GUATEMALA (2010-2011)

25/01/2012
Urgent Appeal

SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

Updated as of May 2011

In 2010 and 2011, human rights defenders in Guatemala were the victims of numerous aggressions, including killings and other attacks against their life and personal integrity. Violence against defenders of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights in relation to extractive industry companies, who exploit natural resources of indigenous and peasant communities, was particularly alarming. Trade union leaders and defenders denouncing violations against other defenders and those fighting against impunity were also targeted.

Political context

In 2010 and 2011, levels of violence, insecurity and human rights violations continued to be alarming. Although the figures for killings in 2010 decreased in comparison with 20091, violence intensified in the first three months of 2011 and it is feared that figures could rise to similar or even higher levels than in 2009, considered to be the most violent year of the decade2. High levels of violence directly affected human rights defenders. In 2010, 304 acts of aggression were registered against defenders, including 27 killings and 21 attempted killings3. From January to April 2011, 236 acts of aggression were registered against human rights defenders, including 10 killings4.

Within this context, of particular concern are the alarming levels of impunity which fuel the general climate of violence and hamper the defence of human rights5. The level of impunity is a deeply rooted structural problem, and stands at 99.75% in cases of both common crime6 and also crimes against human rights defenders7. One example of the far reaching effects of this institutional problem was the appointment of Mr. Conrado Reyes, who has a history of corruption and links to drug trafficking, as Guatemalan Attorney General. Although the Constitutional Court dismissed Mr. Reyes from office, the situation clearly shows the persistent problem of impunity linked to corruption. Within the dark panorama of impunity, it is important to highlight progress in the area: since the end of 2009 there have been several convictions against the perpetrators of crimes committed during the genocide in the 1980s8.

Furthermore, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Mr. James Anaya, visited Guatemala in June 2010, and reported on the climate of instability and social conflict caused by extractive industry companies operating in the traditional lands of Guatemalan indigenous peoples9. One of the main problems detected by the Rapporteur was the dispute caused by the lack of a legislative and institutional framework which would permit effective consultation processes with indigenous peoples in relation to projects in their lands. The Rapporteur also expressed concern over the criminal proceedings brought against members of indigenous communities who participate in acts of social protest against the activities of these companies10. Equally, the Rapporteur emphasised that one of the defining factors in the social conflict was the high level of legal uncertainty over land ownership; the almost total absence of collective land titles, and the still tangible consequences of the dispossession of lands that occurred during the internal armed conflict. The precarious situation and the violence that indigenous and peasants communities suffer when they oppose the activities of certain mining companies continued into 2011, especially in the departments of Guatemala (mainly in the municipality of San Juan de Sacatepéquez), San Marcos11 and Alta Verapaz12.

In spite of the fact that in Guatemala all human rights defenders carry out their work in situations of extreme vulnerability, the Institution for the Analysis of Attacks Against Human Rights Defenders, a mixed governmental and civil society institution established in 2008 as a coordination mechanism to investigate reports of acts of aggression against defenders and to analyse trends in order to support investigations by the Public Ministry and the national police force, was not officially recognised.

Serious violations against environmental rights defenders and defenders of indigenous and peasants communities

Environmental rights defenders and defenders of indigenous and peasants communities were again seriously affected, in particular those who denounced threats and human rights violations carried out by extractive industry companies.

