Guatemala: Seven human rights defenders killed in four weeks

Guatemalan authorities must take immediate and effective measures to protect human rights defenders and launch thorough, impartial and independent investigations into all attacks against them, Amnesty International said today, following the killing of seven human rights defenders in the space of a month.

“Guatemala’s brave human rights defenders are being killed with impunity on a terrifyingly regular basis. The authorities must take urgent action to protect them from these savage and calculated attacks before more lives are lost,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

Guatemala’s brave human rights defenders are being killed with impunity on a terrifyingly regular basis. The authorities must take urgent action to protect them from these savage and calculated attacks before more lives are lost
Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

“Instead of stigmatizing and insulting those who dedicate their lives to the defence of their land and the environment, the authorities must publicly recognize the importance of their work and ensure that those responsible for the attacks against them are brought to justice.”

The seven people killed in the last four weeks were all involved in defending their communities’ land, territory or the environment, and they were all members of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) or the Altiplano Campesino Committee (CCDA).

The wave of attacks began on 9 May, when CODECA coordinator Luis Arturo Marroquín, 47, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in San Luis Jilotepeque. The next day, CCDA member José Can Xol, 37, was also shot to death by unidentified assailants in Choctún Basilá in the municipality of Cobán.

On 13 May, 31-year-old Mateo Chamám Paau, another CCDA member, was found dead in San Juan Tres Ríos, also part of Cobán. He had previously been threatened because of his activism. Then, on 30 May, two men attacked Ramón Choc Sacrab, an Indigenous Q’echí’ leader and regional CCDA leader in Ixloq San Pedrito, Cobán. He died two days later from the injuries sustained to his throat and face.

On 4 June, the CODECA community leaders Florencio Pérez Nájera, 42, and Alejandro Hernández García, 40, were found dead in the southern Jutiapa region shortly after attending a community meeting. Their bodies bore machete wounds. Four days later, 68-year-old Francisco Munguia, another CODECA community leader, was also hacked to death by assailants with machetes in Guatemala’s Jalapa region.

To date, no one has been arrested or charged in connection with these killings, which have occurred within a context of extreme violence, including threats, attacks and smear campaigns to demonize human rights defenders. President Jimmy Morales has referred to CODECA using stigmatizing and defamatory language in recent weeks, thus contributing to the atmosphere of hostility and violence against its members.

The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), a non-governmental organization, documented 493 attacks against human rights defenders in 2017, and there have already been 12 killings this year. Those working on rights related to land, territory and the environment are among the most commonly targeted.

Amnesty International calls on the Guatemalan authorities to immediately implement effective measures to protect CODECA and CCDA members, in consultation with them and in accordance with their wishes, to ensure that they can continue their human rights work safely and without fear of reprisal.

The authorities must promptly carry out thorough, independent, impartial and effective investigations into all threats and attacks against human rights defenders in the country. The investigations must establish whether the attacks were in connection with their human rights work, as established under the recently approved Protocol for the Investigation of Crimes Committed against Human Rights Defenders.

The authorities must also condemn the wave of killings, publically recognize the importance and legitimacy of the work of human right defenders, and stop using insulting, stigmatizing or discriminatory language against them.