Human Lives Human Rights: The dangers of defending human rights and journalism have increased in Latin America with at least 20 human rights defenders and four journalists killed across the region in January 2022.
These killings in just one month are alarming, creating fear of what the year may hold for those who speak out for human rights in the Americas, if urgent action is not taken to reverse this trend.
The killings have occurred precisely in the countries considered most dangerous for the defense of human rights in previous years: 13 in Colombia, three in Brazil and three in Honduras, while one human rights defender and four journalists have been killed in Mexico, the most lethal country on the continent for practicing journalism.
Of the 20 human rights defenders killed, 18 were involved in defending human rights related to access to land and the protection of territories and the environment.
States have an obligation to investigate the killings in a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial manner, and with a primary line of investigation that considers the work of human rights defenders or journalistic work.
Eliminating impunity in these cases is crucial to create a safe environment for defending human rights and sending a clear message that these acts will not be tolerated.
On 9 January, two unidentified men killed Pablo Isabel Hernández, an Indigenous leader and human rights defender, while he was on his way to a church in the municipality of San Marcos de Caiquín, department of Lempira.
According to the report, Pablo had been the victim of multiple threats for his human rights work.
The following day, Thalía Rodriguez, a trans human rights defender, was killed in Tegucigalpa. Thalía carried out her activism through several organizations, including Asociación Kukulcán, Cattrachas, Colectivo Violeta and Cozumel Trans, among others, raising awareness of human rights, leading self-help groups and promoting labour alternatives to sex work for transgender women.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that on 22 January, Melvin Geovany Mejía, a territorial defender and member of the Tolupán Indigenous community, was found dead with gunshot wounds in the municipality of Morazán, department of Yoro.
13 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in January alone, all of them linked to the defence of land, territory and the environment, according to the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Instituto de Estudios para el Desarrollo y la Paz),
In addition, the Institute has documented thirteen massacres resulting in the deaths of 40 people living in rural areas in Colombia.
Our region remains the most dangerous for the defense of human rights and independent journalism because human rights defenders and journalists threaten the political and economic interests of a few while states remain apathetic and negligent in the face of the violence they face
One of the defenders killed was Luz Marina Arteaga. Her body was found on 17 January, after she had been missing for five days. Luz Marina was a well-known defender of the rights of campesino communities in the department of Meta.
On 24 January, the Defence of Life and Human Rights Network (Tejido de Defensa de la Vida y los Derechos Humanos, TDVD) reported the killing of Albeiro Camayo Güetio, former regional coordinator of the Indigenous Guard in the Las Delicias reservation, municipality of Buenos Aires, in Cauca. According to information from the TDVD, Albeiro Camayo was killed when suspected members of a paramilitary group shot at the community after the Indigenous Guard had expelled them from the territory.
The protection of Indigenous, campesino and Afro-descendant communities in Colombia is ineffective because it does not address the structural causes of violence and often occurs without the proper participation of those at risk.
On 9 January, the bodies of three members of the same family known for releasing turtle hatchlings and for defending the land and environmental protection were found in San Francisco do Xingú, Pará state.
On 14 January, the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) stated that the events took place in a context of repeated attacks on environmentalists and human rights defenders in the country. The MPF also requested information from the Military Police on the measures taken for the protection of the victims’ families, as well as other human rights defenders in the region.
The journalists José Luis Gamboa Arenas, Lourdes Maldonado, Alfonso Margarito Martínez Esquivel and Roberto Toledo were killed in January.
On 27 January, human rights defender Ana Luisa Garduño was killed in Temixco, Morelos. Ana Luisa was fighting for justice for the feminicide of her daughter. Mexico is a dangerous country for families seeking justice in cases of feminicide.
Mexico remains the most dangerous for the defense of human rights and independent journalism because human rights defenders and journalists threaten the political and economic interests of a few while states remain apathetic and negligent in the face of the violence they face.
It is time to act, otherwise lives will continue to be lost, lives that are essential for building an equal and just region where human rights are a reality.