Global Palm Oil Traders Acknowledge the Need to Prevent Human Rights Abuses in Guatemala

Civil Society Pressure Shines a Spotlight on Ongoing Environmental Destruction and Murder in Guatemala’s Palm Sector

June 8, 2016

One year after a massive spill of toxic palm oil effluent into Guatemala’s Pasión River that was labeled an ‘ecocide’ by a Guatemalan court, and nine months after the killing of a Guatemalan activist who denounced the spill, social movement groups in Guatemala are still demanding justice, and companies have begun to recognize that such violence and ecocide must not be tolerated.

Last week, Cargill, one of the largest purchasers of palm oil from Guatemala, published a statement requiring REPSA, the Guatemalan company that was the defendant in the ecocide case, to take a series of actions to prevent future violence. The same day, REPSA published a “Policy on Non Violence and Intimidation.”

The companies’ statements come in the wake of a series of tragic events, and as a response to continued pressure from Guatemalan civil society and international advocacy groups.

Following a deadly spill of pesticide-laden palm oil waste into the Pasión River in the municipality of Sayaxché in northern Guatemala in June 2015, a Guatemalan court ruled the spill an “ecocide” and ordered that REPSA suspend operations pending investigation. Immediately following the ruling, in September, 2015, one of the plaintiffs, Q’eq’chi Mayan schoolteacher Rigoberto Lima Choc, was shot and killed.

In response, civil society groups in Guatemala have pursued a series of legal actions and non-violent protests, and a coalition of international advocacy groups including Friends of the Earth-US, Rainforest Action Network, ActionAid USA, Oxfam America and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA have called on global palm oil giants Wilmar, Cargill, IOI, ADM, AAK and Bunge to publicly denounce the violence, cut ties to REPSA, and take clear steps to address human rights risks in their supply chains. Friday’s statements from Cargill and REPSA are the first visible signs that companies recognize the need to address civil society’s demands.

“The clear denunciation of violence by both Cargill and REPSA is a positive step and clearly needed given the recent murder and kidnapping of activists,” said Gemma Tillack, Agribusiness Campaign Director for Rainforest Action Network. “The statement issued by Cargill contains a number of clear demands that REPSA must comply with to maintain contracts – but this falls short of local civil society demands for the shut down of REPSA’s palm oil operations that were responsible for the ecocide of the Pasión River.”

“Cargill’s public position against violence and REPSA’s promise of reform are significant,” said Jeff Conant, Senior International Forests Program Director at Friends of the Earth-US. “But real transformation will only come when the rights of local people take full precedence over the profits of agribusiness.”

“REPSA has thus far not engaged civil society groups effectively and there is no indication that the security situation in the region will allow for meaningful and safe dialogue with local groups,” Conant added. “There is a clear need for the companies to act – but company engagement in regions suffering high levels of violence and weak governance is extremely delicate. The companies must take their cues from the demands of organized civil society in Guatemala to avoid creating more conflict.”

The anniversary of the June, 2015 toxic leak and fish kill that covered over 100 kilometers in the Pasión River was marked by a march in which some 800 residents of Sayaxché took to the streets to demand justice. A key demand of many local groups is that REPSA permanently cease its operations in the region.

REPSA’s Non-Violence and Intimidation Policy is open for two months of public comment, but the company has not yet provided a plan for engagement with local stakeholders. Cargill has made it known that in order to continue doing business with REPSA, REPSA must “engage local communities and civil society groups… to rebuild trust by creating a participatory process in partnership with local communities and civil society.”

Relations between the palm oil supplier and local groups is especially tense due to the unresolved murder of environmental and human rights defender Rigoberto Lima Choc immediately following a court ruling against REPSA last September. The international NGO coalition is concerned that the companies’ positions are out of touch with local communities that are calling for the full rejection of REPSA’s operations in the region.

“Lima Choc’s murder shows the severity of the threats facing activists, and remains an open wound that will not be healed by words on paper,” said Kelsey Alford-Jones, Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. “Yesterday, hundreds of brave community members gathered in Sayaxché to demand that REPSA permanently close down its operations.”

“Thousands of Guatemalans rely on the Pasión River to earn a living and feed their families, but the negligent actions of REPSA are putting their way of life at risk. REPSA and its parent company, Grupo Olmeca, must be held to account for the damage its operations have done to these communities,” said Doug Hertzler, Senior Policy Analyst at ActionAid USA.

It is too early to tell what repercussions Cargill’s statement may have for the resolution of grievances in Guatemala, or for its palm oil supply, much of which is sold in Europe.

