Alarming Developments in Palm Oil Industry in Latin America Spur Global Call To Action For Palm Oil Traders


Global coalition of NGOs says murder, intimidation and the devastation of community livelihoods tied to rampant palm oil plantation expansion must be stopped

November 12, 2015 — Spurred by the recent murder of Guatemalan environmental and human rights defender Rigoberto Lima Choc, a coalition of global human rights and environmental organizations today alerted the world’s biggest palm oil traders of the gross violations of human rights occurring in the palm oil sector in Mesoamerica.

Recent conflicts between companies and communities in Guatemala and other Latin American countries have triggered global efforts to expose bad actors and seek intervention by governments and buyers of palm oil from the region to avoid ongoing human rights violations and environmental destruction.

The coalition has issued a letter calling on global commodity traders that may be operating in Guatemala and the wider Mesoamerican region, including Cargill, IOI, Wilmar, Musim Mas, AAK, ADM, Bunge and GAR, as well as palm oil processors and federations in the region, to disclose the details of all palm oil suppliers and publish credible plans to tackle human rights violations, social conflict and environmental destruction in their Mesoamerican supply chains.

Jeff Conant, International Forests Campaigner with Friends of the Earth-US says, “The murder of human rights defender Rigoberto Lima Choc on September 18, 2015 is yet another shocking example of the violence that plagues the palm oil sector. This should be a wake-up call for the multinationals doing business in Mesoamerica, especially those that have committed to ‘no exploitation’ in their supply chains: the only way to ensure that multinationals are not complicit in violence of this nature is to daylight their entire supply chains.”

Gemma Tillack, a spokesperson for Rainforest Action Network said, “Today, we have alerted the world’s biggest palm oil traders and processors to the human rights crisis unfolding in palm oil industry in Guatemala and Honduras. Through their demand for cheap palm oil, these companies are driving the expansion of palm oil across Latin America. They have the responsibility to ensure their suppliers uphold strict environmental and human rights standards. We will hold them to account for the impacts of their global supply chains, including in new expansion frontiers in Latin America.”

Soren Ambrose, of ActionAid International said, “Communities in Guatemala are being forced off their land to make way for palm oil production. These human rights abuses will not be tolerated. We are calling on global palm oil companies to come clean on their links to dirty suppliers, and to make clear commitments showing how they will address the social and environmental impacts of their partners in Latin America. Consumers around the world will not accept violence and intimidation for cheaper cookies and chips.”

The same day that Rigoberto Lima Choc was killed, three other Guatemalan human rights defenders, Hermelindo Asij Mo, Lorenzo Pérez Mendoza and Manuel Perez Ordoñez, were kidnapped. The murder and kidnapping occurred shortly after a criminal court ordered REPSA to suspend operations, based on charges that Mr. Lima and his environmental group had filed denouncing a massive fish kill along a 100-mile stretch of the Pasión River, downstream from REPSA’s facilities in the region of Sayaxché, Guatemala.

Kelsey Alford-Jones, Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA concluded by saying “In Guatemala, community members engaging in legitimate actions to protect their water quality and environment consistently face threats, attacks, and assassinations, often committed with impunity due to a lack of judicial independence, widespread government corruption, and ineffective oversight of corporate practices. A zero tolerance policy must be put into effect immediately for any suppliers using or benefiting from violence and human rights abuses in their palm oil operations.”

The coalition will be tracking efforts of the global commodity traders and palm oil companies in Mesoamerica to reform their supply chains, starting with disclosing the details of all palm oil suppliers; resolving grievance and advocating for real actions to be taken to reform bad actors in the palm oil industry in Latin America.

Background information

The joint letter was sent to Cargill, IOI, Wilmar, Musim Mas, AAK, ADM, Bunge, GAR, Oleofinos, Henry Lamotte Oils GmbH, Aceites y Derivados Sociedad Anonima (Aceydesa), Corporacion Industrial de Sula S.A. (COINSU), Palmeros de Aguan S. A. (PALMASA), and GREPALMA (The Palm Growers’ Guild of Guatemala).

The signatories to the letter are: Friends of the Earth-US, Rainforest Action Network, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Environmental Investigation Agency, Union of Concerned Scientists, ActionAid International, Oxfam America, Forest Peoples Program, Forest Heroes, GRAIN, Alliance for Global Justice, and Other Worlds

A generic version of the letter can be found here.



Friends of the Earth-United States, Jeff Conant,, U.S. +1 510 900 0016

Rainforest Action Network, Emma Rae Lierley,, U.S. +1 425.281.1989

Action Aid USA, Douglas Hertzler,, U.S. +1 202 370 9922

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Kelsey Alford-Jones,, U.S. +1 202-529-6599

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Jimmy Morales, Professional Comedian, Elected in Guatemalan Presidential Run-off

Riding a wave of anti-establishment emotion, Jimmy Morales – a comedian with no political experience, and backed by military hard-liners – has been elected as Guatemala’s next president.

Jimmy Morales. Photo: AFP

Jimmy Morales. Photo: AFP

Morales saw his popularity surge amid a series of corruption scandals that led to mass citizen protests, the arrest of several high-level government officials, and the resignation of former president Otto Pérez Molina. Capitalizing on his reputation as a “political outsider,” Morales achieved an unexpected first-round win in September before defeating former First Lady Sandra Torres in the October 25 runoff election.

