This article examines the relationship between violence, insecurity and human rights in Latin America. It explores the context in which debates on citizen security emerged, the challenges that this context presented for human rights defenders and the strategies they have adopted in response to these challenges. The authors argue that current debates cannot be understood in isolation from the continent’s long legacy of violence and repression. Security agencies still reproduce authoritarian structures and practices of impunity. ‘Dual societies’ prevail, in which the privileged see the job of the police as protecting them from the poor, who are stigmatised as criminals. Such views engender reactionary responses to insecurity that deepen segregation and victimisation. The authors outline a broader approach to citizen security based on inclusive policies protecting the rights of all citizens, premised on human rights as a condition of citizen security.