Law & Communities Program
For more information about CIEL's Law and Communities Program, contact Melissa Blue Sky.
International Organizations Call for Better Protection for Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala
For Immediate Release
November 21, 2012
(Washington, D.C.) – In the context of growing threats against human rights defenders, particularly those working in defense of the rights of indigenous peoples and the right to a healthy environment, thirty two international organizations have called on the President of Guatemala to strengthen the government office designed for the analysis of attacks against human rights defenders. The organizations also ask that the authorities and institutions implement strategies to protect human rights defenders and prevent future attacks.
According to Guatemalan law, communities have the right to participate in decisions that will affect their well being and the enjoyment of their rights. Yet, those leading efforts to defend territory and oppose large scale extraction projects have been confronted with threats, which have sometimes resulted in violence.
Between January and June 2012, the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) registered 145 acts of aggression against human rights defenders, more than half of which were against defenders of indigenous rights, the environment and sustainable development. "In addition to outright threats and violence, it is increasingly common for community leaders and human rights activists to face threats from their own justice system, which pursues frivolous legal cases against leaders on trumped-up charges such as terrorism," says Kelsey Alford-Jones, Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission. "Criminalization is used as a tool to undermine the leadership of popular movements and to silence opposition. In contrast, the perpetrators of attacks against these defenders often enjoy impunity. It is yet another indication that the scales of justice are so heavily tipped in favor of corporate interests."
The office, an inter-agency working group that engages both government and civil society organizations, renewed its mandate in early 2012, yet the government did not initiate meetings for almost six months. The signatories to the letter recommend that the office should aim to hold those responsible for attacks against human rights defenders accountable, stop violations already underway, and work to prevent future attacks. Through its analysis, the office could better evaluate the existing institutional gaps that contribute to increasing persecution of community leaders.
"It's not enough to create a government institution that documents patterns of attacks against human rights defenders," says Amanda Kistler, Program Associate at the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington, D.C. "It must be accompanied by a statewide commitment and concrete steps to protect and prevent future threats to the lives of these community defenders."
In the letter, the thirty two organizations highlight a wave of attacks against environmental defenders, as well as a series of cases of criminalization, between May and August of this year. They also ask that the Government of Guatemala take immediate, explicit and public steps to recognize and legitimize the important work of human rights defenders. This includes a public denunciation of persecution, investigation into the threats, and prosecution of the perpetrators. This also includes dismissing cases of criminalization. They conclude by asking the government to respond to their letter regarding the steps Guatemala is undertaking to ensure the protection of human rights defenders.
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is committed to strengthening and using international law and institutions to protect the environment, promote human health, and ensure a just and sustainable society. CIEL is a non-profit organization dedicated to advocacy in the global public interest, including through legal counsel, policy research, analysis, education, training and capacity building.
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC) is a non-profit, grassroots, solidarity organization dedicated to promoting human rights in Guatemala and supporting communities and human rights defenders who face threats and violence. GHRC documents and denounces abuses, educates the international community, and advocates for policies that foster peace and justice.
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