“While some companies that source from REPSA and Grupo Olmeca, including Cargill, have listened to civil society asks and taken positive steps, others remain silent,” noted Oxfam America Policy Advisor Aditi Sen. “All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights, and must have transparent processes in place to investigate human rights impacts in their supply chains and ensure that those harmed by their operations or suppliers are able to access remedy.”

Other companies that purchase from REPSA, directly or indirectly, include global palm oil traders Wilmar, IOI, ADM, AAK and Bunge.

Signed:

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Friends of the Earth-United States
Rainforest Action Network
Oxfam America
ActionAid USA

For more information on the case, visit GHRC’s website: http://www.ghrc-usa.org/our-work/current-cases/african-palm-oil-production-repsa-ecocide-case/

 

Organizaciones internacionales celebran la apertura a juicio del caso CREOMPAZ

GHRC has joined six other international organizations in applauding the recent ruling in the CREOMPAZ case. On June 7, a Guatemalan judge ruled that 8 former military officials would face trial on charges of forced disappearance and crimes against humanity. The judge had heard weeks of testimony and reviewed extensive evidence uncovered on the CREOMPAZ military base in Cobán, including 565 bodies exhumed from 85 clandestine cemeteries. Fourteen people were initially detained in January, and eight others remain fugitives of justice. International organizations expressed concern about acts of intimidation and hate speech used during the process, but called the ruling an important step in the fight against impunity.  

8 de junio de 2016

El día de ayer, la jueza Claudette Domínguez, del Juzgado de Mayor Riesgo A, ordenó que Manuel Benedicto Lucas García, exjefe del Estado Mayor General del Ejército, junto con otros 7 exmilitares, deben enfrentar un juicio por desaparición forzada y crímenes contra los deberes de humanidad, sobre la base de pruebas científicas y testimonios de sobrevivientes. Asimismo concluyó la etapa intermedia del proceso que había iniciado el 3 de mayo de 2016.

En 2012, en el marco de la investigación del caso, fueron hallados 85 cementerios clandestinos en la zona militar de Cobán—hoy sede del Comando Regional de Entrenamiento de Operaciones de Paz, CREOMPA—, en los cuales se exhumaron las osamentas de 565 personas, entre niños, niñas, adultos y mayores, pertenecientes a los pueblos maya de Poqomchí, Achí, Q’eqchí, K’iché, Poqomchi’, Achi, Q’eqchi’, K’iche’ e Ixil. Hasta la fecha, se ha logrado identificar a 128 víctimas, representadas en el proceso penal por seis organizaciones que actúan como querellantes, y apoyan la labor del Ministerio Público, para poner fin a la impunidad que persiste desde hace más de 35 años.

El pasado 6 de enero, fueron detenidos 14 exmilitares de alto rango, quienes desempeñaron sus funciones en la zona militar 21 de Cobán, entre 1980 y 1987. En esa época, ocurrieron numerosas desapariciones forzadas y otras graves violaciones a los derechos humanos contra la población civil, cometidas por el Ejército de Guatemala en todo el territorio nacional. Ocho personas siguen prófugas de la justicia en este caso.

Además, en mayo del presente año, el Juzgado dictó la falta de mérito en contra de tres de los exmilitares capturados, y separó del proceso penal a otro de los acusados para determinar su capacidad mental para enfrentar un juicio penal.

Son preocupantes los actos de intimidación ocurridos en el marco del proceso en contra de los defensores y las defensoras de derechos humanos con vinculación al mismo, por parte de personas y organizaciones afines a los militares procesados. Asimismo, hubo varias manifestaciones en pro de los militares sindicados en frente del Tribunal, antes y después de las audiencias, con carteles y eslóganes hostiles y agresivos en contra de las personas y organizaciones cercanas al caso. Estos hechos evidencian un discurso de odio que pretende desacreditar a las víctimas y los querellantes adhesivos y generar un clima de miedo. Cabe recordar que es responsabilidad del Estado brindar las medidas adecuadas para garantizar la seguridad de los sujetos procesales y del público presente en las audiencias.

Las organizaciones internacionales que suscriben este comunicado celebran la apertura a juicio en el caso. Esta decisión representa un paso importante para la lucha contra la impunidad de las graves violaciones a los derechos humanos, ocurridas durante el conflicto armado interno en Guatemala, y para el cumplimiento de la obligación del Estado de investigar, juzgar y sancionar dichos crímenes. Decisiones como ésta, representan el camino a seguir para garantizar el acceso a la justicia y a la verdad, de las víctimas de estos graves delitos y sus familiares, así como de la sociedad guatemalteca en general.