Jimmy Morales, like his opponent, has made promises of transparency and anti-corruption efforts. But he has drawn criticism for his vague policies, his use of racist caricature, and the fact that some of his backers – including the founders of his political party FCN – are conservative members of the military who have been linked to war crimes from the internal armed conflict.

Jimmy Morales (FCN Party) won nearly 70% of the votes. Source: TSE

Jimmy Morales (FCN Party) won nearly 70% of the votes. Source: TSE

Though some Guatemalans are cautiously optimistic about the future, many remain skeptical that Morales will be able to pull the country out of its current political turmoil. “Nothing is going to change,”one voter said via Twitter – even as she cast her ballot.

Questions about the possibility of seeing lasting change in Guatemala were reiterated last week in Washington, DC, where members of Guatemala’s Human Rights Convergence and other civil society organizations participated in hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and met with US government officials.

In back-to-back hearings on transitional justice and the criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala, petitioners highlighted prominent examples of criminalization, including the defamation and unfounded complaints against lawyers and expert witnesses in the genocide case. Continue reading

Without A Secured Right to Freedom of Expression, There Is No Democracy In Central America

On October 23, 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a Thematic Hearing on Examining Freedom of Expression in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during its 156th Session in Washington DC. Read more from Indigenous Peoples’ rights group Cultural Survival:

For Immediate Release

Contact: Mark Camp, Deputy Executive Director, Cultural Survival,, 617-441-5400 x 11

Angelica Rao, Executive Coordinator, Cultural Survival,, 647-624-3084

Without A Secured Right to Freedom of Expression, There Is No Democracy In Central America

On October 23, 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a Thematic Hearing on Examining Freedom of Expression in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during its 156th Session in Washington DC. Organized by Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias (AMARC-Subregión Centroamérica), Asociación de Medios Comunitarios de Honduras (AMCH), Asociación de Radios Comunitarias de Guatemala (ARCG), Asociación Sobrevivencia Cultural, Central American Institute for the Study of Social Democracy (DEMOS), Comité por la Libre Expresión (C Libre), Cultural Survival, Fundación de la Comunicación para el Desarrollo (Comunicándonos), Junta Ciudadana por el Derecho Humano a la Comunicación and Mujb’ab’l yol: Encuentro de Expresiones, the session seeks to shine a spotlight on the daily rights violations that Indigenous journalists and communities face when exercising the universal right to freedom of expression and communication.

These basic rights make up the foundation of a well functioning democracy, yet communities in Central America share a common experience, history and reality that citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to communication are not evenly respected and guaranteed. Indigenous journalists and community radio operators, despite physical threats, state persecution, and even risk of death, continue to exercise their rights in order to serve their communities.

El Salvador’s democracy is threatened by media concentration. Five commercial groups have historically held ownership of the radio frequency spectrum. Ex-president Elias Antonio Saca owned six radio frequencies when he began as president, and fourteen by the end of his presidency. The law does not distinguish between public, private or community radio; all frequencies are auctioned to the highest bidder and no state entity exists to regulate radio broadcasting. Continue reading

GHRC Participates in US Congressional Briefing on Migration from Central America

By Julia Nierenberg, GHRC 2015 Fall Intern

This week, outlets such as The New York Times and Al Jazeera America published articles, videos and photos that illuminate and remind the world of the refugee and migrant crisis in the Northern Triangle. In the New York Times piece, Azam Ahmed stated that the images of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing to Europe reminds him of the smaller, but still significant migrant crisis occurring in Central America, specifically in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Men, women, and children are fleeing Central America at increasingly rapid rates. Last year was the first year that Mexican child migrants did not outnumber children fleeing from other countries in Central America to the United States; Ahmed recalls that, “From the beginning of October 2013 through July of this year, nearly 80,000 unaccompanied minors from those Central American countries were detained by United States authorities along the Mexican border.”

On September 16, GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones participated in a briefing hosted by Congressman Raul Grijalva on Capitol Hill about this ongoing crisis; Alford-Jones was joined by speakers from U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Congressional Research Service (CRS), and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Participants in the panel discussion highlighted the need for basic compassion for refugees, just application of the rule of law, and an understanding of the role of the US in contributing to migration from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.


Left: Congressman Grijalva; Right: GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones

In his remarks, Congressman Grijalva reiterated that “this country [the United States] is a refuge for people fleeing violence and death” and that refugees from Central America “deserve the same equitable treatment that we would give to anyone else.” Continue reading

Congressional Briefing on Migration from Central America: Comments by Kelsey Alford-Jones

The below comments are from the September 16, 2015 congressional briefing titled: “Central America’s Unresolved Crisis”

My Name is Kelsey Alford-Jones, I am the Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, an organization that documents and denounces abuses, educates the international community, advocates for just policies and supports communities and activists who face threats and violence.

We have been working in Guatemala for over three decades and have staff on the ground. I also travel frequently to Guatemala.

Last summer GHRC played an active role in the NGO response to the unprecedented number of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America, providing analysis and policy recommendations. One year later, Guatemalans continue to seek refuge in the US and it is clear that many have legitimate need for international protection but are not receiving the proper support from the US government. Continue reading