In particular, in the department of San Marcos, a number of defenders were assassinated or injured and in general carried out their work in the midst of a permanent climate of harassment and intimidation. An example of this are the situation of the environmental activists who oppose mining activities in San Miguel Ixtahuacan. On July 7, 2010 Ms. Deodora Antonia Hernández Cinto, a member of the Association for the Development of San Miguel Ixtahuacan (Asociación para el Desarrollo de San Miguel Ixtahuacan - ADISMI)13, was shot and killed by unknown assailants in the village of Agel. Despite the fact that several of her neighbours temporarily detained two suspects, the agents of the national police force who arrived at the scene decided to let them go without asking their names or registering their vehicle. As of April 2011, those responsible for the murder of Ms. Hernández Cinto had been identified, but there had been no arrest warrants issued against them. Similarly, in July 2010 there was an attempt to run over Mr. Juan Méndez, also a member of ADISMI. For her part, Ms. Carmen Mejía, a member of the Board of Directors of ADISMI, received several threatening text messages. As of April 2011, there had been no progress made in the investigations into these threats. More recently, on February 28, 2011, members of ADISMI, of the Miguelense Front of Defence Against Mining (Frente de Defensa Miguelense contra la Minería - FREDEMI) and a number of other individuals from the municipality were arbitrarily detained, beaten and threatened for participating in a demonstration organised by FREDEMI in which protesters asked the Guatemalan Government to apply the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) against the mining activities of the Goldcorp company (the Marlin mine), including the temporary suspension of mining operations. In particular, Mr. Miguel Bámaca, a member of FREDEMI, was violently attacked, robbed and threatened by a local family. Moreover, Mr. Aniceto López, also a member of FREDEMI, was detained by the same local family, and assaulted, robbed, and threatened by them. They later forced him to publicly state that they had not been involved in these events. Mr. Carlos Loarca, a lawyer who represents FREDEMI before the IACHR, was also threatened. These events were formally denounced and investigations were in progress as of April 201114. In addition, during the months of June and July 2010, members of the Centre for Legal, Social and Environmental Action in Guatemala (Centro de Acción Legal - Ambiental y Social de Guatemala - CALAS)15, including its Director, Mr. Yuri Melini, and Ms. Miroslava García, a lawyer and notary of CALAS, also suffered threats and intimidation. In 2010, CALAS made significant efforts to denounce the actions of several projects, including the Marlin mine in San Marcos and the oil project of the PERENCO company in the Petén region, and also to compile threats received by environmental defenders, and to contribute to a new proposal for a Law on Mining and the Extractive Industry. Also in the department of San Marcos, members of the Resistance Front for the Defence of Natural Resources (Frente de Resistencia en Defensa de los Recursos Naturales - FRENA)16 were the object of attacks in 2010. On January 13, 2010, Ms. Evelinda Ramírez Reyes, the President of FRENA in Retalhuleu Chiquirines, and Messrs. Leonel de León and Fredy Rodas, members of FRENA in Malacatán, were assaulted by unknown assailants in a car, after attending several meetings with national Government authorities. The attack caused the death of Ms. Ramírez Reyes, while Messrs. Leonel de León and Fredy Rodas were injured. On February 17, 2010, Mr. Octavio Roblero, a leader from FRENA, was murdered in Malacatán. He had been denouncing the murder of his brother-in-law, Mr. Víctor Gálvez, in October 2009, also a leader of FRENA in Malacatán. All of these cases were formally denounced. As of April 2011, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) had assumed the investigations into the murder cases and had identified and arrested those responsible for the killing of Mr. Víctor Gálvez.

In the municipality of San Juan de Sacatepéquez, department of Guatemala, there was also a continuous climate of violence which seriously affected the human rights defenders working there. For instance, community leaders opposed to a project to install a cement works belonging to the Progreso company in this municipality were victims of constant attacks. On February 11, 2010, Mr. Germán Antonio Curup, a member of the movement opposing the installation of the cement works in San Juan Sacatepéquez, was kidnapped by unknown assailants and his body was found three days later with his throat slit and signs of torture, in the Bárcenas area. On June 5, 2010, Messrs. Alberto Diaz Zet, Cornelio Subuyuj Camey, Juan Marcelo Coztojay Tubac, Lázaro Raxon Cotzojay and Gregorio Cotzajay Tubac, community leaders opposed to the installation of the aforementioned cement works in San Juan de Sacatepéquez, were subjected to several death threats by a number of workers from the Progreso company. These events occurred after the said workers had already assaulted a group of people in the community of San Antonio de las Trojes, cutting off the electricity supply, causing damage to community goods, and firing off shots. In spite of the emergency calls made by members of the community, it was not until the afternoon of June 6 that a contingent of anti-riot police, officials from neighbouring communities, and several organisations were able to enter the area to assist the community. Moreover, on the night of February 26 to 27, 2011, eight workers from the Progreso company violently attacked several members of the Pilar 1 community, in the municipality of San Juan Sacatepéquez, using firearms, machetes and wooden staffs. Messrs. Carlos Enrique Subuyuj Boch and Rosalio Subuyuj Raxón, members of the movement against the cement works, were injured17.

