Latin America: War on drugs should not induce war on defenders

29.08.2015

States must consult human rights defenders when developing laws and policies to tackle organised crime and drugs problems, and should sanction authorities who defame activists through smear campaigns, ISHR has said in a new report.

Image of ISHR world drug problem report

(Geneva) – States must consult human rights defenders when developing laws and policies to tackle organised crime and drugs problems, and should sanction authorities who defame activists through smear campaigns, ISHR has said in a major new report.

In a submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) co-written with Peace Brigades International Mexico (PBI), ISHR says Latin American human rights defenders have played a fundamental role in exposing abuses by State and non-State actors in the context of the ‘war on drugs’. In return, their important role has put activists at heightened risk of attacks, from both kinds of actors, ranging from public defamation to life-threatening violence.

The report compiles the findings of interviews with 75 grassroots defenders across the Americas, in January 2015, and in-depth follow-up research on the issue.

‘An ever-increasing number of international human rights mechanisms, experts and core documents have consistently reiterated the crucial role of human rights defenders in promoting and protecting human rights, exposing violations and seeking justice,’ said ISHR’s Ben Leather.

‘Despite this, many defenders in Latin America still feel they are rarely formally consulted by States on drugs, crime and security strategies.

‘The result is the proliferation of policies that lack a human rights perspective, and worse, have the capacity to facilitate or exacerbate human rights abuses.’

Militarisation, state corruption and collusion with organised crime groups

The report regrets that despite their well-known record of human rights abuse and violence, military forces in many countries of the region are still favoured over civil actors and proper legislation when it comes to tackling drugs problems.

In addition, cases of collusion between State authorities and non-State actors linked to organised crime and drug trafficking have been clearly established in several countries. These negatively impact how human rights defenders can operate, with defenders who expose this corruption being amongst the most vulnerable in the region.

‘Human rights defenders allege that both State and business representatives use criminal actors to attack defenders with impunity in countries such as Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Peru,’ said Mr Leather.

Defamation of human rights defenders and impunity for criminals

‘In most cases, attacks or murders of human rights defenders working on drugs issues are publicly presented by officials as a consequence of the so-called involvement of the victims in drugs trafficking, casting a veil of suspicion on all human rights defenders active on the issue and leaving the actual perpetrators to run free,’ said Mr Leather.

One such example is the case of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Rural School, Mexico, whose abduction in September 2014 caught international attention. According to the State, the students belonged to an organised crime gang and were abducted by their rivals.

Despite a lack of evidence for such allegations and the students’ school’s ‘renowned history of human rights activism and social protest’, the State did not prioritise ‘the social activism of the students as a probable line of investigation’, said Mr Leather.

ISHR’s submission calls upon Latin American States to put an end to impunity for human rights violations and to guarantee that security forces and public officials tasked with combatting organised crime and drug trafficking are fully trained in international human rights obligations and the protection of activists.

ISHR’s submission to OHCHR: ‘The impact of the world drug problem on the enjoyment of the right to defend human rights in Latin America’.

Contact: Ben Leather, Advocacy and Communications Manager, b.leather@ishr.ch , +41 78 779 48 59

Category:

Region
  • Latin America and Caribbean
Topic
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Country
  • Colombia
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Mexico