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27 November 2020

Call to end impunity for those responsible for the murder of indigenous peoples’ rights defender Sergio Rojas Ortíz and the serious attacks against other indigenous human rights defenders in Costa Rica

Forest Peoples Program and Front Line Defenders reiterate their deep concern over the decision of the Prosecutor’s Office to abandon the pursuit of justice in the case of the murder of indigenous peoples’ rights defender Sergio Rojas Ortiz and believes that this reflects a situation of structural impunity in Costa Rica. That granting impunity is the official response by the State to the repeated threats, harassment, violence and homicides currently faced by indigenous leaders and human rights defenders is a matter of particular concern and a violation of Costa Rica’s international human rights obligations.

On 18 March 2019, the indigenous leader Sergio Rojas was assassinated in his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre, in the Puntarenas province. He was shot fifteen times. Sergio Rojas was a renowned Bribri leader, who, for more than four decades, defended the rights of indigenous peoples against the illegal occupation of their territories. Since 30 April 2015, Sergio Rojas was a beneficiary of Precautionary Measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

On 24 September 2020, after a brief and inadequate investigation into Sergio Rojas’s murder, and without having identified those responsible, the Prosecutor's Office announced its decision to archive the investigation, guaranteeing impunity for those responsible. Subsequently, the prosecuting body, in contradiction with its international obligation to protect, promote and implement all human rights, finalised its decision by requesting the competent court to dismiss the case.

On 3 December at 13:30, the request for dismissal by the Prosecutor's Office, as well as the arguments of the legal representative of the Rojas Ortiz family, will be heard in an oral hearing before the competent criminal court of Buenos Aires, which will exceptionally hear the case in the court of Justice Tribunal of Pérez Zeledón. We therefore remind the judiciary has a responsibility to ensure that any decision is consistent with the obligations and rights contained in the ACHR. This obligation is even stricter when it comes to safeguarding the rights of specially protected persons for whom there are additional Precautionary Measures. Thus, in compliance with terms of the ACHR, it is the responsibility of the State to respect and guarantee human rights.

Accordingly, the human rights organisations that sign this statement urge the State of Costa Rica to reopen the case of Sergio Rojas Ortiz and fulfil its duty and obligation to investigate, prosecute, and punish all those responsible for his murder, those who took the human rights defender’s life and attacked the integrity of his entire community. This requires addressing the underlying causes of violence in Costa Rica’s human rights record: the massive and illegal occupation of approximately 24 legally titled indigenous territories in the country, some of which are more than 90 percent illegally occupied.

In conclusion, we reiterate our deep concern expressed on 5 October 2020, regarding the fact that, to date, the State of Costa Rica has not brought to justice those responsible for: the ongoing violence against the Bribri and Brörán persons (all of whom are benefiting from precautionary measures of the IACHR), the murder of the indigenous Brörán leader, Jehry Rivera, and the persistent attacks on the lives of the indigenous leaders and defenders Pablo Sibar and Minor Ortíz.

The fight against impunity will continue, as will Sergio's memory!