Moreover, members of the Association for the Protection of the Las Granadillas Mountain (Asociación para la Protección de la Montaña de Las Granadillas - APMG) and of the Camoteca Peasants’ Association (Asociación Campesina Camoteca - ACC)18 were the victims of judicial harassment related to their activities in the defence of the environment. Messrs. Carlos Hernández and Mr. Santos Vásquez, members of the ACC, were arrested on November 15, 2010, accused of the crimes of “acting against national security” and attending “illicit meetings and demonstrations” after they participated in a demonstration which was held in Chiquimula from March 31 to April 2, 2010. On March 2, 2011, the Presiding Judge decided to drop the charges, as he considered that the two defenders had not placed the public interest and the safety of citizens under threat. Nevertheless, they had to pay a fine and promise not to participate in “illicit” demonstrations19. Similarly, Ms. Glenda Cecilia Antón Antón and Messrs. Rubén Aldana Guzmán, Rolando Meléndez, Alfredo Mejía Gregorio, José Martín Cabrera Antón, Melvin Antonio Palacios and Bayron Galdámez Franco, members of the APMG20, and Mr. José Pilar Álvarez Cabrera, Reverend of the Lutheran Church of Guatemala who accompanies the APMG, were accused of “illegal detention” and “making threats” because of events on September 26, 2010, when a confrontation occurred in La Trementina, municipality of Zacapa. This case involved individuals who wanted to fell wood from the forests of the Las Granadillas Mountain, and who had removed two walls which had been constructed to restrict access to heavy vehicles for the transportation of wood. On April 13, 2011, the Presiding Judge declared the case inadmissible and dropped the charges. Nevertheless, on the same day, the Reverend Álvarez Cabrera received a new threat via text message to his mobile phone.

In the case of the murder of Mr. Adolfo Ich Chamán, leader and human rights defender of the Las Nubes community, in the department of Itzabal, committed on September 28, 2009 by members of the security corps of the Guatemalan nickel company, as of April 2011 the person responsible for carrying out the murder had been identified, but had evaded arrest.

Attacks and harassment against trade union leaders

Throughout 2010, the exercise of trade union rights continued to be a dangerous activity. The largest number of cases received by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s oOffice (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos - PDH) related to acts of aggression against human rights defenders were directed towards trade unionists and social organisations21. For its part, UDEFEGUA registered 36 acts of aggression against trade unionists in 201022. For example, on October 28, 2010, in the municipality of Catarina, department of San Marcos, two individuals shot and seriously injured Mr. Mateo Bernabé López Pérez, Secretary General of the Trade Union of Health Workers in Malacatán (Sindicato de Trabajadores de Salud de Malacatán), member of the National Trade Union of Health Workers in Guatemala (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Salud de Guatemala - SNTSG) and the National Resistance Front (Frente Nacional de Lucha - FNL). Mr. López Pérez was on his way to the general assembly of the SNTSG to discuss internal trade union matters, including, among other issues, the situation of the Director of the San Marcos hospital23. These events were denounced, yet there had been no result as of April 2011. For their part, the Trade Union of the Sae A International Company Workers (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la empresa Sae A International - SITRASAE A) suffered threats and intimidation carried out by the company, which led to a number of leaders and affiliates to be dismissed or even to resign from their posts. For instance, on April 21, 2010, Ms. Delfina Vicente, a leader from SITRASAE A, was approached by Mr. Teleyón, head of operations in the company, who tried to persuade her to leave the company or resign from the trade union. Subsequently, on May 12, 2010, a press conference was held at the offices of the consultancy company “Consultora C&N”, which offers legal advice to SITRASAE A, with the aim of denouncing the ill-treatment of pregnant workers in the factory. This denouncement included the statements of Ms. Vicente and other trade union organisations. On the same day, individuals raided the offices of C&N, reinforcing the increasingly intimidating climate. These events were formally denounced, yet as of April 2011 there had been no progress in the investigations.

Meanwhile, the January 2009 murder of Mr. Amado Corazón Monzón, independent lawyer and Advisor to the Committee for Peasants’ Unity (Comité de Unidad Campesina) and to the Coatepeque Movement of United Street Traders (Movimiento de Comerciantes Unidos de las Calles de Coatepeque), remained in impunity as of April 2011, as did the murder of Mr. Miguel Chacaj Jax, founding member of the Coatepeque Trade Workers’ Union (Sindicato de Trabajadores del Comercio de Coatepeque), which took place in October 2009. The trial in the case of the murder of Mr. Pedro Ramírez de la Cruz, a member of the Indigenous, Peasant and Popular National Council (Consejo Nacional Indígena, Campesino y Popular - CNAICP), which occurred in November 2009, was ongoing.

