Last week, GHRC supported organizations participating in two Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearings.
The first case presented to the IACHR focused on the criminalization of social protest in Guatemala.* A panel that included community leaders from the country’s indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) movements, as well as legal experts, detailed a slew of human rights violations that have occurred against protesters attempting to peacefully defend their territories against destructive mining and natural resource extraction projects.
Marlen Car, representing 12 indigenous communities from San Juan Sacatepéquez, denounced harassment of women and the illegal imprisonment of fellow community members who opposed a cement factory in the region. “The message to the business community is that these are our lands,” she stated. “No one is going to take them away because our ancestors left them to us.”
Panel members also noted the importance of consulta previa (prior consultation) — the right of indigenous peoples to be consulted regarding projects that affect their communities, lands, or livelihoods. Although this right is protected under international and Guatemalan law, petitioners argued that it has been consistently ignored by government representatives, as well as by national and transnational companies.
The second case presented to the IACHR focused on the state of human rights defenders in Guatemala and the importance of judicial independence.† The hearing also addressed the smear campaigns targeting defenders, often reinforced by government officials. Speaking directly to the Guatemalan government representatives, Marcia Aguiluz of the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) stated, “There has been a discourse of hatred, discrimination, and aggression. There have been 24 assassinations [of human rights defenders]. The least they [the government] can do is provide some system of protection.”
Other members of the panel voiced similar concerns, pointing to the Rostros de la Infamia (Faces of Infamy) campaign – a document published by the Foundation Against Terrorism that stigmatizes and criticizes key human rights activists – as just one example of how measures taken so far to protect defenders have been insufficient.
IACHR commissioners raised important questions regarding the criminalization of peaceful protesters, the 10 states of emergency that occurred in Guatemala in 2012-2013, and the implementation of the 1996 Peace Accords. The Commission also noted that the government’s excessive use of military force poses a sharp contradiction to the discourse of State representatives, who assured that there has been “no criminalization of human rights defenders.”
The following week on November 6, Edgar Pérez, a joint prosecutor representing victims in the case against Rios Montt, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), and Francisco Soto of the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) presented a petition before the IACHR in Washington regarding impunity in the genocide trial. They argued that the Guatemalan government has violated Maya Ixil victims’ access to justice, in violation of the American Convention. Read their press release here.
*The hearing on criminalization of social protest was requested by: Comisión Internacional de Juristas, Comité de Unidad Campesina (CUC) , Asociación CEIBA, Comunidad Kaqchikeles de San Juan Sacatepéquez , Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala , Unidad de Defensores de Derechos Humanos , Fundación Guillermo Toriello , Coordinación de ONG y Cooperativas (CONGCOOP) , Consejo Comunitario de la Aldea La Choleña, San José del Golfo / Colectivo Madreselva , Comité de Comisiones Sanpedranas, San Pedro Ayampuc
† The hearing on human rights defenders was requested by: Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL), Estado de Guatemala, Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH), Unidad de Protección de Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos (UDEFEGUA), Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (ODHAG), Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala (ICCPG), Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos (CIIDH), Centro de Análisis Forenses y Ciencias Aplicadas (CAFCA), Unión Nacional de Mujeres Guatemaltecas (UNAMG) , Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM), Equipo Comunitario de Apoyo Psicosocial (ECAP), Asociación Refugio de la Niñez , Centro de Acción Ambiental Legal y Social de Guatemala (CALAS)