Firmado:

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
International Platform against Impunity
Due Process of Law Foundation
Lawyers Without Borders Canada
Impunity Watch
Washington Office on Latin America
Center for Justice and International Law

International organizations applaud the initiation of the Sepur Zarco trial

[Abajo en español]

International organizations applaud the initiation of the first trial for sexual slavery and violence during the armed conflict in Guatemala: the Sepur Zarco Case

Guatemala, Washington D.C. and San José, February 1, 2016.- Today the trial begins in the “Sepur Zarco” case of acts of sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery committed from 1982 to 1986 by members of the Guatemalan army against Maya Q’eqchi’ women and the forced disappearance of several men. The accused in the case are former soldier Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig.

This will be the first time in the world that a national court has tried a case of wartime sexual slavery case – other cases have been heard in international criminal tribunals – and the first time in Guatemala that crimes of sexual violence have been tried as international crimes. “The Guatemalan judicial system has been a pioneer in investigating complex crimes, demonstrating to other countries that confront similar challenges that it can be done,” stated Leonor Arteaga, a program officer with the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF). Continue reading

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

Logos-PalmOilLtrFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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.

###

CONTACT:

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

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

Action Aid USA, Douglas Hertzler, Doug.Hertzler@actionaid.org, U.S. +1 202 370 9922

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Kelsey Alford-Jones, kajones@ghrc-usa.org, U.S. +1 202-529-6599

Continue reading

In Ferguson and in Guatemala

Over the last week, we have listened with growing horror as news reached us from Monte Olivo, Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. Since 2010, residents of the region who oppose the construction of the Santa Rita hydroelectric dam have been victim to various attacks, including one in August 2013 that left two young boys dead.http://org.salsalabs.com/dia/track.jsp?key=-1&url_num=2&url=http%3A%2F%2Forg.salsalabs.com%2Fo%2F2690%2Fp%2Fdia%2Faction3%2Fcommon%2Fpublic%2F%3Faction_KEY%3D16152

Then, last week, according to the Prensa Comunitaria, the government deployed over 1,000 police to Monte Olivo to evict 160 families of the community 9 de Febrero. As helicopters flew overhead, police and day laborers destroyed homes and assaulted residents, leaving several people injured. Five people were also arrested in Monte Olivo, as well as two others in nearby Raxruhá. In response, hundreds of people blocked the highway to prevent the passage of the police. In an ensuing conflict between protesters and police, three men were killed in the community of Semacoch, allegedly by police gunfire, and several people were injured, including six police. Eight police were also detained by protesters, but have since been released.

Continue reading

Conmemoración de la sentencia por genocidio; La nueva fiscal general de Guatemala

Hoy, en el primer aniversario de la sentencia por genocidio, reiteramos nuestra solidaridad con los miles de víctimas y sobrevivientes ixiles que han vivido tanto sufrimiento y con las que siguen luchando por la justicia y la dignidad.

El 10 de mayo de 2013 se dictó la sentencia de 80 años de prisión para el ex dictador golpista José Efraín Ríos Montt, por los delitos de genocidio y delitos contra los deberes de humanidad contra el pueblo maya ixil — una sentencia que por mucho, se ha constituido en histórica para Guatemala y para el resto de la comunidad global que trabaja por la justicia.

La sentencia no sólo implicó justicia para los 1,771 hombres, mujeres y niños ixiles asesinados en el periodo de marzo de 1982 y agosto de 1983. Fue justicia también para sus familiares sobrevivientes y para los miles de víctimas que a todo lo largo y ancho del país se registraron durante el conflicto armado interno. También significó la posibilidad de justicia para quienes por más de 30 años silenciaron el horror de sus historías y aguantaron la indiferencia de una sociedad que ha llegado a negar los hechos.

Una ceremonia maya realizado fuera de la corte pidiendo justicia; el General Ríos Montt horas antes del anuncio del veredicto Continue reading

Claudia Paz y Paz excluded from shortlist of candidates for attorney general

10175954_809402302421075_2513888451222919068_n(1)

GHRC laments  the decision earlier this week by the Nominating Commission to exclude Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz from the list of candidates sent to President Pérez Molina for attorney general.

Dr. Paz y Paz — the current Attorney General — received only 4 votes out of 13, despite the fact that she received the second highest score during the review process and is widely recognized for her professionalism and successful efforts to decrease impunity over the last three years in Guatemala.

The roster of the six finalists raises grave concerns about the independence of the institution in the future. Three of the six candidates selected have been the subject of serious objections raised by the CICIG; the other three have also been the subject of allegations from other groups. Continue reading