HRDs at risk protecting environmental, indigenous and women's rights
Human rights defenders (HRDs) work at great risk of threats, attacks, intimidation and harassment for their efforts to address pressing issues in the country, such as environmental conservation, as well as indigenous and women's rights protection. The cases below illustrate the dangers HRDs in Guatemala have faced over the last several months.
On 3rd April 2017, unidentified men fired at a vehicle parked in front of the home of environmental and indigenous rights activist, Pedro Rafael Maldonado Flores, in Guatemala City. Maldonado was thankfully not injured in the attack. The HRD works with Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social de Guatemala (Legal, Environmental and Social Action Centre of Guatemala), focusing on environmental issues and indigenous communities’ rights. This is not the first time Maldonado has been targeted; in 2015, he received death threats through his Twitter account.
On 15th May 2017, Costa Rican activist Shanon Moreno was kidnapped by armed men in Guatemala who reportedly sexually assaulted her. Moreno joined a Guatemalan feminist movement to demand justice after the death of 41 girls in a youth home. Though the attack has not been directly linked to her work, her colleagues claim that the attack aims to silence activists and create fear among members of the feminist movement.
At the time of writing, HRD Abelino Chub Caal, who was detained in February 2017, remains in prison. Civil society in the country has joined forces on his behalf, organising a social media campaign - #LibertadAbelino - to demand his release.
In another development, on 10th May 2017 a court issued a positive decision on the case involving twelve community leaders who were accused of aggression against the National Police in 2014 during a protest. The court found the community leaders innocent of every charge as the Prosecutor's Office could not support the accusations with enough evidence.
On 27th May 2017, Carlos Maaz Coc, a land rights activist, was shot dead during a peaceful protest. The protest started after the Government of Guatemala left the negotiations with the Gremial de Pescadores Artesanales (Artisan Fishermen's Guild) over mining activities in the area that are negatively impacting the fishing industry. Guatemalan authorities have denied that Coc was killed during the protest.
Some progress has been made in prosecuting perpetrators of murders and attacks against journalists in Guatemala. For example, Byron Eduardo Felipe Morales was sentenced to 40 years in prison for the murder of journalist Víctor Valdez Cardona in June 2016.
Rolando Antonio Cruz Jiménez was recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for the murder of cameraman Felipe David Munguía Jiménez in September 2016.