Latin America was the pioneer region in terms of the implementation of public policies for the protection of HRDs (the first protection programme, worldwide, started in Colombia in 1997, even a year before the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by the UN General Assembly). The same region was a pioneer in passing the first national law on the protection of HRDs (Mexico, 2012).
In both Mesoamerica and South America there have been two types of initiatives to implement these policies. On the one hand, pressure from civil society organisations has been key to getting governments to agree to regulate the protection of HRDs.
On the other hand, the structuring role of the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) must be taken into account. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stipulated the obligation of states to protect human rights defenders through four specific duties:
a.to facilitate the necessary means for human rights defenders to freely carry out their activities;
b.to protect them when they are subject to threats, in order to prevent attacks on their lives and integrity;
c.to refrain from imposing obstacles that hinder their work;
d.to seriously and effectively investigate violations committed against them.
In addition, in two of its judgments, the Court has ordered states to create public policies for the protection of HRDs in three judgments – towards Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has pointed out to the American states the need to take into account a series of parameters to develop a “global protection policy”, beyond “restricting themselves, for example, to providing security schemes for defenders at risk without investigating the origin of the threats to which they have been subjected”.
As of mid-2021, the list of countries with protection policies is as follows:
•Law in force: Mexico, Honduras (IACHR Court ruling) and Peru.
•Decree or sub-national regulation: Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador
•Discussions in force: El Salvador, Guatemala (IACHR Court ruling).
•Previous debates, not currently taken up: Paraguay, Nicaragua (IACHR Court ruling)