats, surveillance and intimidation of defenders, as well as raids of and attacks on the offices of their organizations committed by paramilitary groups, para-police forces, or “extermination” groups that act with the permission or ineffectiveness of national or local authorities. In general, such attacks are reprisals for complaints of violations committed by these groups, or for giving impetus to criminal investigations in which members of these groups bear responsibility. In some states, illegal groups portray human rights work in a negative light, turning all human rights defenders into targets, on declaring them “military objectives,” deeming them sympathetic to an opposition political position, or portraying them as enemies of the state’s interests. 


On March 4, 2003, the Commission received a request for precautionary measures on behalf of Mr. Over Dorado Cardona, a member of the board of the Comité Permanente por la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos “Héctor Abad Gómez.”  The information presented indicated that on February 28, 2003, Mr. Dorado Cardona received a written threat from the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) stating “your defense with the teachers and what they call human rights is totally biased and against the government … you are getting involved where you are not being called on, you are a defender of the guerrillas … our studies have led us to declare you a military target.”  In view of the risk facing the beneficiary, on March 7, 2003, the IACHR asked the Colombian State to adopt measures to protect the life and physical integrity of Over Dorado Cardona and to report on the actions taken to investigate the facts and put an end to the threats.


172.          In addition, the Commission is concerned about the attacks and acts of harassment directed against local communities by the illegal armed groups; such communities resist displacing from their lands or accepting the influence of these groups, which seek military and political control of certain regions or sectors where they have influence.  In those cases, the persons who lead and organize and denounce the attacks on such communities are the target of attacks and threats, assassinations and disappearances. 


On October 25, 2004, the Commission received a request for precautionary measures that indicated that since mid-2003 members of the paramilitary group “Paz y Justicia” had been harassing communities of displaced persons/returnees to the northern part of the state of Chiapas, Mexico. In the course of 2004, there was an increase in such harassment and threats. Among the various acts, the complaint indicated that the following representatives of the displaced persons – Reynaldo Gómez Martínez, Mariano Sánchez Montejo, Ricardo Martínez Martínez, and Gilberto Jiménez López – have been victims of threats and intimidation for having turned to the justice system and seeking reparation for the acts that caused the displacement of the community and other forced disappearances and executions that occurred from 1995 and 1999, acts which they allege were perpetrated by members of the paramilitary group. On October 29, 2004, the Commission granted precautionary measures for several community leaders who give impetus to investigations, and to one witness and the witness’s family.


173.          The Commission has also received reports of armed groups that have declared leaders of indigenous communities “military targets” or have threatened them for resisting efforts to get them to leave their territories or refusing to participate in or collaborate with a given armed group. 


C.      Smear campaigns and criminal prosecutions detrimental to the work of human rights defenders


174.          The work of human rights defenders is limited by the statements of high-level public officials aimed at discrediting their work and bringing about or aggravating a context adverse to the defense of rights. The Commission notes that in some cases defenders are harassed by the state through criminal proceedings aimed solely at impeding the free defense of legitimate interests.


            1.         Smear campaigns and official statements


175.          The Commission has learned that in some states of the Americas human rights defenders have seen their work limited by forms of discourse that characterize their work in a negative light. In public statements, state agents have identified the work done by human rights defenders as illegal, or they have been publicly accused of bring criminals, subversives, or terrorists merely because of providing legal defense to persons accused of committing certain crimes, or merely out of a desire to publicly stigmatize them. 


176.          The Commission observes that such declarations delegitimize and discredit the work of these social actors and increase their vulnerability. On several occasions, such declarations suggest that the non-governmental human rights organizations collaborate with armed dissident groups, plan campaigns against state security, or seek to besmirch their country’s international reputation.


177.          The Commission considers that the statements by state representatives, expressed in the context of political violence, sharp polarization, or high levels of social conflict, puts out the message that acts of violence aimed at suppressing human rights defenders and their organizations enjoy the acquiescence of the government. For this reason, indiscriminate and unfounded criticisms that help create adverse conditions for the work of human rights defenders are profoundly harmful to the democracies of the hemisphere.


