Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two-part blog post on the Latin American regional seminar and the issues of security for the human rights defenders there.
With a trembling but determined voice a representative from IRCT Honduran member centre CPTRT spoke about the challenges of providing psychosocial care to rehabilitate torture survivors in high-risk contexts. She has been threatened because of the work she does; so have her colleagues. And she is worried about the safety of her family. She is a human rights defender at risk in the fight against torture.
She is not alone. The security situation for many Latin American human rights defenders is critical. Several IRCT member centres in the region report a deterioration with regards to security issues including threats in connection with their work for the prevention of torture and rehabilitation of its victims. All of which serves to remind us of the importance of applying pressure to states to uphold the principles and rights contained in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Carrying out psychosocial work in high-risk contexts was a major focus for the 28 professionals gathered in the last week of September in Mexico City. The participants represented 15 Latin American rehabilitation centres in 11 countries who came together to exchange knowledge and learn from one another.
Day one began with a quick round of updates from each centre in which set-backs and developments were shared. The IRCT Bolivian member-centre, ITEI, explained that they, for the first time, are receiving threats as a result of their work with torture cases. CCTI of Mexico explained that while “war against delinquency and drugs” has increased significantly the number of torture cases over the past five or six yearsit has become increasingly difficult to access torture survivors in places of detention due to restrictions from the authorities. Red de Apoyo of Venezuela reported that their government had denounced the American Convention on Human Rights, pulling out of the Inter-American system of human rights. CPTRT from Honduras and ATHYA from Paraguay explained how recent coups have led to instability and a subsequent fragility in security that poses significant challenges to their work. Later that day, during a coffee break, I was pulled aside by two colleagues who have not been responding to emails lately. They were concerned for their safety, they explained. State authorities had previously intercepted their emails, and information on recent developments in the country had been too sensitive to risk sending by email.
A significant number of representatives at the seminar stressed that growing violence and torture in many countries in the region was a result of the increasing criminalisation of social protest. Such protest is often directed towards multinational companies or infrastructure projects that threaten the livelihoods, environment and lands of the communities in which they operate. For example:
- Ecuadorians protesting against alleged pollution of the Amazon by Texaco/Chevron
- Protests against mining projects in Peru resulting in the injury of more than 20 people
- The alleged murder and torture of 29 protesters at the Majaz mining camp in Peru
- Protests against a highway project in a region outside of Yucumo, in Bolivia, at which at least 15 protesters were injured
Other protests result from a general lack of food, work, clean water and other basic needs. Justified by the criminalisation of social protest, the response by some authorities is to use violence and torture to repress the protests.
It seems that Latin America is experiencing a period of re-militarisation and torture seems to be practiced increasingly as a means of maintaining social control and economic hierarchy, thus putting heavy pressure on human rights defenders and the enjoyment of human rights.
Editor’s Note: Please return to worldwithouttorture.org for the second part of Voices from Latin America.
Line is a Project Coordinator, focusing on the Latin American partners and the NSA project. The regional seminar was funded by the European Commission.