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Deforestación. Foto: Rodrigo David

The UN recommends concrete measures to States for the protection of land defenders

07 February, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

Around the end of 2022, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published a new General Comment on the relationship between human rights and access, tenure and use of land.

Affirming that safe and equitable access to land is often vital for the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, particularly for some groups such as Indigenous Peoples, this UN body highlights the threats and attacks suffered by defenders

of human rights in situations where these rights are undermined by the inequitable denial of access to land, often through harassment, criminalization, defamation and murder, particularly in the context of extractive and development projects.

Let us remember that Latin America remains the most dangerous continent in the world for human rights defenders, something aggravated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reports from different sources highlight in recent years that in the region, more and more, human rights defenders are forced to go into exile in neighboring countries, and many are unable to continue their work.

In addition, defenders of human rights, especially women and Indigenous Peoples, are rethinking the notion of “security,” moving away from a military and police vision and moving towards a more comprehensive and balanced conception of gender, trying to changing the focus of some protection mechanisms from an individual model to a more community model that accounts for the collective nature of human rights defense.[1]

Invoking the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which has just passed a quarter of a century since its adoption, the Committee reiterated the State’s duty to respect human rights defenders and their work, even when it is connected with land struggles, and outlined five measures that States should adopt. to protect them:

  1. The public recognition, by the highest level of Government, of the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and the commitment that violence and threats against them will not be tolerated;
  2. Repeal of any State legislation or any measure aimed at punishing or hindering the work of human rights defenders;
  3. Strengthening of State institutions responsible for safeguarding the work of human rights defenders;
  4. Investigation and punishment of any form of violence or threat against human rights defenders;
  5. Adoption and implementation of programs, in consultation with potential beneficiaries, that have sufficient resources and have built-in coordination mechanisms that ensure that adequate protection measures are provided to human rights defenders at risk when necessary.

The Committee also noted the intersection between the work of human rights defenders in relation to land and environmental protection, and recognized how human rights defenders work for the sustainable use of land as a precondition for the enjoyment of the rights of future generations.

The State’s duty to protect requires States to take proactive measures to ensure that the activities of companies and investors, whether at home or abroad, do not infringe economic, social and cultural rights.

For more information, you can read the General Comment by entering this link https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G23/000/35/PDF/G2300035.pdf?OpenElement


[1] See, inter alia, Freedom House, Defending human rights and democracy defenders and activists in Latin America, USA, 2022