Indigenous leader killed and legislation to protect rights defenders archived in Costa Rica


On 18th March 2019, Bribri indigenous leader Sergio Rojas Ortiz was shot and killed in his home in the Salitre Indigenous Territory. According to human rights organisation Forest Peoples Programme, neighbours heard 15 gunshots fired during the attack.Sergio Rojas was a coordinator of the Frente Nacional de Pueblos Indígenas (National Front of Indigenous People - FRENAPI). His murder took place shortly after he had gone to the prosecutor’s office to denounce threats and attacks against the Bribri people. In 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had adopted a resolution asking Costa Rica to grant precautionary measures in favour of members of the Teribe and Bribri indigenous peoples in Salitre—including Sergio Rojas—given the risks they faced.

In a related development, on 20th May 2019, 56 civil society organisations published a joint statement asking for urgent measures to protect rights defenders. The statement highlighted that a first step could be taken in the Legislative Assembly by approving legislative proposal No. 19.610 to modify Costa Rica’s "Law for the Protection of Human Rights Activists". The proposal would increase the penalties for attacks on rights defenders. However, on 4th June 2019, deputies voted against an extension to the deadline for discussion of the project, allowing it to be automatically archived.


In the mid-year meeting of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), Iary Gómez, general manager of the Extra media group, presented a brief on the attacks and threats to freedom of expression in Costa Rica. In his presentation, Gómez highlighted recent cases where regulation may have overly restricted the content published by news outlets. In addition, the statement underscored a regulatory initiative against false news which, Gómez argued, could be used to prosecute journalists by political and economic groups in disagreement with denunciations and criticisms.