2.         Legal actions


178.          Another particularly worrisome aspect is the use of legal actions against defenders, including criminal or administrative investigations or actions that are pursued to harass and discredit them. In some cases, the states use criminal laws that restrict or limit the means used by defenders to carry out their activities. The Commission notes that some countries of the region have enacted laws and revived criminal laws that had fallen into disuse, such as crimes against the form of government, or crimes of desacato (contempt), a criminal law provision that the Commission has suggested that states should repeal.


179.          In other cases, criminal proceedings are instituted without any evidence, for the purpose of harassing the members of the organizations, who must assume the psychological and economic burden of facing a criminal indictment. Some of these proceedings have gone to advanced stages, including the prolonged provisional detention of the accused. These proceedings generally involve charges of rebellion, attacks on public order or state security, and the formation of illegal groups.[156] 


180.          The Commission has received information and continues collecting more about situations in which it is alleged that the legal apparatus is being used to harm or suppress those who pursue, among other things, the work of documenting human rights situations, providing judicial defense for the criminally accused, representing victims before the courts, and accompanying communities in high-risk situations.


181.          The Commission has received complaints of the persecution and harassment of defenders through successive judicial proceedings that months later are dismissed due to the failure to find the persons tried liable. Notwithstanding such dismissals, new investigations -- mostly in cases with different evidence but similar accusations -- are opened, and, as a result, new detentions or judicial restrictions are ordered. The Commission has received several complaints describing situations in which criminal accusations are made and then dismissed, in the case of a single person, and the successive opening and dismissal of investigations into several leaders of the same organization or cause.


D.        Violation of the home and other arbitrary or abusive entry to the offices of human rights organizations, and interference in correspondence and phone and electronic communication


182.          The violation of the home and other arbitrary or abusive entry to the offices of human rights organizations or the homes of their members is another way of diminishing the actions of human rights defenders. The Commission has observed, in carrying out its mandate, that searches of the offices of the organizations and their members’ homes constitute a common practice in some states of the region. Generally, illegal searches are one of several forms of harassment directed against the organizations.[157] The IACHR has observed that such practices result in the collection of private information, and at the same time instill fear and have a negative impact on the institutional operations of human rights organizations.


On October 18, 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights asked the Government of Venezuela to adopt precautionary measures on behalf of Luis Enrique Uzcátegui Jiménez. The request was based on information received by the Commission that indicated that after his brother’s homicide, Mr. Uzcátegui investigated the circumstances of his brother’s death. In addition, the local press reported the facts and has publicly accused the highest-level authorities of the state of Falcón of responsibility for the systematic execution of persons allegedly engaged in criminal conduct. The information indicated, moreover, that in retaliation for these complaints, on March 15, 2001, officials of the Fuerzas Armadas Policiales of the state of Falcón proceeded to search the home of Mr. Luis Uzcátegui, without court order, to look for him. The officers knocked down the door and slapped Mr. Uzcátegui’s younger brother, a minor, Carlos Eduardo Uzcátegui Jiménez, while telling him: “tell your brother to stop speaking against us, or we will do to him just what we did to your other brother.” On April 13, 2002, officers of the Fuerzas Armadas Policiales of the state of Falcón who belonged to the DIPE group, in plainclothes, once again searched the Uzcátegui family’s house without court order, in search of Mr. Luis Uzcátegui; after insulting and threatening his mother, Julia Jiménez, they proceeded to destroy some of the furniture before leaving. In response to the risk that Mr. Uzcátegui ran and the failure to carry out the precautionary measures, on November 27, 2002, the Inter-American Commission asked the Inter-American Court to grant provisional measures on behalf of Mr. Luis Enrique Uzcátegui Jiménez. Also on November 27, 2002, the Court issued a order directing the State to adopt, without delay, as many measures as necessary to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. Uzcátegui.


183.          The Commission observes that most of the illegal searches are characterized by the fact that objects of value are not necessarily taken from the offices or homes, and, therefore, it is difficult to consider these cases of common crime. In general, files, documents, or computer equipment are taken in order to get information on the victims of human rights violations who report the violations, as well as data on the human rights defenders. The Commission is concerned that several organizations from several member states have been subject to illegal searches despite being beneficiaries of precautionary measures.


