More HRDs murdered: 3 killed in 5 days as civil society calls for better protection mechanisms

Association

Civil society is concerned that the environment for human rights defenders in Guatemala is becoming increasingly hostile, as illustrated in the following cases:

On 23rd March 2018, Jorge Santos, an activist and coordinator of Unidad de Protección a Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (Protection Unit for Human Rights Defenders - UDEFEGUA) was attacked with a baseball bat during a protest in Guatemala. He received medical attention and no major injuries were reported. Santos was part of the student-led 120th edition of the 'Huelga de Todos los Dolores del Pueblo de Guatemala'(Strike for all the pain of the people of Guatemala), a traditional protest in Guatemala. UDEFEGUA is one of the most important human rights’ organisations in the country and is constantly monitoring the attacks and violations against human rights defenders (HRDs).

In a separate incident, armed men killed Crisanto Garcia Ohajaca on 29th March. Garcia is the uncle of a prominent social leader and head of Coordinadora de Comunidades y Asociaciones por el Desarrollo Integral del Pueblo Ch'orti' (COMUNDICH), a grassroots organisation that supports Mayan Ch’orti’ people in their legal battlesd with businesses and multinational companies that seek to evict them from their ancestral lands. It is suspected that the murder was linked to his relative's work with the indigenous communities. It was reported that two days after the attack, Crisanto's uncle, Eugenio Ohajaca, also received threats. 

Three social leaders were murdered in Guatemala between 9th and 13th May. On 9th May, Luis Marroquin, coordinator of Comite de Desarrollo Campesino (Farmer Development Committee - CODECA), was murdered. Witnesses say that two unidentified men followed him after he had left his home and attacked him inside a local business by firing several shots at him.

On 10th May, an armed group attacked the community of Choctun Basila, in the region of Alta Verapaz. One of the community leaders and members of Comite Campesino del Altiplano - CCDA, Jose Can Xol, tried to protect a family from the gunshots when he was struck and killed

Three days later, Mateo Chaman Paau was murdered. Chaman was also a leader of the CCDA. The CCDA has claimed that the murders are related to defending land and environmental rights in the northern part of the country, which efforts conflict with the interests of the political and economic forces in the country. In the past, these communities have been also evicted and harassed, as previously reported on the Monitor. CODECA holds President Jimmy Morales responsible for these incidents due to his harmful rhetoric and vilification of human rights defenders. 

As previously reported on the Monitor, Abelino Chub Caal was arrested on 4th February 2017 and only informed about the motives for his detention when taken to a court. Since then, Chub Caal has been held in preventive detention. His defense petitioned the judge to release him, but on 8th May 2018, a judge ruled that Chub Caal should remain in detention as "his release could spark more violence in his community in the municipality of El Estor". A new hearing has been set for 29th May. 

Civil society representatives expressed concern over a proposal to change the protocol of rapid response for the protection of HRDs. Since 2014, a rapid response protocol has been in place to protect HRDs who are at risk or under threat. A new proposal aims to replace the communication mechanism among activists with a more bureaucratic process that organisations fear could be "highly inefficient".

Peaceful Assembly

Several protests took place in the country over the past few months, with protesters demanding President Morales's resignation, as well as teachers mobilising; however, no cases of repression of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly were identified.

Civil society continues to express concern over the proposed Act 5239 which broadens the definition of terrorism. The Act was previously reported on the Monitor. In the case of the right to peaceful assembly, organisations claim that the legislation could be used to target social movements and protests. Some believe that this new proposal is in response to mass mobilisations against another law that the government eventually had to withdraw in October 2017 due to the widespread mobilisations. 

Expression

It was reported that on 16th April, the dead body of journalist Jose Daniel Rodriguez Ortiz was found in Guatemala City. The journalist, who works for the digital media outlet Republica, had been missing for several days. The investigation into his murder is ongoing, but there are concerns that it could be connected to his investigation reporting, especially on land and environmental rights issues.

Journalist Henry Bin was the target of a defamation campaign in the last days of April. Bin was accused of being involved in a pedophile group without clear evidence to support the claim. ConCriterio, the media outlet where Bin works, believes that the accusations are in retaliation for Bin's investigative reporting of politicians' efforts to use defamation campaigns against critics.