Public Statement Against Impunity in the Murder of Sergio Rojas Ortiz, Bribri Leader

    Justice must be served in Costa Rica

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    Joint Public Declaration:

    The undersigned individuals and groups, all members of organizations, communities, social or academic projects, committed to the common good, social welfare, human rights and the rights of Indigenous Peoples, make public our concern and our demands in the circumstances that have been taking place, without the due attention of the judicial authorities and the Costa Rican State, in relation to the investigation of the murder of the leader Sergio Rojas Ortiz.

    Considering that: On March 18, 2019, Sergio Rojas Ortiz, a Costa Rican bribri, community leader, defender of indigenous rights, was assassinated by 15 bullets, in his home, in the community of Yeri de Salitre.

    Sergio was a direct and individual beneficiary of precautionary measures (measures MC321 – 12), imposed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to the State of Costa Rica since April 2015, precisely because he had been systematically threatened with death and for having suffered other attacks since 2012, all related to their participation in the recovery of indigenous lands in the canton of Buenos Aires de Puntarenas.

    The murder of Sergio Rojas occurred 4 years after the precautionary measures were established by the IACHR, without the Costa Rican State taking the necessary actions to respond effectively to those measures.

    A few days after the murder was committed, on March 22, 2019, the IACHR repudiated the crime against Sergio Rojas Ortiz and reminded the Costa Rican State that the indigenous leader was in a serious situation of risk, hence since 2015 he was granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Human Rights System, which were established to guarantee his life and personal integrity.

    In addition, the IACHR emphasized the importance of a timely investigation of the sources of risk to the life of the indigenous leader and the members of the Teribe and Bribri de Salitre peoples, as well as including as a line of investigation of the murder.

    The hypothesis that this crime could have been committed because of Sergio Rojas Ortiz’s activity as a human rights defender. One year after the homicide, on March 18, 2020, the IACHR again pronounced itself, this time on the situation of violence, threats, and harassment suffered by indigenous leaders and human rights defenders in the context of the investigation of the murder of Sergio Rojas Ortiz.

    At this time, the IACHR warned about the lack of significant progress in the prosecution of those responsible for the murder of the indigenous leader and made a strong appeal to the Costa Rican State regarding its obligation to investigate this case in a serious, thorough and impartial manner, which would allow for the timely punishment of those responsible intellectual and material.

    In September 2020, 18 months after the murder, the Public Ministry’s request to dismiss the respective investigation was released. This request was made under the allegation of the impossibility of solving the case, due to the repeated refusal of the Criminal Court of Buenos Aires in Puntarenas to authorize the necessary searches to advance in the process of clarifying the crime.

    A few days later, on September 25, 2020, the United Nations (UN) made a vehement call on the Costa Rican state not to archive the investigation. In addition, he invoked and recalled the statements made by Michael Forst (former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders), Victoria Tauli Corpuz (former Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples) and Agnès Callamard (Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions , summary or arbitrary) regarding the importance of the Costa Rican authorities being able to identify and punish the intellectual and material authors of the murder of the indigenous leader.

    Thanks to the calls of the UN and the IACHR, as well as of various international and national human rights organizations, academics and members of the different Indigenous Peoples of the country, and after a hearing with the lawyer and the family of Sergio Rojas, held on December 3, the Criminal Court of Buenos Aires, on January 14, 2021, rejected the request for dismissal of the case and resolved that the investigation should continue in the light of “due diligence.”

    On January 21 and 22 of this year, the digital communication medium “” published several reports based on judicial file 19-000178-0990-PE, corresponding to the case of the murder of Sergio Rojas Ortiz, in which special reference is made to the report prepared by the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ).

    This publication is made despite the fact that it is an ongoing criminal investigation process, for which the law establishes confidentiality. The published journalistic notes provide a series of details of the judicial investigation that show a clear, suspicious and intentional leak of the information in this file protected by the judicial authorities, which could have a negative impact on the development of the investigation, at the time exposing informants to additional risks.

    In January 2020, the Sub-Commission of the Special Permanent Commission on Human Rights of the Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica in charge of analyzing file # 21360, issued a report on the case (file No. 21360), in which Costa Rican authorities so that, among other important actions, they redouble their efforts to guarantee the effective and immediate protection of the rights of the Indigenous Peoples and the people that make up their communities, to ensure the incorporation of the multiethnic and multicultural perspective in the application of justice and to stop violence and impunity, as well as all acts of discrimination and racism in the country.

    At the same time, through said report, the Sub-Commission vehemently called on the Attorney General’s Office to continue with the investigation of the murder of Sergio Rojas Ortiz and to apply all the expertise at its disposal to obtain the evidence that identify those responsible and allow the State to punish the crime committed against the indigenous leader.

    All the events referred to above reinforce the evidence and the conviction that the murder of Sergio Rojas Ortiz was a political crime produced in a context of increasing physical and symbolic violence, which occurs due to the lack of action of the State in matters of justiciability of the human rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially territorial rights.

    These events also generate reasonable doubts about the handling of the case by the judicial authorities, and are particularly worrying because they seem to show an unacceptable trend towards creating conditions for impunity for this crime, which, in addition to constituting an injustice, would irreparably affect the credibility of our Social State of Law.

    In this regard, it corresponds to the Judicial Power to assume a role that guarantees human rights, through the execution of all measures that allow adequate access to justice, especially for populations in vulnerable conditions, as is the case of the Original Peoples.

    Public appeal

    Therefore, given the seriousness of all the events outlined, we publicly state and make an energetic and vehement general appeal, especially to the State authorities and the judicial authorities of the country, in the following terms:

    WE SUPPORT the complaint filed before the Judicial Inspection and the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office for Probity, Transparency and Anti-Corruption by Lic. Óscar Retana, lawyer for the Rojas Lázaro family, to investigate irregularities that violate the Principles of Due Process and Confidentiality in the process, and to punish with all rigor those responsible for leaking the information in file 19-000178-0990-PE to the press.

    WE APPEAL to the State authorities to accept and attend to each and every one of the proposals of the final report of the Sub-Commission of the Permanent Special Commission on Human Rights of the Legislative Assembly of Costa Rica, which analyzed file # 21360.

    WE DEMAND that all procedural principles be guaranteed in this case, especially due process, that it be concluded with the clarification of Sergio’s murder and that real access to justice and reparation be given to Sergio’s family and the Bribri people of Salitre.

    WE REMEMBER the obligation that the Costa Rican State and its institutions have to guarantee the life, physical integrity and rights of the Native Peoples, as well as to give real and timely compliance to the Precautionary Measures and to all current legislation related to the rights of these towns.

    WE DEMAND the articulated action of the different Powers of the Republic so that the conflicts of usurpation of Costa Rican indigenous territories, structural cause of violence in these territories, are addressed and resolved accordingly, in accordance with the human rights of the Indigenous Peoples.

    WE WARN our decision to remain vigilant and faithful to our citizen obligations, so that public institutions respect and act in accordance with the national and international legal framework that protects and guarantees the human rights of Costa Rican Native Peoples, as well as life and justice for its defenders.

    No more impunity!

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