Costa Rican Indigenous land rights activist assassinated by gunmen

Sergio Rojas indigenous land activist is pictured during a interview in Salitre, Buenos Aires de Puntarenas, Costa Rica, October 2, 2015. Courtesy of La Nacion via REUTERS

A well-known Costa Rican indigenous land rights activist was gunned down on Monday night.

Sergio Rojas was at his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre, about 200 km (124 miles) south of the capital, San Jose, when the attack happened late on Monday, the office of President Carlos Alvarado said, calling the killing “regrettable.”

According to a press release, Rojas was assassinated by armed gunmen who shot him as many as 15 times at around 9:15 pm in his home in Yeri. It appears the armed assailant entered the back of Sergio’s home. Neighbors called 911. Over an hour later police arrived. Eventually members of the Red Cross entered and confirmed that he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

The Tico Times reports, an investigation into the murder has been initiated, led by the country’s Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) in collaboration with National Police. 

Alvarado said he has asked the Public Security Ministry (MSP) to provide all necessary support to OIJ to aid the investigation.

MSP officers maintain a presence at the location of Sergio Rojas’s apparent murder. (Via Casa Presidencial. )

Rojas was President of the Association for the Development of the Indigenous Territory of Salitre and coordinator of the National Front of Indigenous Peoples (FRENAP) in Costa Rica and was a staunch defender of the Bribri of Saltire Indigenous people who have been fighting for years to regain their rights to over 12,000 hectares of land in southern Costa Rica pledged to them by a 1938 government agreement, according to a 2014 teleSUR report.

In 2012, Rojas was shot at six times in an apparent assassination attempt near the reserve but escaped the shooting unscathed.

Reuters reports, in 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the government to provide Bribri and Teribe people with protection, arguing they were at risk because of actions taken to recover their lands.

Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight ethnic groups, with occupation and encroachment on their land by ranchers causing conflict since the 1960s.

Farmers, angered in a land dispute, burned down the home of an indigenous family in Salitre, a Bribrí indigenous reserve in south-central Costa Rica, July 5, 2014. (The Tico Times)

“He [Rojas] made a lot of enemies over the years,” said Sonia Suárez, a schoolteacher in Salitre.

In a statement, Costa Rica’s ombudsman said Rojas had requested further police protection on Friday after he and other members of his organization said they were shot at in connection with their “recovery” of a farm on Bribri land.

The Central American country has for years struggled to mediate land-right disputes between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

Costa Rica’s 1977 Indigenous Law prohibits the sale of indigenous lands, but is not clear on what to do in cases where land within reserves was already farmed by outsiders.

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