Land rights are Human Rights

Monday, December 11, 2017

ILC LAC works hard to ensure that voices of Human Rights Defenders are being heard around the world.

2017 is on track to become one of the deadliest years for land and environmental defenders, with more than 170 assassinations to date.

One of ILC’s Ten Commitments is to “respect and protect the civil and political rights of human rights defenders working on land issues” as part of our aim to achieve people-centred land governance. In this line, ILC and its members express their solidarity to those who have and are continuing to fight for equal rights.  


In Guatemala, conflicts over land access is worsening. Rights of peasants and Indigenous Peoples are systematically violated, generating tension and disputes which are particularly affecting those defending fundamental rights and freedoms of the local people.

The criminalization of human rights defenders deeply affects their lives and dignity. Actions of defamation, criminal reports, and arbitrary and illegal detentions are a reflection of this.

A number of cases from the Committee of Peasant Development (Comite de Desarrollo Campesino or CODECA), are presented below.  They are irrefutable evidence of how criminal law is used against human rights defenders.


Criminalized for defending human rights 

From an early age, Edwin have defended and promoted human rights, notably the collective rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This defender and communicator has been criminalized since 2014. However, the Public Prosecutor´s Office has not provided any documentary or expert evidence to substantiate accusations. Companies have also used different means to try to discredit him with the community.

Up to this date, there are ongoing criminal proceedings against Sanchez Cabrera in the Municipal Court of Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, Escuintla, on charges of incitement to commit criminal offences, activities against internal national security, and attacks against public services.


Criminalized for defending labour rights and rights to land and territories

Blanca Julia joined CODECA in 2006 through the network of women defenders of labour rights. Since 2012, she intensified her work in the Department of Retalhuleu to defend the human rights of communities. She also took responsibilities to support organizational and socio-political formative processes in the Department of Huehuetenango.

In following years, she joined a team of 117 community defenders carrying out research to support the publication of a study titled "Employment situation of agricultural workers". While conducting her research, Blanca Julia was threatened with phone calls on several occasions.

On June 26, 2014, together with Mauro Vay and Mariano Garcia, she was kidnapped by a group of men who pretended to be members of a Community Council for Urban and Rural Development (Consejo Comunitario de Desarrollo Urbano y Rural or COCODE). After two hours of threats, illegal detention and sexual harassment, she was taken to a police station. Later, a judge on duty ordered she remand in custody. She was wrongly imprisoned for more than three months. During her time in prison, no Court accepted a Habeas Corpus appeal.

In March 2016, the Criminal Court freed Blanca Julia and the other two defenders from one of the charges, sentencing them instead for a non-existent offence in the Guatemalan criminal code, named "special case of attempted fraud". In 2017, the Court of Appeals acquitted and declared innocent the three criminalized defenders.


Criminalized for defending labour rights and rights to land and territories

Since a young age, Mauro has been involved in human rights struggles, co-founding CODECA with other 16 people in 1992. From that moment on, he has been a victim of attacks from defamation and stigmatization campaigns.

On June 26, 2014 he was kidnapped, together with Blanca Julia Ajtum Mejia and Mariano Garcia. He was wrongly imprisoned for more than three months.

A complaint was filed to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, with the support of the International Commission of Jurists. On June 2016, the Working Group declared arbitrary the detention of the CODECA defender, requesting to the State of Guatemala reparations and guarantees it will not happen again.

Recently, the Court of Appeals acquitted and declared Mauro Vay innocent of all charges against him.


Criminalized for defending rights to land and territories, rights to public services and the restoration of privatized services

Vicenta is currently one of the main Guatemalan defenders for indigenous and peasant rights of the communities CODECA works with. She is a well-known radio reporter for Radio Victoria - The Peoples Voice, and is responsible for the regional coordination of communities in resistance in the South East of Guatemala.

As a young girl, during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala (1960-1996), she was forced to flee to Mexico to save her life. When she returned to Guatemala, she joined CODECA and has worked ever since to defend indigenous and peasant rights.

In 2014, Vicenta was prosecuted and charged with activities against the internal national security, attacks to public services and incitement to commit criminal offences, due to complaints filed by companies linked to the energy sector in Guatemala. The criminal process is currently in debate in the sessions of the Magistrate´s Court. To this date, the Public Prosecutor's Office has not presented any documented or expert evidence.


Beaten for defending land rights

Jacinto is a rights defender of the Ixil indigenous community. Electric energy distributor companies generate high levels of social conflict in the area where he lives and Brito has filed against them several reports of abuses.

On November 3, 2017, after an assembly celebrated at the centre of the urban area of the Municipality of Nebaj, in the Department of Quiché, the Ixil defender was brutally beaten by unknown attackers.

In an interview, Brito was asked what he intended to do next with regards to his commitment to defend people´s rights. He responded: "We will continue the struggle. I'm not going to abandon the pathway”.

He has filed a complaint at the Public Prosecutor's Office but, to this date, there is no outcome of the investigation.

Currently, Brito is still suffering from the aftermath of the violent attack perpetrated against his life.


Criminalized for defending rights to basic services, and rights to land and territories

Ceferina Xaminez, a human rights defender for land and territories against demanding nationalization of privatized services and assets, was recently detained.

On November 15, 2017, Ceferina received a visit to her house by police officers and workers of the hydroelectric power plant located in the area. They wanted Ceferina to sign a document stating she would not continue demanding the nationalization of the electric power sector. She flatly refused the request. Ceferina was then formally charged with burglary and incitement to commit a criminal offence.

The judge at the Magistrate´s Court accused the defender of having robbed a helmet and two pairs of pliers, letting her go on probation during the development of the investigation.

CODECA, in coordination with other organizations, made an appearance at the defender´s hearing to show their solidarity and support.

Vesna Villafuerte (Unidad de Cordinación Regional ILC ALC)
Leiria Vay Gracía (CODECA, miembro de ILC ALC)
Jubenal Quispe (CODECA, miembro de ILC ALC)