The murders of indigenous leaders in Costa Rica have been increasing in recent years.

These events are a tragedy of the highest social proportion; that is, terrible events in the struggle of Indigenous Peoples for autonomy and their human rights. The Costa Rican government has been accused of not doing enough to protect these leaders and stop the violence against them. And so far, there has been no justice for the victims. This is a clear violation of human rights and has international organizations concerned.

They demand that the Costa Rican authorities identify the material and intellectual authors of the crimes and bring them to justice, in accordance with the law.

Context: indigenous people, land and human rights

In 1977 Costa Rica established a legal framework for the redistribution of ancestral indigenous land occupied by non-indigenous people. However, implementation of the law has been slow and indigenous leaders have conducted peaceful requisitions of the land to return it to the indigenous peoples. The response of the non-indigenous occupants has been more than violent.

Experts are following up on the issue with the authorities. Non-governmental organizations and the United Nations are urging Costa Rica to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the people. In fact, in 2015 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights intervened for the Costa Rican authorities to guarantee the safety of the Bribri people in Salitre. However, the State has failed to carry out adequate investigations. The UN experts consider that Costa Rican authorities should provide immediate culturally appropriate protection to members of Indigenous Peoples at risk for defending their rights.

Assassinations of Indigenous Leaders: Sergio Rojas

Indigenous territories in Costa Rica are becoming increasingly violent. The murder of Sergio Rojas in March 2019 is a clear example of this.

Sergio Rojas was a member of the Uniwak clan of the Bribri people. This people is part of one of the 8 recognized indigenous ethnic groups in Costa Rica. Moreover, Rojas was one of the most important and well known indigenous leaders. He was an indigenous leader of the Bribri tribe and defender of the lands of native peoples. Also, he was part of the Coordination of the National Front of Indigenous Peoples (FRENAPI) and of the Council of Own Authorities Defenders of Mother Earth, as well as of the Development Association of the People of Salitre.

On March 18, 2019, in the evening hours, the national Indigenous leader was assassinated. Victim of multiple gunshots.

Photo: Forest Peoples

Murders of indigenous leaders: Leonel García Segura

While indigenous territories throughout the country denounce land usurpations, they continue to receive threats that frequently end in violent events. The attempted murder of Leonel García Segura is one of many cases that have been reported in Costa Rica. Garcia Segura is part of the Cabecar community and is also a defender and landowner. An indigenous leader who has been actively fighting for his rights and the rights of his people. However, this did not prevent him from being attacked, he suffered machete wounds all over his body. After this event, there were other attacks by non-indigenous people. These included a fire in the Cabécar territory of Chicha Kichá and gunshots in the Bibrí territory of Cabragra.

Jehry Rivera

Jehry Rivera, was a Bröran indigenous leader from the Térraba territory who was shot five times in the back, in the middle of a confrontation over reclaimed land. This assassination in February 2020, meant an attack on the territory of the indigenous peoples for the struggle for the recovery of their lands. The response has been confrontation and the struggle for justice.

The indigenous peoples of Costa Rica have been fighting for their rights and lands for centuries. The struggle has been long and hard, but they have managed to preserve their identity and culture. However, recent years have seen an increase in murders of indigenous leaders, with the perpetrators going free without punishment.

In summary

  • The murder of indigenous leaders in Costa Rica is a major problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Indigenous territories in Costa Rica are becoming increasingly violent. The death of Sergio Rojas, Jehry Rivera or the attempted assassination of Leonel García Segura are a clear example of this.


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