“After spending the past three years travelling around the world and documenting the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur is more appalled than ever to see attacks against them multiplying everywhere, assailing bloggers, indigenous peoples, journalists, community leaders, whistle-blowers and community volunteers. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur has become convinced that the incidents in question are not isolated acts but concerted attacks against those who try to embody the ideal of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a world free from fear and want. ” – Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur –
The European Parliament in Strasbourg has approved an urgent resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in Guatemala. Deputies expressed their concerns and acknowledged the work carried out by human rights defenders, urging the Guatemalan government to adopt measures aimed at protecting HRDs from assaults and dangers they are confronting regularly.
The figures are alarming. Parliamentarians recalled that between January and November 2016, 223 assaults were registered against Human Rights Defenders s as well as 14 killings and 7 attempted murders. Since the beginning of the year, 2 Human Rights Defenders were killed in Guatemala. The majority of these crimes were the final act of a long and repetitive cycle of violence.
The EP also underlined the hostile environment in which justice officials have to work. They face harassment, criminalization, coercion, discredit and intimidation campaigns, which undermine the independence of the judiciary system in the country.
The resolution also supports the new justice reform initiative, which has been presented recently in the Guatemalan Congress. It aims at undertaking legal reforms to strengthen the Rule of Law in the country.
According to Beatriz Becerra, vice-chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament and member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), “human rights defenders are the most powerful asset in the achievement of a more independent justice, however, they are defamed, harassed and ultimately assassinated. For these reasons the Guatemalan government have to protect them with ambitious public policies”.
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“Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Guatemala are subjected to death threats, physical attacks, acts of harassment, surveillance, stigmatization, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance and killings. Many of the violations are carried out by clandestine security structures and illegal groups. The exceptionally high level of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators increases the risk exponentially for HRDs.
A serious issue is the unfair use of criminal proceedings in order to prevent HRDs from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities. Many criminal proceedings are launched by private companies (often backed by European and North American governments) related to the mining sector and the construction of dams, spuriously accusing HRDs of crimes such as acts of terrorism, usurpation of land, kidnappings and others. As part of the criminalization process, campaigns of defamation and stigmatization have been carried out by both state and non-state actors, particularly transnational companies and right-wing media publications. State authorities continue to publish statements and press releases in which they publicly incriminate HRDs on unverified charges.”
“With regard to Guatemala, Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda, a former activist in the movement of peaceful resistance against the San Rafael mining project, was killed on January 16, according to the information available. She was reportedly found dead in her home, with gunshot wounds to the head. The Commission was also informed that indigenous land rights defender Sebastián Alonso Juan was killed on January 17 in Huehuetenango, during a peaceful protest against the hydroelectric projects Pojom I and II. (…)
The Inter-American Commission reiterates that States have the obligation to prevent any attempt on the life and physical integrity of human rights defenders, and to guarantee in all circumstances that rights defenders can carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of any restrictions. States have the duty to guarantee the safety of groups of defenders at particular risk and to adopt specific measures of protection tailored to their needs, for example through special protocols. (…)
The Commission also reiterates that acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees afforded to all human beings but also undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and contribute to the vulnerability of all those whose rights they champion. In the case of indigenous communities, such acts carry additional serious consequences because they damage social and cultural cohesion.”