Date Published:February 2015
Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) are integral to the promotion of human rights in their communities and in fostering regional stability. However, WHRDs often face violent repercussions for their work—including physical attacks, death threats and assassinations. The danger faced by WHRDs is particularly acute in Mesoamerica, where there were 1,375 reported attacks against WHRDs in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala between 2012 and 2013. When assessing how to protect WHRDs, it is important to understand their unique vulnerabilities, which stem from their gender and the subject of their advocacy efforts.
Despite a strong normative international legal framework, available regional protection mechanisms through the Organization of American States(OAS)and the nascent development of national laws, Mesoamerican WHRDs work under perilous conditions while their persecutors operate with impunity. While it is the primary responsibility of States to protect WHRDs,the United States has a legal and moral duty to assist this vulnerable population when their own governments are perpetrators of the abuse or fail to provide protection from attacks. This duty arises from UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and its progeny, which embody principles of binding customary international law, as well as the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, which represents the government’s express commitment to empower women around the world as agents of peace and stability.