Washington, D.C., August 2, 2010—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) strongly condemns the murder of an indigenous leader and human rights defender of the Wayúu people of Colombia.

According to information the Commission has received, on July 27, 2010, Luis Alfredo Socarrás Pimienta, a Wayúu indigenous leader, dentist, and human rights defender, was killed in Riohacha. The information available indicates that the crime was committed by a hit man who shot him in the doorway of his house and then fled.

In the past year, Socarrás Pimienta had led several demonstrations carried out by the Wayúu people to protest the situation of their individual and collective human rights and to demand a better quality of life for their members. The indigenous leader had also participated in two elections, as candidate of the Polo Democrático Alternativo party for the mayor’s office of the municipality of Manaure, and had managed dental-care campaigns for the communities of the Upper and Middle Guajira Peninsula.

The IACHR notes that Socarrás Pimienta was a recognized indigenous leader and human rights defender of the Wayúu people. Attacks against leaders break down the cohesion of indigenous peoples when it comes to defending their human rights, and undermines their sociocultural integrity. Moreover, acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only violate the defenders’ individual guarantees as persons, but also assault the fundamental role they play in society and generate situations in which all those who benefit from their work are left defenseless. In particular, attacks on those who defend the rights of indigenous peoples undercut efforts to protect, guarantee, and promote the human rights of groups that are especially protected under international human rights law. The IACHR recalls that the work of human rights defenders is an essential component in building a solid and lasting democracy, fully achieving the rule of law, and securing the fundamental guarantees of every human being.

The Commission urges the State of Colombia to investigate the crime committed against the indigenous leader Socarrás Pimienta and to prosecute and punish those who perpetrated and planned the crime. The IACHR also urges the State to attend to the needs for protection and security of those who defend the rights of the indigenous peoples of Colombia, to ensure that crimes such as this one do not happen again.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity without representing any country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.

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