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Project: Protection regime - Security paradigms in the context of political violence against human rights defenders

In recent decades, there has been a marked increase in political violence in Latin America against critical actors such as human rights organisations, environmental activists, social leaders, journalists and trade unionists.  They are faced with attacks on their lives, threats, repressive policies and legislation aimed at restricting and/or criminalising their activities and scope for action. The perpetrators of such attacks are both state and non-state actors, who seek to restrict civil and political liberties through various forms of intimidation and violence. All of these attacks have been characterised by structural impunity.

In attempts to respond to this situation of risk and vulnerability in restrictive contexts and to provide instruments of protection to those who are victims of such violence, various legal instruments and regulations have been created and adopted at international and domestic levels. Among these is the renowned and pioneering United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1999.

In this context, over the last 15 years, there has been a gradual development of regulations, declarations, protocols, laws, national protection programmes, and jurisprudence of international courts to protect and safeguard the lives of activists and social leaders and the fundamental right to defend Human Rights. All of these instances highlight the obligation and responsibility of the state in this task.

As a result of the emergence of this legal framework and together with the demands of national and international human rights organisations, several Latin American governments have created laws and protection programmes to protect human rights defenders and other vulnerable groups, such as journalists and trade unionists. These measures have been widely criticised in terms of their scope, objectives and short- and long-term effectiveness. At the same time, due to the shortcomings of state initiatives, activists have sought their own means of protection. Together, these governmental and non-governmental mechanisms and strategies lead to the emergence of the so-called "Protection Regime", composed of various legal and policy instruments based on different perspectives and paradigms of protection and security.

In this context, the project poses the following questions: What are the main dynamics and modalities of violence against human rights defenders and other critical civil society actors that can be identified in the current Latin American context? What are the characteristics, contradictions and challenges of the different protection paradigms in responding to the victims of such violence?



  • Dr. Rosario Figari Layús. Doctoral student. Peace Studies at the University of Giessen
  • Prof. Dr. Stefan Peters. Chair for Peace Studies at the Faculty of Law at the University of Gießen