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27 Sep 2023

People fighting corporate injustice in Latin America & Caribbean face sustained attacks, new analysis reveals

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People fighting corporate abuse in Latin America and the Caribbean are facing threats, killings and serious attacks on their civic freedoms, according to new analysis published today (26 September 2023). Figures from the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC) revealed the region has consistently been ranked as the most dangerous in the world for those raising legitimate concerns about irresponsible business activities.

Between January 2015 and December 2022, BHRRC identified nearly 2,000 attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) in Latin America and the Caribbean, representing 42% of total attacks (4,700) recorded worldwide. Most attacks (86%) were concentrated in just six countries in the region: Honduras, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Guatemala.

The majority (86%) of attacks were against those protecting their land rights and right to a clean, healthy & sustainable environment. Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately affected and were the target of 35% of the total number of attacks. Given this research is based on publicly available information – and official government data on attacks is extremely limited – the problem is undoubtedly more severe than these figures indicate.

In addition to historically problematic sectors, such as logging and lumber and gas and coal, the renewable energy and mining sectors – both critical to the global energy transition – feature prominently amongst the most dangerous sectors for HRDs in the region.

Other key findings included:

  • The most dangerous sectors for HRDs in the region were mining, agriculture & livestock, renewable energy, logging & lumber and oil, gas & coal. 
  • Nearly 1 in 4 attacks (28%) of cases recorded were killings. 
  • Three in 10 (30%) attacks constitute judicial harassment, which includes arbitrary arrests and detention, unfair trials, and strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs). 
  • More than 95% of attacks against Indigenous HRDs in Latin America and the Caribbean related to the protection of their lands and territories and the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
  • More than one-fifth of total attacks against HRDs in the region were against women defenders; 38% of these attacks were against Indigenous women.
  • Between 2015 and 2022, more than 200 Indigenous defenders in the region were killed in relation to their human rights work challenging harmful business practices.
  • 86% of attacks were against HRDs protecting their land rights and right to a clean, healthy & sustainable environment. 

The scale of lethal and non-lethal attacks against those protecting their rights, natural resources and the environment from business-related harms shows the failure of governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to fulfill their duty to protect human rights. While some governments have made substantial efforts to develop national mechanisms to protect HRDs (including Colombia, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala) and others have passed legislation to do the same (including Peru and Ecuador), this research reveals these mechanisms and legislations are not being effectively implemented. The upcoming Advisory Opinion on Climate Change by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights presents a critical opportunity to safeguard defenders.

Lady Nancy Zuluaga Jaramillo, Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) Researcher, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, said: “Every day, people across Latin America and the Caribbean are fighting back against business activities harming human rights and the environment. But because of this crucial work, they are met with horrific attacks, including death threats, judicial harassment and other forms of intimidation. Many have been killed, with Indigenous People are experiencing a disproportionately high level of attacks when speaking out about harmful business practices.

“Although attacks against human rights and environmental defenders occur in every region of the world, Latin America and the Caribbean is consistently one of the most dangerous regions for those fighting against corporate injustice – with almost half of worldwide attacks taking place here. The high number of attacks occur within the crucial context of centuries of colonisation, patriarchy, exploitation of natural resources, denial of rights to land and territories, and racism and discrimination against Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples and peasant communities. Unfortunately, this has led to a widespread lack of respect for the self-determination and autonomy of Indigenous Peoples and their right to free, prior and informed consent.

“States in Latin America and the Caribbean must recognise voluntary initiatives to curtail this problem are not working. Governments in the region are failing to monitor attacks on defenders, which means the problem is obscured and even more severe than the figures suggest. There is an urgent need for states to do more to prevent attacks; not only through implementing safeguarding standards for HRDs, but by also recognising core expectations under international law for business actors to protect defenders in their countries. The Escazú Agreement brings hope for improvement in the protection of HRDs in Latin America and the Caribbean, which would ensure a safe and healthy environment to advocate for the protection of human rights in the context of irresponsible business practices.”

Specific case studies from across the region can be found in the report. Interviews with defenders might be available upon request.


Note to editors:

  • The Business & Human Rights Resource Centre is an international NGO that tracks the human rights impacts (positive and negative) of more than 10,000 companies across nearly 200 countries. We seek responses from companies when concerns are raised by civil society.
  • SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation) are a tactic used by business actors to stop people raising concerns about their practices. SLAPPs can drain the resources of community members, activists and journalists who speak out in support of human rights and the environment. They can also have the broader chilling effect of deterring others from speaking out against risks or abuse.