GUATEMALA: ENOUGH! STOP THE ESCALATION OF KILLINGS
Attacks on defenders in Guatemala are rapidly escalating. Seven human rights defenders have been killed within a month. Three men from the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA) and four men from the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) were violently murdered. These killings occurred shortly after President Jimmy Morales discredited and stigmatized CODECA’s activities in a public speech on 2 May.
We must call on authorities to stop this wave of killings.
PLEASE CONTACT THE AUTHORITIES IMMEDIATELY, URGING THEM TO:
Initiate a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation into the killings of Florencio Pérez, Alejandro Hernández, Luis Arturo Marroquin, and Francisco Munguia from CODECA and 3 other human rights defenders from the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA). The investigation should include the possibility that the attack was in retaliation for their legitimate activities as human rights defenders. The recently adopted General Instruction to investigate crimes against human rights defenders must be implemented in order to effectively document and prevent further attacks;
Take all appropriate measures to guarantee the safety of all CODECA and CCDA members at risk, in accordance with their wishes;
Condemn this wave of killings, publicly recognize the important and legitimate work of all human rights defenders in Guatemala and refrain from using language that discredits, stigmatizes, abuses, disparages or discriminates against them.
The wave of attacks began on 9 May with the killing of a CODECA coordinator. Throughout May and into June, 6 more men were killed. For example, on 3 June, Florencio Pérez Nájera and Alejandro Hernández García went to the community of Llano Largo, Department of Jutiapa to participate in a CODECA meeting. They did not return home. In the morning of 4 June, their families found their bodies near the entrance of their homestead (caserío), killed by apparent machete wounds. As leaders of CODECA, they defended the land, territory and labour rights in their communities. These killings occurred shortly after President Jimmy Morales discredited and stigmatized CODECA’s activities in a public speech on 2 May.
There have been seven deadly attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala in less than a month, causing concern for the safety of all defenders across the country. All killings took place in a context of recurring violence against defenders working on rights related to land, territory and the environment. The recent killings include Florencio Pérez Nájera, Alejandro Hernández García, Luis Arturo Marroquín, Francisco Munguia (CODECA) and Ramon Choc Sacrab, José Can Xol and Mateo Chamám Paau from the CCDA.
+ Additional information
Human rights defenders in Guatemala carry out their activities in an extremely hostile environment, particularly those working on rights related to land, territory and the environment. They face continuous threats, intimidation, attacks, smear campaigns and stigmatization.
In 2017, the Guatemalan NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) registered 496 attacks against human rights defenders. In May 2018, the Attorney General issued an internal General Instruction containing guidelines to effectively investigate attacks against human rights defenders. The General Instruction must now be implemented throughout the country.
The CCDA is a campesino organization founded in 1982 that works to promote access to land as well as the labour rights of Mayan campesinos. It is concerned about the impacts of mining and industrial agriculture on Mayan land rights and the environment. CCDA has reported attacks and intimidations. In June 2016, Indigenous leader Daniel Choc Pop was killed in San Juan Tres Ríos. Several attacks against their office and against leaders were registered in June 2017. In May 2018 José Can Xol and Mateo Chamám Paau, two CCDA local leaders, were murdered in the communities of Choctún Basilá and San Juan Tres Ríos. Both were involved in protecting and defending their communities in a long-standing land tenure conflict. They had participated in the negotiation and dialogue roundtable to find solutions, together with national authorities, to the multiple land tenure conflicts affecting communities in the region.
CODECA works with peasant farmers in defense of their land rights and protection of the environment and has been critical of corruption within the Guatemalan government. In May 2018, Luis Arturo Marroquin, member of the national coordination of CODECA was fatally shot in San Luis Jilotepeque, in the central eastern part of Guatemala. This incident took place a week after President Jimmy Morales discrediting and stigmatizing CODECA’s activities in a public speech on 2 May. Three more CODECA defenders have been killed since, leading to rising concern that CODECA has been targeted for its views.
In 2014, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered Guatemala to adopt and implement a comprehensive public policy for the protection of human rights defenders in the judgment Human Rights Defender vs Guatemala. Despite some progress, the process to create the public policy hasn’t concluded yet. Impunity remains the rule in most cases of threats and attacks against Guatemalan defenders.
The justice system is also regularly misused to criminalize human rights defenders, in an attempt to break up movements and organizations, wearing down the defenders and removing them from the public arena. For more information, see the Amnesty International report “We are defending the land with our blood: Defenders of the land, territory and environment in Honduras and Guatemala” and Americas: State Protection Mechanisms for Human Rights Defenders