On May 15, 2003, the IACHR granted precautionary measures on behalf of Edgar Filiberto Celada Alejos, Raúl Eduardo Najera Hernández, and all other members of the Colectivo HIJOS of Guatemala.  The information available indicates that the beneficiaries were subject to a series of acts of harassment, including physical assaults and verbal threats by state agents. In view of the risk to the beneficiaries, the Commission asked the Guatemalan State to adopt the measures necessary to protect the life and personal integrity of the members of the Colectivo HIJOS.  In response, the State reported on the implementation of the perimeter security at the organization’s offices. Nonetheless, the Commission has continued receiving information regarding acts directed against the Colectivo, including information indicating that the Colectivo has suffered two searches in the first half of 2005.


184.          Another form of arbitrary meddling is illegally intercepting correspondence and the telephone and electronic communications of human rights defenders. The illegal collection of such information tends to encumber the defenders’ work, while also increasing the risks faced by these persons and by the victims they defend or the communities they accompany.


In October 2002, the Commission received a request for precautionary measures on behalf of Ms. Teresa Cedeño Galíndez, president of the Comité Permanente por los Derechos Humanos (CPDH) of Arauca, Colombia.  The petitioners alleged that on October 2, 2002, a man who identified himself as Commander Mario of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia repeatedly called the cell phone of attorney Cedeño Galíndez, to make death threats and to compel her to leave the city and “stop defending the guerrillas.” He also indicated that he would post a guard at her house and hoped not to see her. The AUC commander repeated the calls and a prosecutor from the support structure was able to verify that the calls and threats were real. On October 22, 2002, Ms. Cedeño Galíndez detected she was being followed and that that there were suspicious persons in front of her home. On October 29, 2002, the Commission granted precautionary measures. As part of the follow-up on those measures, the IACHR was informed that on February 2, 2005, Ms. Cedeño made a call from her cell phone to the cell phone assigned to her by the Ministry of Interior’s protection program, and the call was not answered by her secretary, who had the phone at that time, but instead from a place where one could hear radio communications and the voice of a man speaking through radio communications equipment. This situation recurred three times, hindering the communication she was seeking with her secretary. She reported having had similar incidents involving interception of communications in the past.


E.       Intelligence activities aimed at human rights defenders


185.          The Commission has received information that indicates that the security forces of some states of the region aim their intelligence activity at human rights organizations and their members. In addition, the Commission has received several complaints related to the manner in which intelligence information is collected on persons who defend human rights and their organizations. According to these complaints, one method used by the intelligence services is to obtain financial documents and other private documents without authorization. The complaints indicate that the state security forces are wiretapping and secretly taping phone conversations without judicial authorization. The Commission has been informed that the intelligence services in some countries have created files or records on human rights defenders.


186.          In addition, the Commission continues to be profoundly concerned over the reports that indicate that in some instances military intelligence is used to facilitate the executions of human rights defenders at the hands of the security forces of the state or through illegal armed groups that operate with the approval or acquiescence of state agents. The Commission has indicated that surveillance activities and such executions of human rights defenders give rise to state responsibility for flagrant violations of the rights to privacy and life, among other rights protected by the Convention.[158]


187.          The Commission has also found, in some cases, that agents of the security forces in discriminatory fashion ask human rights defenders for detailed personal information which, if revealed, could put them in danger. The Commission has received complaints that indicate that agents of the state security forces also request this information through personal visits or phone calls; when those seeking the information are asked to identify themselves or to make the requests for information in writing, they usually do not do so.[159]


F.         Restrictions on access to information in the hands of the state and habeas data actions


188.          In its 2001 report, the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression concluded, in light of the information obtained for the hemisphere that “practices contributing to a culture of secrecy with respect to state-held information continue to be followed in most countries because of insufficient awareness of the specific provisions regulating this exercise or because, given the vague, general language used in the provision, agents in possession of such information opt in favor of denying it, out of fear of punishment.“[160]

189.          The Commission observes with satisfaction the progress made in reforming domestic laws that impeded or restricted access to information, and has included this information in its annual reports.  Nonetheless, the Commission has concluded that “it is important to insist that Member States need to display greater political willingness to work toward amending their laws and ensuring that their societies enjoy freedom of expression and information.” [161]


190.          The Commission, through its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, has received information and complaints concerning restrictions on access to state-held information in cases of human rights violations. The Commission is aware that governmental authorities and the armed forces in particular refuse to release information, even at the request of the justice system or institutions such as Truth Commissions.[162]


191.          It has also received complaints about practices used by the authorities to refuse to respond to petitions signed by human rights defenders, or to delay the response in order to prevent defenders from expressing timely criticism of the authorities’ performance, or, from gathering, for example, the information necessary for the submission of periodic reports to international entities. The Commission likewise has received complaints of state’s resorting to vague or imprecise responses that oblige the defenders to go back to the administration time and again or even turn to domestic legal entities.


