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9th March, 2003
Human rights defenders in Latin America and the Caribbean are united by their commitment to protecting and upholding the dignity and rights of their fellow citizens. They are individuals and groups who pressurize governments to live up to obligations enshrined in human rights treaties adopted by intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations.
Human rights defenders expose human rights violations, such as torture and disappearances, committed by state agents. They speak out on behalf of marginalized social groups, children, indigenous and poor people. They seek to end impunity by challenging the perpetrators of human rights violations and reminding all states of their obligation to bring perpetrators to justice and to uphold the rule of law.
In some countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, human rights defenders are often the only credible source of information regarding human rights violations. Not surprisingly their work can entail considerable dangers. They have been the victims of extrajudicial executions, disappearances, death threats, detentions and harassment by state agents. In some countries, the situation of human rights defenders has deteriorated far below levels acceptable to the international community.
In other instances, governments eager to conceal violations committed by their agents and officials attempt to curtail or hamper the work of human rights defenders by monitoring their activities, encouraging defamation campaigns against them, or subjecting them to investigations on unsubstantiated criminal charges. Making it difficult for them to get a job or threatening members of their family are more subtle forms of harassment.
In clear recognition of the important work of local human rights groups, the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders) was adopted by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998. This Declaration sets down a series of principles and standards aimed at ensuring that states fully support the efforts of human rights defenders and ensure that they are free to conduct their legitimate activities without hindrance or fear of reprisals.
Although the Declaration is not a formal treaty and does not compel states to report on their compliance with it, the UN has appointed a special representative to monitor the implementation of the Declaration. Key articles in the Declaration include the right to be informed about fundamental rights and freedoms, and to meet and assemble peacefully for the purpose of promoting universally recognized human rights. The Declaration also confirms the right to criticize government policy and action in relation to human rights, and the right to adequate protection and an effective remedy when an individuals rights are violated as a result of efforts to promote fundamental rights and freedoms.
The Organization of American States (OAS) has agreed to recognize and support the work carried out by Human Rights Defenders and their valuable contribution to the promotion, observance, and protection of fundamental rights and freedoms in the Americas in resolutions adopted by its General Assembly every year since 1999.
In order to ensure that the expressions of political will set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the OAS resolutions are translated into concrete actions and policies aimed at protecting human rights defenders and allowing them to work freely without hindrance, Amnesty International has urged all governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to adopt its eleven recommendations on human rights defenders.
by Amnesty International

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