Guatemala update: seven land defenders murdered in one month
Between May 9th and June 9th, seven prominent community leaders from CODECA and CCDA were murdered in Guatemala. Diverse international and human rights organisations have expressed their concern about the wave of assassinations and have called the authorities for immediate measures to clarify the facts and protect the defenders.
The victims were members of Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA) and Comité Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA), both International Land Coalition (ILC) member organisations with a long history of struggle for peasant and indigenous rights.
Luis Marroquin, member of the leadership of CODECA, was shot on May 9th in Jalapa when he was going to a community assembly. The following day, Jose Can Xol, leader of CCDA, was killed with a firearm in Choctún Basilá in Alta Verapaz, where 40 people are currently facing arrest warrants and eight peasants are being held as political prisoners for exercising their legitimate right to defend their territory.
Mateo Chaman Paau, member of CCDA, who had received threats for his role as the active leader of the organisation, was found dead on May 13th in the community of San Juan Tres Rios, in Coban, Alta Verapaz. Ramon Choc Sacrab, regional leader of CCDA at Ixloq San Pedrito, was the victim of an attack on May 30th, which caused his death two days later.
Florencio Perez Najera and Alejandro Hernandez Garcia, also peasant leaders from CODECA, were found dead on June 5 in Jutiapa, after attending a community meeting. The last murder known was that of Francisco Munguia on June 9th, who was the community Vice-President of CODECA in Jalapa. The three defenders were attacked with machetes.
This wave of assassinations show a worrying escalation of attacks and the criminalisation of defenders from communities in Guatemala who are connected to the struggle for rights to land and territories. According to Global Witness , there were six deaths of land defenders in 2016, most of them from Indigenous Peoples communities, who have historically been excluded and still remaine in an extremely vulnerable situation. According to data from UDEFEGUA, between 2011 and 2017 the country registered more than 50 assassinations of human rights defenders.
The issue of access and secure land tenure for rural communities is at the heart of the conflicts where actors involved have different interests. In this climate, members of social organisations are constantly being criminalised for defending their rights to their land and territories.
Diverse organisations and international bodies have demanded the Guatemalan authorities to investigate the murders, so that those responsible are brought to justice and effective measures are taken to protect human rights defenders . Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment Programme said the crimes are "unacceptable" and that it is "imperative" to determine responsibilities, while UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Miss Victoria Tauliz Corpuz, described the murders of indigenous leaders as "alarming".
On June 12th, CODECA organized a massive march to denounce the increasing persecution and criminalisation of human rights defenders and to call on the Government to comply as a guarantor of the fundamental rights of all country inhabitants. Representatives of the organisation have also held meetings with the Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras, so that the murders are investigated and justice is served.
As a response to the violence, ILC is promoting the regional initiative Protecting Land and Environmental Defenders with participation of national and international organisations linked to land and human rights defenders in the region. In the framework of this initiative, the Latin American Debate of Land and Environmental Defenders "Defending Rights in the Territories" was organized from May 22 to 24 in Guatemala City. There the Latin American network for protecting defenders of rights to land and territories was defined. More information can be found here.
The ILC Council resolved that the director of the secretariat should lead a high-level mission to visit Guatemala to:
- Bring attention to the serious situation of agrarian conflict, criminalization of community leadership, death and constant threats to the lives of defenders of the rights to land, food, forests and water.
- Encourage urgent measures to guarantee the work of Land and Environmental Rights Defenders in Guatemala, through meetings and recommendations to the national government and the public.
The mission will include CIVICUS, Frontline Defenders, Transparency International, and other international human rights organisations, and will take place 6-10 August.