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Two environmental defenders killed in one week in Guatemala

Association

On 7th September 2019, environmental and community activist Diana Isabel Hernández was shot and killed by unidentified persons while participating in a religious procession in her community, Monte Gloria, in Santo Domingo, Suchitepéquez department. Diana Hernández was a teacher, human rights defender and Pastoral Care for the Environment coordinator for the Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe Parish. She promoted the care and protection of natural resources, working with communities to address their environmental issues.

Only days later, on 14th September 2019, land and human rights defender Paulina Cruz Ruíz was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen. The attack took place near her home in the village of Xococ, Rabinal, in the Baja Verapaz department. Her husband was also injured by a bullet and was taken to a hospital for treatment. Paulina Cruz was part of the Mayan Achi de Rabinal Ancestral Authority and had actively engaged in defending the indigenous community’s interests against mining projects threatening their territory. On 3rd October 2019, news outlets reported that three suspects were arrested in connection with her assassination, but no further information was provided on the ongoing investigation.

Peaceful Assembly

On 17th September 2019, Xinka indigenous authorities and supporters demonstrated in front of the indigenous mayor’s office, in Jutiapa. The group was seeking to reclaim the office from a group that had occupied it. According to reports, the National Civil Police intervened and repressed the demonstrators with tear gas. Xinka parliament member Elvira Pérez was reportedly injured with a bullet wound to the stomach. Another demonstrator also suffered an injury to the head.

16 people were detained for public disorder during the demonstration, including elderly members of the community. The Xinka have resisted major projects in the region, claiming that decisions affecting their territory have been taken without consultation. In an interview, community members stated that since the incident they have been afraid to leave their homes, fearing persecution.

Expression

On 11th September 2019, the Asociación de Periodistas de Guatemala (Journalists Association of Guatemala) expressed concern about changes to the Public Prosecution Unit investigating crimes against reporters, which include a reduction in the unit’s budget and personnel. According to news reports, the authorities responded that these changes are temporary, but the Association’s members consider that the move could weaken investigations into cases of human rights violations against journalists.

The Association also released a report on attacks to freedom of expression during Guatemala's 2019 election campaign period. The report finds that the number of attacks against journalists during Guatemala’s elections significantly increased compared to 2015, but highlighted that there have been no reports of physical or armed attacks in this election cycle – as were recorded in previous years. According to their brief, the most common incidents were obstruction of reporting, intimidation, threats and defamation campaigns.