Harassment against defenders who denounce attacks against other defenders and who fight against impunity

In 2010, defenders who accompany, document, and denounce acts of aggression against other human rights defenders and those who struggle against impunity were victims of threats and harassment. Members of the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (Unidad de Protección de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos - Guatemala - UDEFEGUA), an organisation that accompanies defenders at risk in Guatemala, were subjected to harassment. On February 2, 2010, the personal car belonging to Ms. Claudia Samayoa, Coordinator of UDEFEGUA and member of OMCT General Assembly, was sabotaged when oil was placed underneath the carpet in the driver’s seat, causing the pedals to become slippery. As Ms. Samayoa was not travelling at high speed, she managed to avoid an accident. She had been on her way to attend a meeting of the Institution for the Analysis of Attacks Against Human Right Defenders. Subsequently, on March 5, 2010, a group of unknown men entered the home of Ms. Erenia Vanegas, a researcher from UDEFEGUA, while she was absent. The individuals forced the locks on the front door, and rifled through a box of documents, and through the cupboards of the rooms near the entrance, although they apparently did not take anything. These events were denounced before the Human Rights Attorney’s office of the Public Ministry and the Human Rights Unit of the Specialist Division for Criminal Investigation of the national police force. However, as of April 2011 no progress had been reported in the case. Throughout 2010, Ms. Norma Cruz, Director of the Foundation for Survivors in Guatemala (Fundación Sobrevivientes en Guatemala)24, received 96 death threats and intimidating harassment related to her work25. This severe attack against her work started at the beginning of the year, when on January 5, 2010 she suffered death threats aimed at stopping her from giving evidence in the trial against Mr. Juan José Santos, accused of the murder of Ms. Francisca Ayala Pinto and Mr. Carlos Cruz Pineda, in 2008, in which the Foundation for Survivors in Guatemala is a plaintiff. Subsequently, from June 11 to 18, 2010, Ms. Cruz received numerous text messages to her mobile phone, in which she was intimidated and threatened with death. These events were denounced, yet as of April 2011 there had been no progress in the investigations.

1 The Ombudsman’s office (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos - PDH) reported 5,960 cases of violent killings in 2010, that is to say a decrease of 538 killings compared to 2009. Even with this improvement in 2010, the Group for Mutual Support (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo - GAM) expressed concern over the increase in cruel killings and the increase in the number of massacres. See PDH Report, Informe Anual Circunstanciado. Situación de los derechos humanos en Guatemala, January 2011, and GAM Report, Informe sobre situación de derechos humanos y violencia en Guatemala. Enero 2011, February 10, 2011.

2 The GAM drew attention to the violence and increase in massacres, which continues in 2011. See GAM Report, Informe sobre situación de derechos humanos en Guatemala y hechos de violencia al mes de marzo de 2011, April 2011.

3 See Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala - UDEFEGUA) Press Release, January 13, 2011, and PDH Report, Informe Anual Circunstanciado. Situación de los derechos humanos en Guatemala, January 2011.

4 See UDEFEGUA.

5 As the PDH stated, “the eradication of impunity is the most direct way of putting a stop to violent acts against human rights defenders, whether they are carried out by State or non-State actors”. See PDH Report, Informe Anual Circunstanciado. Situación de los derechos humanos en Guatemala, January 2011. Unofficial translation.

6 According to the PDH, “estimates of impunity had tended to be in the order of 98%, but in April 2010 the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), based on data provided by the President of the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court, stated its real dimensions in the order of 99.75%”. Unofficial translation. See PDH Report, Informe Anual Circunstanciado. Situación de los derechos humanos en Guatemala, January 2011, and CICIG Report, Tercer año de labores, 2010.

7 This high level of impunity, combined with the wave of acts of harassment and criminalisation against them, has produced an increase in disinterest in denouncing crimes. This is reflected in the decrease in denouncements of attacks against defenders presented before the PDH or the Public Ministry. See UDEFEGUA Annual Report, Agresiones, el precio que debemos pagar. Informe sobre situación de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos. Enero a Diciembre de 2010, February 2011.

