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Costa Rica: Murder of indigenous leader Sergio Rojas Ortiz condemned by UN experts

26 March 2019


GENEVA (26 March 2019) – The murder of Costa Rican human rights defender and indigenous leader Sergio Rojas Ortiz, has been condemned by UN human rights experts*.

Mr. Rojas had, for more than four decades, tirelessly defended the rights of indigenous peoples against the illegal occupation of their territories.

“We demand that the Costa Rican authorities identify everyone involved in this reprehensible crime and bring them to justice in accordance with the law,” the experts said.

Mr. Rojas was shot dead in his home in the community of Yeri on the night of 18 March 2019, shortly after he had gone to the prosecutor's office to complain about previous attacks and threats. In this tense climate, he had chosen to live alone to avoid endangering his family.

The UN experts are urging Costa Rica to also address the underlying causes of the violence, in particular ensuring indigenous peoples’ rights to territories and resources.

Costa Rican law provides that indigenous territories are exclusive to them. The Bribri people have filed dozens of legal and administrative appeals to seek application of the law. Faced with the lack of implementation of eviction decisions in their favor and the stagnation of judicial proceedings, they decided to take action to recover the territory. All of this has given rise to constant attacks from landholders.

In 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urged the Costa Rican authorities to adopt all measures necessary to guarantee the safety of the Bribri in Salitre. However, the State has failed to investigate, prosecute and punish those responsible for ongoing attacks.

“The Costa Rican authorities must immediately provide culturally appropriate protection to members of indigenous peoples who are at risk simply for defending their rights.”

The experts said indigenous families trying to recover their land faced imminent danger;including the Bribri communities of Palmital, Río Azul and Puente and the Brörán people in the Térraba territory.

“We also urge the Costa Rican Government to act urgently to inform, educate and sensitise people living in the Canton of Buenos Aires and the country’s population more generally on the specific rights of indigenous peoples,” the experts said.

The experts are in contact with the Costa Rican authorities on the issues.


(*) The UN experts: Mr. Michel Forst (France),Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (The Philippines),  Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;Ms Agnes Callamard, (France),Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;

The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Costa Rica

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