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Case History: Sabino Romero Izarra

Status: 
Killed
About the situation

On 3 March 2013, Mr Sabino Romero Izarra was shot and killed while travelling on a road in the Sierra de Perijá, Zulia State. His wife sustained injuries as a result of the attack.

About Sabino Romero Izarra

Sabino Romero Izarra Sabino Romero Izarra was a prominent defender of the rights of the indigenous Yukpa community, including peacefully campaigning and mobilising against the expansion of large-scale mining developments on indigenous lands. Prior to his killing the human rights defender was continuously subject to acts of harassment, threats and criminalisation, as a result of his work to promote and protect land and indigenous rights in Venezuela.

6 March 2013
Killing of human rights defender and indigenous leader Mr Sabino Romero Izarra

On 3 March 2013, Yukpa Chief and land and indigenous rights defender Mr Sabino Romero Izarra was shot and killed while travelling on a road in the Sierra de Perijá, Zulia State. His wife sustained injuries as a result of the attack.

Sabino Romero Izarra was a prominent defender of the rights of the indigenous Yukpa community, including peacefully campaigning and mobilising against the expansion of large-scale mining developments on indigenous lands. Prior to his killing the human rights defender was continuously subject to acts of harassment, threats and criminalisation, as a result of his work to promote and protect land and indigenous rights in Venezuela.

On 3 March 2013, at approximately 7pm, Sabino Romero Izarra and his wife were travelling on the Tokuko road in the Sierra de Perijá as they made their way to vote in an indigenous election, when they were set upon by a group of reported hit men. Sabino Romero Izarra was shot and killed, while his wife was injured.

The Sierra de Perijá is a mountain range located in Zulia State on the Colombian border. Cattle ranches and a large coal mine known as “Carbon de Guasare”, a joint venture between the Venezuelan Government and a number of foreign companies, are located in the area. Indigenous groups, including the Yukpa, claim the Sierra de Perijá as ancestral territory and have been fighting for recognition of their ancestral rights during the past 50 years.

Sabino Romero Izarra was actively involved in this struggle, including by holding peaceful direct actions such as the occupation of indigenous lands controlled by cattle ranchers. He was also involved in peaceful mobilisations to protest against large-scale mining in the area, much of which is covered by cloud forest.

As a result of his work, Sabino Romero Izarra was continuously threatened, harassed and judicially persecuted. In 2012, the 109 year-old father of Sabino Romero Izarra, Mr José Manuel Romero, was killed as a result of being severely beaten. To date, no-one has been brought to justice for this killing, believed to have been perpetrated by the owner of a local ranch.

In 2009, following the occupation of a ranch in Chaktapa, Zulia State, by two communities, including that of Sabino Romero Izarra, the human rights defender was detained for 18 months, accused of being responsible for the killing of three indigenous persons during the occupation. On 14 October 2009, during a national radio programme, Deputy Minister for the Environment Sergio Rodriguez reportedly accused Sabino Romero Izarra of stealing cattle, burning the houses of Yukpa families and using the land title struggle “for his own benefit”. In addition, the human rights defender received a number of death threats, while his home was reportedly raided on a number of occasions by army officers.

Front Line Defenders condemns the killing of Sabino Romero Izarra, which it believes to be motivated by his legitimate and peaceful work as a land and indigenous rights defender and leader. Front Line Defenders also expresses serious concern for the security and physical and psychological integrity of the wife of Sabino Romero Izarra, as well as other indigenous rights defenders in the Sierra de Perijá.