For over two decades, CEJIL has been working with human rights defenders, focusing on empowering them, strengthening their work and knowledge, as well as assisting them with our experience and expertise.

We believe that the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) is an important tool in guaranteeing the defense of rights on the continent. Thus, we have accompanied defenders working at the local level, assisting them in the use of the tools provided by the international human rights framework, particularly the IAHRS, which a few years ago was terra incognita, or an unknown area, in the region.

Human rights defenders in the American continent constitute one of the most vibrant and dedicated civil society groups in the struggles for equality and justice, often informed by their own experiences as victims and/or relatives of victims. Their work and efforts have provided the human rights movement in the region with exceptional strength. We have always felt a part of that movement and continue working to keep it alive and strong.


Unfortunately, we have experienced the murders of multiple very close colleagues. Among them are Monsignor Gerardi, ex officio member of CEJIL’s Board of Directors; our friends Digna Ochoa and Berta Cáceres, and our colleagues Joe Castillo and Eduardo Umaña who, although not directly linked to our work, worked on common causes related to the rule of law. We have often accompanied these cases at the international level.

Some of these cases have reached the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and have led to judgments that have changed the legal landscape of the region. For example, in Manuel Cepeda’s case, the Court considered that the effective investigation of threats against defenders or those who have protective measures is key to preventing future attacks on the life and integrity of defenders. In the case of defender Jeannette Kawas, the Court recognized the indivisibility of civil, political, and environmental rights, finding that the defense of the environment is a right in itself. The Court also explicitly recognized that environmentalists are human rights defenders. In the judgment of defender Carlos Luna’s case, the Court set guidelines on what a national public policy to protect human rights defenders should address.

These innovative judgments are the result of creative strategic litigation, aimed at seeking justice, truth, and reparations in the face of our colleagues‘ murders as well as to achieve measures to prevent threats against defenders.


CEJIL has contributed to strengthening the work of human rights defenders through important publications, aimed at providing our fellow defenders with research, manuals and tools useful for their work. These tools include SUMMA, a comprehensive database that provides user-friendly access to systematized IAHRS jurisprudence and standards, thus making key knowledge for the protection of rights more accessible.


One of our main missions has been defending human rights defenders, including indigenous leaders, women defenders, defenders of the land, as well as those that fight repression, torture, and enforced disappearance, among others. We have worked to protect and expand the capacities of our colleagues, so that they can continue defending the rights of others. CEJIL has represented human rights defenders in order to obtain precautionary and provisional measures (protection measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Court) on their behalf.

Our efforts have not only achieved strong measures of physical protection, but also political measures to promote and protect the right to defend rights, and ensure our colleagues are able to work. We have also taken actions to ensure that States effectively and adequately investigate the structural causes of violence against human rights defenders in order to prevent future attacks.

CEJIL has a long record of work on the development of standards, processes, and mechanisms to investigate attacks against defenders. For example, in 2009, thanks to our strategic litigation, the IACHR ordered Colombian authorities for the first time to hand over illegally collected information by the country’s intelligence agencies on human rights defenders. More recently, on May 4, 2018, the Public Prosecutor of Guatemala approved a protocol to investigate crimes against human rights defenders, following an advocacy project started together with UDEFEGUA in 2014.

Additionally, we have promoted innovative strategies, such as the creation of the GAIPE, a group of independent experts mandated with the investigation of the murder of our colleague Berta Cáceres. On a broader international scale, we are leading a project to create the La Esperanza Protocol, an international protocol for the effective investigation of threats against human rights defenders, journalists and other persons linked to public interest. This international protocol will in turn promote effective national policies that expand the working capacity of human rights defenders.


The International Advisory Group of Experts (GAIPE by its Spanish acronym) was formed in November 2016, at the request of the family of Lenca defender and leader Berta Cáceres, with the support of COPINH, the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ by its acronym in Spanish), and CEJIL. The mission of the GAIPE was to lead a rigorous investigation with technical criteria on the context and the events linked to the murder of Berta and the attempted murder of defender Gustavo Castro on March 2, 2016.

The initiative sought to provide an alternative to the lack of adequate investigation by the Honduran authorities of the murder of a defender who had been previously and repeatedly threatened, and who had protective measures issued by the IACHR. The GAIPE was supported by numerous national and international organizations. After months of work, it issued a report, entitled “Dam Violence: the plan that killed Berta Cáceres”, which gathered, analyzed and systematized more than 40,000 pages of telephone records, as well as chats, text messages, GPS, emails extracted from cell phones, and other evidence seized as part of the criminal process. The report sheds light on the context and possible theories of criminal responsibility for the murder.

As a result of this initiative, on the second anniversary of the murder of Berta Cáceres, Honduran authorities arrested the director of the company DESA, who had been identified by the GAIPE as the alleged mastermind of the crime.


A recent report by Frontline Defenders shows that in 2017, murders of defenders in the Americas made up more than two thirds of the world total (312). Although our region is one of the most dangerous to defend human rights in, there are many people who continue to fight for them. The following are a variety of significant examples that illustrate this work.


The general coordinator of COPINH and daughter of the well-known environmental defender Berta Cáceres talks about what it means for her to be a human rights defender and what the situation in Honduras is like for people who, like her, defend human rights in the country.



Natasha Jiménez, human rights activist and consultant on trans and intersex issues, and general coordinator of MULABI / Latin American Sexuality and Rights Space, talks about the advisory opinion requested by Costa Rica to the Inter-American Court in 2016, on state obligations in relation to the change of name, gender identity and rights of same-sex couples unions.



The Jose Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR by its Spanish acronym), an emblematic Colombian organization working for the defense of human rights, has worked with CEJIL in prominent cases such as the taking of the Palace of Justice or La Rochela, among others. Since the beginning of 1990, most members of CCAJAR have been victims of continuous threats, attacks, surveillance, wiretapping, acts of harassment, public defamation of their work, and public accusations that increase of their activism. Defenders Alirio Uribe Muñoz and Rafael Barrios were both victims of death threats.

CCAJAR DocumentaryCCAJAR Documentary


Eloísa Barrios has been struggling for more than 15 years to find justice for the murders of 11 of her family members – 4 brothers and 7 nephews – results of extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations by Venezuelan State agents. CEJIL accompanies Eloísa in her case before the IASHR, which is still awaiting a response from the State. In a fantastic journalistic initiative of the platform “La vida de nos”, Eloisa tells her story and commitment to fight.


We have participated in hundreds of missions, trials, and events. We have done this work for 25 years, and we continue to stand strong with defenders, to protect, to amplify voices, and to show that people matter.

Those we work with have dignity and rights, are part of a community, and through our work at CEJIL, we want to ensure that a wide array of voices are heard, facilitate spaces for discourse and debate, and guarantee that the limits are always pushed to prevent the shrinking of civic space. We are trying not only to amplify voices, but also to expand their reach at the international level. We are working to generate mechanisms, standards, and social mobilizations that stop policies, laws, and practices that silence defenders, such as killings, harassment, the breakup of non-governmental organizations, and hinder the possibility of standing in solidarity with others.

The more these spaces are closed at the national level, the greater the need is to access an international body. Helping to sustain the participation of civil society at the international level remains a key tool in the fight against corruption, inequality and the violation of rights against so many people. These threats are ongoing in the region, and it is our greatest challenge and commitment to continue our work so that the voices of human rights defenders continue to grow.

Please, support our work and help make human rights a reality for all across the Americas.

Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional · Center for Justice and International Law · Centro pela Justiça e o Direito Internacional · Centre pour la Justice et le Droit International · Pemonton Kowantok Wacüpe Yuwanin Pataset