Following information received in recent years by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) through public hearings and visits, criminal law is allegedly being used against human rights defenders in some countries in retaliation for their work in defending and promoting human rights. Regarding this issue, the Commission, in its Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Americas, expressed its concern regarding the issue of criminalization, understood as opening groundless criminal investigations or judicial actions against human rights defenders which not only has a chilling effect on their work, but can also paralyze their efforts to defend human rights since their time, resources, and energy must be devoted to their own defense.
As noted by the Commission, criminalization of the defense of human rights is a complex phenomenon that may be perpetrated in different ways, by both state and individual actors. According to the information received by the IACHR, in some States both public officials and private individuals –including businesses or employees of private companies, for example– reportedly use criminal law to subject human rights defenders to legal proceedings in order to repress or discourage social protest or criticism of public officials. Often, these cases are said to be based on criminal charges devised in ways that run contrary to international law. Moreover, in some States, legal bodies reportedly issue precautionary measures in criminal cases, such as pretrial detention or bond, presumably in order to discourage and restrict the efforts of human rights defenders during critical junctures in the causes they are defending.
Given the seriousness of the situation, the IACHR Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders published a questionnaire of consultation with States and civil society for the elaboration of a report on the the Criminalization of Human Rights Defenders through the Misuse of Criminal Law.
The answers must be sent here before October 16, 2014 with the following words in the Subject: Questionnaire on Criminalization.