Black Wednesday in the Defense of Human Rights

The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) has issued a communique expressing deep concern about a spate of serious human rights violations. GHRC provides a rough translation below. See the original here.

The Unit for the Protection for Human Rights Defenders-Guatemala expresses deep concern about a series of violent acts committed yesterday, Wednesday, November 9, rarely seen and with little precedent. On that account, UDEFEGUA wishes to express:

  1. On yesterday [Wednesday] alone, union leader Eliseo Villatoro Cardona in Tiquisate was assassinated; illegal, forced entry was made into the Teachers House, where information valuable to STEG [the Union of Guatemalan Education Workers] was stolen; the threat was made to lynch two defenders of a Sololá social auditing organization and five members of COCODE [the Community Development Council] of the same department, whose location we maintain in reserve until the risk is diminished; and one act of sexual violence was committed against a community leader whose name and organization we keep in reserve. Also, reports came to light that a member of CODECA [Committee for Campesino Development] in Cobán was abducted, with the involvement of members of the National Civil Police.
  2. These events are part of a series of acts of violence that affect the capacity to carry out the defense of human rights, such as the assassination of journalist Hamilton Hernández and his wife in Coatepeque last week; threats to three journalists by the group identified as “the Zetas” to stop their coverage in the fight for human rights in Alta Verapaz, El Quiché, and Huehuetenango; violent evictions in El Estor; the illegal arrest of an elder of the Q’anjob’al Nation, as well as the  aggression against another community member in Yxquixix, San Mateo Ixtatán, and the attack on members of UVOC [the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations] in El Estor.
  3. These acts of exacerbated violence occur within the framework of permissiveness that the government of Jimmy Morales and the ruling political party (FCN-Nacion) extend to the perpetrators.

    Given the facts expressed above, UDEFEGUA demands:

  1. That the authorities in charge of criminal investigation carry out the pertinent procedures and that they permit the intellectual and material authors of these crimes and serious human rights violations to be identified and condemned.
  2. That the Public Ministry [recognize] the urgent need to carry out a general instruction to permit prosecutors to have greater and more capacity to guarantee an end to impunity.
  3. That COPREDEH take effective steps towards the creation of a Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in order to take other preventive measures.

Finally, we wish to send a message of solidarity, support, and accompaniment to the defenders who commit their lives to the defense and promotion of human rights.

Links that may be helpful: El Estor eviction (more here)
Recent communique by UDEFEGUA on other recent acts of violence

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Angelica Choc, Mayan Q’eqchi’ human rights defender suffers intimidation

As GHRC we manifest our concern before the intimidation that Angelica Choc suffered on
the night of September 16, when unknown persons shot at her house several times.

Via Rights Action: ¨Just after midnight, Friday September 16, 2016, shots were fired at the home of Angelica Choc, a Mayan Q’eqchi’ human rights leader and community defender in El Estor, department of Izabal, Guatemala, while she slept inside with her youngest son and an adopted daughter.¨

http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=ea011209a243050dfb66dff59&id=30d7462d88

GHRC reaffirms solidarity and support for congresswoman Sandra Morán

We reaffirm our solidarity and support for congresswoman Sandra Morán before the attacks against her and we add our voice to the national and international statements that in recent days have been made.

We congratulate her on a lifelong trajectory of working in defense of the rights of women, from her leadership roles in civil society and now in Congress. She stood against misogynistic and defamatory attacks and was elected as the President of the Board of the Parliamentary Forum of Women.

 

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

Maya Nations call for the protection and defense of Mother Earth

Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico – Last week Maya Ancestral Authorities from diverse Maya nations of Mexico and Guatemala convened a three-day meeting titled, Ancestral Wisdom for the Defense of life, Mother Earth, and Her Natural Elements, from February 12 -14. The gathering is in response to the urgent threats in the region due to the hundreds of development projects causing environmental destruction and violating the rights of the Maya peoples and Mother Earth. This meeting comes just days before Pope Francis will arrive in Chiapas, Mexico. His visit will include meetings with indigenous peoples to hear their concerns regarding their human rights and protection of Mother Nature. In his Encyclical, the Pope called for indigenous peoples to be the “principle dialogue partners especially when large projects on their lands are proposed.”

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