Violence against human rights activists in Latin America continues to escalate

By Oxfam
In the late hours of the night of March 2, 2016, human rights and land rights defender Cáceres was murdered by armed men who broke into her home in Honduras. Photo: Goldman Environmental Prize

The number of murders, attacks, and acts of repression against human rights activists in Latin America has now reached historic levels.

Thousands of men and women who defend human rights in Latin America are victims of the violence and repression that seeks to systematically eliminate their tireless and invaluable work to build fairer and more equal societies.

According to the organization Global Witness, 122 human rights defenders were murdered in Latin America—accounting for 65% of all such killings across the world. From January to May of this year alone, there were 58 murders. Two of the most recent victims were José Ángel Flores, the President of the Unified Movement of the Aguán (Muca en el Bajo Aguán), and Silmer Dionisio Jorge from the Unified Campesino, both in Honduras.

"The region has fallen into an unthinkable spiral of violence, and this must stop. Too many lives have been lost, and harassment against human rights defenders continues with impunity. It is time for governments to take action, with no more excuses or delays," said Asier Hernando, Oxfam´s Regional Deputy Director in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The increase in violence against human rights defenders, particularly women, can be attributed to the increase of extractive activities, and the prevalence of a patriarchal culture. The economic slowdown in the region has discouraged governments from adopting more sustainable development strategies, resulting in an expansion of extractive industries as a national revenue model for Latin American and Caribbean countries.

"We are witnessing an unmitigated rise in attacks, including killings of leaders who fight in their own countries for basic human rights such as equality, or access to water or land. Even international recognition or support for human rights defenders has offered little protection, as seen in the cases of Berta Cáceres, murdered in Honduras, or Máxima Acuña, who continues to suffer ongoing attacks in Peru," Hernando added.

Oxfam calls upon the region´s countries to take urgent action to prevent these attacks and combat the impunity with which these crimes against human rights defenders in Latin America are committed. Results are needed in the short term to prevent greater loss of life.

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