192.          The Commission has received information on restrictions on access of actions of habeas data concerning abusive, imprecise or damaging information about human rights defenders held by the state.  In particular, the Commission has received complaints about restrictions on actions of habeas data seeking to establish the existence and contents of intelligence archives against human rights defenders. The Commission has received complaints of official responses to such actions that merely excuse the refusal to release the information based on arguments such as national security, or that simply include a transcription of domestic regulations authorizing security entities to gather such information.[163]


G.       Arbitrary administrative and financial controls imposed on the human rights organizations


193.          The Commission observes that some states maintain legislation, policies, or practices that restrict or limit the work of these organizations through abusive administrative, tax, and fiscal measures. In this respect, the United Nations Special Representative has expressed her concern over the “increasing restrictions imposed by States through legal means to curtail freedom of association and the

growing use by States of the legal system to harass human rights defenders and hinder their work.”


194.          The Commission has been informed of certain restrictions on the freedom to form organizations at different levels dedicated to the protection of human rights. In many cases defenders have had administrative difficulties registering and legalizing their organizations, as some states use restrictive and arbitrary conceptions of organizations and who can establish them. In other cases, states restrict the participation of the organizations in public matters, using equally arbitrary criteria.


195.          In recent months, there has been an increase in the number of complaints received at the Commission regarding unjustified delays by domestic agencies in charge of entering organizations in state registries, even though the organizations have properly and timely submitted the respective documentation.  The Commission has also received information recently about unjustified administrative hindrances put in place by these same institutions to keep them from being registered.  The Commission has received reports of notarial offices that have refused to prepare public documents required by law for establishing organizations, or that have incurred unjustified delays in issuing those documents.


196.          The Commission has noted that in several countries the authorities in charge of entering organizations in the public registries have broad discretional powers that even allow them to unilaterally modify the organizations’ articles of incorporation as regards delimiting the purpose of the activities that the organizations wish to pursue.


197.          The Commission has received information that legislation in several countries provides broad powers for third persons with no stake in the activities of human rights organizations to be able to bring administrative challenges to the registration of organizations based on religious or other criteria.


198.          The Commission has also been informed that in some states, the administrative and police authorities appear to be limiting the work of human rights defenders, in the guise of routine controls to require the organizations to once again go through the formalities to be established and operate, and to address administrative issues that these institutions regulate. It has been alleged before the Commission that these measures not only tend to encumber the capacity to act of these organizations, which have to earmark human and economic resources to meet those requirements, but moreover, an effort is made to harass, control, and gain access to these organizations’ private information.


199.          The Commission has received information that indicates that in some states the international financing of organizations engaged in the promotion and defense of human rights has been arbitrarily restricted through the control exercised by state institutions involved in international technical cooperation.  In addition, information has been obtained that indicates that several organizations have had to restrict or orient their activities in keeping with the priorities defined by the administrative authorities.


200.          The Commission notes that of late there has been an increase in the number of complaints regarding state restrictions on organizations that limit their ability to obtain or seek foreign funds for carrying out their activities. The Commission has been informed that through judicial and administrative decisions, organizations that receive foreign financing have been hindered from participating in public affairs, and from monitoring official activities.[165] In addition, broad criminal law definitions have been adopted and broadly applied to criminalize persons who belong to organizations that receive foreign financing.  Based on the notion that organizations that receive foreign financing support foreign intervention in domestic political affairs, some states have enshrined criminal law definitions in their legislations such as conspiracy to destabilize the state, and similar crimes. The Commission has received several complaints from human rights defenders who have been tried on these charges, or harassed because of their sources of financing.


