Harassment and intimidation of rights defenders and journalists on the rise in Guatemala

Association

As reported on the Monitor, human rights defenders in Guatemala continue to work at great risk of attacks, intimidation and harassment, especially those focusing on environmental, land and indigenous rights protection.

On 7th June 2017, human rights defender Aura Lolita Chavez Ixcaquic was subjected to harassment and intimidation by unknown men. Ixcaquic is the leader of Consejo de Pueblos K’iche’ por la Defensa de la Vida, Madre Naturaleza, Tierra y Territorio, (Council of K'iche' People for the Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Land and Territory) working to protect indigenous communities' land and territories. According to reports from Front Line Defenders, Ixcaquic and other members of her team were escorting a truck carrying illegal wood to report to the authorities when a group of men “threatened them with sexual assault and chased them firing gunshots into the air”. She has been a beneficiary of protection measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights since 2005.

On 29th June 2017, masked and armed men arrived at the offices of Comite Campesino del Altiplano in Coban and attempted to break in. The men demanded that the organisation stop its work protecting local communities. Days before this incident, during a meeting with local communities, unidentified individuals shot several times but no one was injured. 

Centro de Accion Legal, Ambiental y Social de Guatemala (CALAS) has reportedly been a victim of a defamation campaign as a result of its efforts to stop a mining project in San Rafael Las Flores, in the southwest of the country. According to information from Amnesty International, the mining company published information in news outlets claiming that CALAS “ is irresponsible and has not consulted with the communities that they decided to represent”.

As reported on the Monitor, Abelino Chub Caal, a land rights activist who was detained in February 2017, is still in prison despite the social media campaign to demand his release. Caa's hearing was scheduled to take placed on 6th July, during which the judge would determine if the evidence presented is enough to start a trial against him. However, the trial was postponed for the 31st July. 

On 30th June 2017, human rights experts condemned the series of threats and deaths of activists in Guatemala in 2017. In a statement, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and the IACHR Unit for Human Rights Defenders called “on the authorities of Guatemala to urgently address this unacceptable increase of violence against environmental defenders, and adopt a policy for the protection of human rights defenders".

Furthermore, the IACHR announced a country visit for 30th July and 4th August to monitor the situation for rights defenders in the country. 

Peaceful Assembly

On 23rd June 2017, a former farm workers' movement organised a protest in front San Gregorio Piedra Parada estate to demand their rights to social security payment, as the estate deducted it from their salaries over the past 30 years but never transferred the money to the Social Security Institute. It was reported that an unknown individual shot from inside the farm and hit protester Eugenio Lopez, who died soon after. Two other protesters were also injured during the demonstration.

On 22nd June 2017, a protest against a mining company in Casillas ended in repression. According to reports, some protesters started throwing rocks and the security forces responded with tear gas, hitting at least 11 people. Three people were arrested for attacking police officers.

Expression

According to a local organisation CERIGUA, journalist Jhonny Javier Guardado was found dead in July 2017 in Petén. The circumstances around his death are still unknown.

In a separate incident, journalist Marielos Monzon filed a report with the General Attorney’s office on account of intimidation she has faced. The journalist has been accused, along with other journalists and human rights defenders, of being responsible for the extradition orders against drug dealers. Monzon claims that the list was given to members of organised criminal groups, which could put her in danger.

In early July, several independent media outlets and human rights organisations were subjected to a defamation campaign on social media that accused them of receiving foreign funding to create conflict in Guatemala, especially in regards to mining issues and energy projects.