Although Peru is not the worst offender in Latin America, it still figures in the cases enumerated by the Irish-based human rights organisation in its annual report on human rights defenders killed in 2019. Of the world’s total, more cases relate to Latin America than any other region of the world.
The Front Line Defenders report enumerates each of the 304 human rights defenders killed over the course of the year. Of the cases identified, 85% of victims had previously received threats, and 40% worked on land, indigenous and environmental rights.
Of those cases recorded in the Americas, Colombia (106) topped the list, followed by Honduras (31), Mexico (23), Brazil (23), Guatemala (15) and Peru (3). Cases of deaths in Peru included that of Paul McAuley, the British Catholic missionary found dead in April. The report acknowledges that the numbers for Brazil may well be higher once final figures are included.
The report only includes people whose deaths were reported to the International Human Rights Defenders’ Memorial.
Front Line describes 2019 as a year of “waves of public uprising of remarkable magnitude in each of the world regions” that tended to “revolve around outright rejection of deep economic inequality, rampant corruption, and calls for greater civil and political rights”. Such protests were especially pronounced in Latin America and frequently met with the use of excessive use of force by the security forces. Human rights defenders were particularly at risk.
The report also picks up on 895 cases worldwide in which a variety of forms of harassment was reported. It provides a breakdown of the methods used to intimidate defenders including detention/arrests, legal action, physical attack and smear campaigns. In the Americas, the most common reported methods were smear campaigns, threats and verbal abuse, followed by detentions and legal actions.
Several of the cases they pick up on did not become public knowledge and cannot be used for advocacy purposes. Of these, some are highly sensitive cases where the life of a defender is at serious risk and Front Line has withheld the identity of those involved. The data show an increase in percentage of verbal and sexual abuse and of harassment suffered by women human rights defenders.
The report provides useful insights into sustainability, climate change and the work of human rights defenders in such areas. Defenders’ rights in such cases receive little protection. The uproar caused by last year’s Amazon fires was a case in point; these generated much more by way of rhetoric than concrete action. As Front Line puts it “the tangible responses from governments to the work of human rights defenders [are] indicative of their real intent”.