On June 6 2003, Mr. Carlos Nieto Palma, Coordinator General of the non-governmental organization Una Ventana a la Libertad, was visited at his home in Caracas (Venezuela) by agents of the Department of Intelligence Security and Prevention (DISIP), who informed him that they had an order to make a home visit, and they indicated to him that they lacked a judicial order to search his home, but that, as members of the DISIP they wanted to speak with him. Mr. Nieto Palma was questioned about his work as a human rights defender, the work he does in the prisons, and whether he knew the political prisoners from the Plaza Altamira, whether he had defended them, and why.  In addition, they asked him why he received money from a foreign government to finance his non-governmental organization. On June 18, 2004, Mr. Nieto Palma received a summons to appear “immediately” at the office of the prosecutorial authorities (Fiscalía) in Caracas, which Mr. Nieto did that same day. The prosecutor informed him that he had been summonsed as a witness, without indicating in which case.  The purpose of the interrogation to which he was subjected “appeared to suggest that Mr. Nieto Palma was the one accused of committing some crime.” During that interrogation the prosecutor accused him of being a traitor  (“traidor a la patria”).  Based on these facts, on June 7, 2004, the Commission asked the Inter-American Court to grant provisional measures on behalf of Mr. Nieto and his family.  The measures were granted on July 9, 2005.[166]


201.          The Commission has also received news that international organizations, observation missions, and international news media are having visa applications turned down when they seek to enter or establish themselves in countries. In many cases, the restrictions are imposed through procedures in which the executive authorities have full discretion and the persons impacted do not have access to remedies to challenge the decision. In some cases the states are said to have taken measures that restrict the right of movement of foreigners and nationals in certain areas in which human rights violations may be taking place.


H.        Impunity in investigations into the attacks on human rights defenders


202.          The Commission wishes to reiterate that the most effective way to protect human rights defenders in the hemisphere is by effectively investigating the acts of violence against them, and punishing the persons responsible. In the region of the Americas, one of the great problems affecting human rights defenders is the failure to investigate the attacks to which they are subjected, which has accentuated their vulnerability. This is especially relevant when it comes to protecting the right to life and personal integrity.


203.          The Commission states its profound concern over the high levels of impunity that persist in the region, due to the judicial practices that surround determinations of jurisdiction, the violence, the intimidation of judicial officers, the removal of evidence in the proceedings, and the bogging down of proceedings related to cases that involve the responsibility of state agents. 


204.          The Commission notes with concern that in recent years not only have there not been any breakthroughs in the investigations related to attacks on human rights defenders, but there have been instances in which furthering the investigation was discouraged, and in which, by omission or censorship, and even the active participation of state agents, progress has in fact been impeded. Some of these circumstances include removing public employees who were on the verge of bringing complaints against state agents.


205.          Apart from the structural problems plaguing the judicial systems in the Americas, which keep them from operating soundly, the Commission observes that there is – especially  in those states from which a larger number of complaints come – a lack of political will, impartiality, and independence when it comes to investigating attacks on human rights defenders. The complaints that have been received suggest that there are serious problems in the investigations, for example, they do not relate the intimidation and threats directed against defenders to the type of work they do, accordingly, clear lines of investigation are not established. The problem is also reflected in the attacks against judicial officers who seriously and effectively investigate and prosecute attacks suffered by human rights defenders. 


206.          In addition, as indicated previously in this report, those who may be responsible for some of the threats to human rights defenders are precisely members of the state, many of them linked to different parts of the justice system, further eroding the independence and impartiality of the investigations.


207.          One serious problem that still exists in several countries of the Americas and that contributes to impunity is the jurisdiction of military courts for investigating and sitting in judgment of crimes committed by members of the military against civilians, including human rights defenders. The Commission has underscored on several occasions that the essential characteristic of a serious investigation is that it be undertaken by an independent and autonomous organ.[167]



[149] Many of the actions that follow these patterns are gross violations of human rights, and are considered a crime or an offense, domestically or internationally, while other actions, though not so considered, encumber or limit the work of human rights defenders.

[150] The acts described in this chapter are those directly related to the exercise of the defense of human rights. In that connection, such acts may be motivated by an interest in discouraging persons dedicated to this work, or as a reprisal or revenge for the results obtained by those persons.

[151] See I/A Court H.R., Huilca Tecse Case, Judgment of March 3, 2005, paras. 67 ff.

[152] In this respect, Article 61 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure indicates:

The State in question shall grant the necessary guarantees to all the persons who attend a hearing or who in the course of a hearing provide information, testimony or evidence of any type to the Commission.  That State may not prosecute the witnesses or experts, or carry out reprisals against them or their family members because of their statements or expert opinions given before the Commission.