8 Some of this progress includes: the sentencing in appeal in February 2011 of Army Commissioner Felipe Cusanero Coj for enforced disappearance; the sentencing in 2010 of Coronel Marco Antonio Sánchez Samayoa and three former soldiers to 53 years for the enforced disappearance of a number of farmers in the village of El Jute, with only the appeal outstanding. See GAM and UDEFEGUA.

9 See UN Human Rights Council, Informe del Relator Especial de Naciones Unidas sobre los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, James Anaya, Observaciones sobre la situación de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas de Guatemala en relación con los proyectos extractivos, y otro tipo de proyectos, en sus territorios tradicionales, UN Document unedited version A/HRC/16/xx, 4 March 2011.

10 See Human Rights Council, Observaciones preliminares del Relator Especial de Naciones Unidas sobre la situación de los derechos humanos y las libertades fundamentales de los indígenas, Sr. James Anaya, sobre su visita a Guatemala (13 a 18 de junio de 2010), June 18, 2010.

11 The difficult situation caused the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to grant on May 20, 2010, precautionary measures, including the temporary closure of the mining operations, to 18 communities close to the “Marlin” mine, in the municipality of San Marcos. Finally the Government decreed the suspension of the Marlin mine operations in July 2010. In spite of this, as of April 2011 the activities of the mine were still continuing.

12 Between March 15 and 17, 2011, hundreds of members of the public and private security forces and the army forcibly evicted around 800 families from 14 q’eqchí indigenous communities in the Valle del Polochic, municipality of Panzós, in the region of Alta Verapaz. The abusive use of force caused the death of one farmer and a number of people were injured. See OMCT Urgent Appeal GTM 230311/GTM 230311.DESC, March 23, 2011.

13 This association has assumed the defence of the territories of communities against mining activities carried out by the Montana de Goldcorp company, in the municipality of San Marcos, documenting the effects of the mining activity on health, infrastructure and the contamination of water supplies with the mercury used in the process of gold extraction. In this area, harassment of the communities and members of ADISMI increased following the visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

14 See UDEFEGUA.

15 An organisation that works to strengthen environmental management, citizens’ participation and the respect for the collective rights of indigenous peoples related to the environment.

16 Resistance front against abuses committed in the department of San Marcos by the Western Electricity Company (Distribuidora de Electricidad de Occidente SA - DEOCSA), a subsidiary of the Spanish company Unión FENOSA.

17 See UDEFEGUA.

18 The Camoteca Peasants’ Association aims at protecting life, the environment and the right to consultation related to hydroelectric projects and the Technological Corridor in eastern Guatemala.

19 See Peace Brigades International - Guatemala, March 2011.

20 The APMG is formed of 22 communities living near the Mountain who protect and conserve the area to maintain the water sources. The communities have been working on reforestation projects over the past years, and in a process of dialogue to gain the prohibition of tree felling which places at risk the water in Las Granadillas, a source which supplies water to the city of Zacapa and its surrounding villages.

21 The PDH opened 76 investigation files related to this kind of aggression in 2010. See PDH report cited above.

22 See UDEFEGUA Annual Report, Agresiones, el precio que debemos pagar. Informe sobre situación de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos. Enero a Diciembre de 2010, February 2011.

23 Mr. Mateo Bernabé López Pérez is well known for his work to defend the rights of the population to access public services at reasonable cost, and for his denouncements of irregularities in the health sector. At the beginning of 2010, he denounced several cases of corruption in which the director of the hospital in Malacatán was implicated, and he also joined complaints made by FRENA. On October 20, 2010 he participated in the commemoration of the assassination of Mr. Víctor Gálvez and during his speech he encouraged the participants to continue claiming their rights.

24 The Foundation for Survivors in Guatemala is an organisation of women survivors of violence and offers legal and psychological support, primary healthcare, and advice to women victims of violence. The Foundation also works on human trafficking and the illegal theft of minors, and over past years has taken on important cases.

25 In addition to her work in the defence of women’s rights, Ms. Norma Cruz promoted, together with the organisations that make up Convergence for Human Rights (Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos), a process for transparency in the election of the position of Attorney General, and promoted public actions to call for the dismissal of the Attorney General, and presented a series of demands for constitutional rights to the Constitutional Court against the appointment process for this position.

Extracts from the Annual Report 2011 of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT)

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