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Sun May 9, 2021, 03:07 AM

UN rights chief raises alarm over threats to human rights groups in Latin America and Caribbean

Heidi J. T. Exner | U. Calgary Law School, CA
MAY 8, 2021 10:58:17 AM

The United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday expressed strong concerns about a “rising number of threats, attacks and attempts to undermine and delegitimise independent national human rights institutions“ in Latin America and the Caribbean. Incidents reportedly include threats or harassment against various human rights institutions or their staff in South America, attacks on the property and staff of human rights organisations in Haiti, and attempts to usurp state-level leadership in Mexico and Guatemala.

The list of reported incidents is alarming and appears to be systemic in some places. For example, incidents in Peru include budget cuts and removing the immunity of the national human rights head. Similarly, in Ecuador and Uruguay reports include public statements intended to discredit human rights work. Bachelet sounded an alarm, stressing that these institutions play an even more essential role in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In all, reports of complaints from “almost a dozen countries” are “striking testimony to the expanding trend and magnitude of the problem,” Bachelet said. She acknowledged that human rights leaders can pose problems for government by virtue of their mandates but noted that democratic societies should welcome their work to advance protection for their people. As the former president of Chile, she called on respective authorities to investigate all of the reported incidents. The statement noted that these human rights institutions play important roles working alongside the High Commissioner’s Office and contribute significantly towards the UN’s human rights mechanisms, hence they “must not face any form of abuse or interference, especially political pressure.”


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