[153] See IACHR, Press release Nº 26/03, “IACHR repudiates murder of human rights defender Joe Castillo”.  August 28, 2003.  

[154] UN, Report submitted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, Annual Report 2004, Doc. E/CN.4/2005/101. Paras. 61 and 90.

[155] In this regard, the UN Special Representative also expressed her repudiation of the State’s inaction in the face of the mounting activities of such groups:

Human rights defenders are being targeted increasingly by non-State entities, either linked directly or indirectly to the State or private groups benefiting from the inaction of the State. The inability or unwillingness of States to call these entities to account for action against human rights defenders has increased their vulnerability and has strengthened public perception that human rights can be violated with impunity.

UN, Information drawn from the report submitted by Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, at the 56th session of the General Assembly, September 10, 2001, para. 16. A/56/341.

[156] The UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders has made a similar pronouncement:

Governments tend to use the judicial system as a means of harassing and punishing defenders for upholding human rights. In order to dispel impressions that they see human rights activity as a criminal activity in itself, the trend is to charge human rights defenders for crimes such as “sedition”, “incitement to revolt”, “attempt to undermine institutions” and offences against the security of the State. Prosecution of human rights defenders under false charges is also a common form of harassment. [Report of the Rapporteur submitted to the General Assembly at the 57th session, July 2, 2002.]

[157] The Commission has stated its position in this respect in several of its reports. See, for example, IACHR, Justicia e inclusión social: los desafíos de la democracia en Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.118, December 29, 2003, paras. 183 ff.

[158] IACHR, Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia (1999), Chapter VII Human Rights Defenders, para. 55. OEA/Ser.L/V/11.102.

[159] See IACHR, Third Report on the Human Rights Situation in Colombia: OEA/Ser.L/V/II.102, Doc. 9 rev. 1, February 26 1999, Original: English, paras. 46 to 52.

[160] IACHR, Annual Report 2001, Chapter III, Report on Actions of Habeas Data and Freedom of Access to Information in the Hemisphere, para. 164.

[161] IACHR, Annual Report 2004, Chapter III, Report on Actions of Habeas Data and Freedom of Access to Information in the Hemisphere, para. 72.

[162] For example, during the visit in loco to Guatemala in March 2003, the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Eduardo Bertoni, received information indicating that sectors of the press and human rights denounced the posture of the President of the Congress of the Republic, Efraín Ríos Montt, blocking access to documents related to the approval and execution of the 2000 and 2001 budgets (see Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.118).  The Rapporteur also received information that in Venezuela the Programa Venezolano de Educación-Acción en Derechos Humanos (PROVEA) had presented five actions of constitutional amparo before the Supreme Court of Justice to exercise its right of petition in response to ombudsman’s [defensor del pueblo] refusal to respond to a request for general information on cases of human rights violations and statistical data for PROVEA’s annual report on the human rights situation in Venezuela.

[163] Cfr. IACHR, Third Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia: OEA/Ser.L/V/II.102, Doc. 9 rev. 1, February 26, 1999, para. 48.

[164] UN, Commission on Human Rights, Report submitted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani, Annual Report 2004, Doc.  E/CN.4/2005/101. Para. 42.

[165] In its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela (2003), the Commission indicated:

the IACHR has been able to study several Supreme Court decisions ruling that nongovernmental organizations that receive subsidies from abroad or that have foreigners or agents of organized religions on their boards are not part of civil society and are thus ineligible to participate on the Candidacy Committees established by the Constitution for electing the members of the citizens’ branch, the electoral authorities, and the Supreme Court of Justice.… The Constitutional Chamber’s judgment disqualifies a good number of human rights organizations from participating on the Candidacy Committees that elect high-ranking authorities within the government. This could mean the denying one of the social movements with the greatest impact, permanence, and professionalism in Venezuela the right to contribute to the independence and selection of those public authorities.

IACHR, Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Venezuela, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.118, October 24, 2003, paras. 223-225.

[166] I/A Court H. R. Carlos Nieto et al. Case. Provisional Measures. Resolution of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of July 9, 2004.

[167] IACHR, Report on the Merits Nº 33/04, Case 11,634 Jailton Néri da Fonseca v. Brazil, para. 100, published March 11, 2004.