Costa Rica: EI condemns murder of indigenous leader

published 28 March 2019 updated 13 October 2023

Education International has sent out an urgent action appeal to its affiliates condemning the murder of Sergio Rojas Ortiz, an indigenous peoples’ rights activist.

The murder or Sergio Rojas Ortiz, a leader and defender of the Bribri indigenous community, on March 18 has shocked civil rights activists in his native Costa Rica and beyond. Mr. Rojas led a campaign to reclaim indigenous territories - this activity made him the target of numerous threats, which proved fatal as he was executed in his home in Salitre, in the South of Costa Rica.

Trade unions demand investigation

Education International (EI) has joined its affiliates in Costa Rica, ANDE and SEC (National Association of Educators and Costa Rican Union of Education Workers), in strongly condemning this act.

Head of EI David Edwards has written to the President of the Republic of Costa Rica, Carlos Alvarado Quesada, demanding justice and a prompt and impartial investigation. The global union federation also calls for the protection of the integrity of indigenous peoples struggling to recover their lands.

On March 27 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Costa Rica said the investigation on the murder of Rojas had “the highest priority on the Government’s agenda.”

A history of violence against indigenous people

The teachers union ANDE, Education International’s affiliate in the country, regrets that “the governments of Costa Rica have not paid enough attention to the year-long conflict taking place in the indigenous territories of the south [of Costa Rica]”.

Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight ethnic groups. Only 37% of the total area of Salitre, the territory of the Bribri ethnic group, established by law as ancestral territories is occupied by indigenous peoples.

In April 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called on Costa Rica to adopt measures to guarantee the life and integrity of the Teribe and Bribri Indigenous Peoples, who are exposed because of their attempts to recover their lands. The IACHR intervened following the persecution of Sergio Rojas as an indigenous rights’ defender. Arrested in 2015, he had since been under constant threats and had already suffered several attacks.

On August 9, 2016, as part of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, Sergio Rojas and other indigenous leaders denounced the Costa Rican government's lack of commitment to the rights of indigenous peoples. A press conference was held in the ANDE premises.

Following the killing of Rojas, Costa Rica, who ratified the ILO Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Declaration of Indigenous Peoples, invited the IACHR to visit indigenous territories in order to follow-up on measures ordered to protect indigenous communities.

UN human rights experts have condemned the murder of Rojas and have demanded that “the Costa Rican authorities identify everyone involved in this reprehensible crime and bring them to justice in accordance with the law.”