International Mission in Guatemala on violations to defenders of land and the environment

Friday, 10th August 2018

As representatives of the International Land Coalition, Frontline Defenders and CIVICUS, accompanied by Pastoral de la Tierra and UDEFEGUA, we have spent the last week visiting communities and talking to representatives of local and national government, human rights institutions, and international development partners.

The message we have heard from defenders across Guatemala is, 'We are not criminals, we are not killers, we simply want to work our land and feed our families.' We stand by their assertion.

We have found that to date the government of Guatemala has failed to make any effective response to protect Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) at risk or investigate crimes against them. The government is presiding over a climate of violence in which HRDs can be killed with impunity and without any fear of sanction. Of grave concern to us is that the acts of violence against HRDs have gone beyond random acts to become a systematic pattern of persecution.

Not only is the state failing to uphold fundamental human rights, but it is actively dismantling existing protection mechanisms and institutions. Instead of upholding the human rights of individuals and communities, the legal and judicial systems are being used to advance the interests of powerful state and non-state groups against the interests of local communities, often through corrupt means. We have been told by a wide variety of actors in Guatemala that it is no longer a functioning democracy. In meetings with communities, we have heard over and over again their sentiment that the state has abandoned them. The community journalists who expose the brutal reality are now themselves being targeted.

At the root of social conflict is access to land, water and natural resources. It is evident that the state of Guatemala has chosen to prioritise an economic model of rural development that enriches the few, at the expense of impoverishing communities, incentivising migration and destroying the environment.

The government of Guatemala has a clear choice between addressing these issues as part of a process of building a more just and equal society, or maintaining the status quo, which will only result in further polarisation and economic hardship for the people of Guatemala.  The starting point for building a more inclusive rural development model is the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. If consultations in good faith are to have any value, people need to trust that the government will act on agreements reached with communities. It is also urgent to end the stigmatisation of HRDs, and recognise the legitimate and positive role they play.

We have been deeply impressed in the course of the mission with the resilience and courage of women and men community leaders across Guatemala, who are fearlessly working for the betterment of their people, and who still have hope that the government may listen to them. We also recognise the critical role played by The Human Rights Ombudsman, the Constitutional Court and CICIG in upholding international human rights standards.

'We call on the government and international community to recognise and support the crucial role of community leaders in defining and implementing models of sustainable, equitable economic development, starting with recognising and protecting their rights to land, territory, water and natural resources', Michael Taylor, International Land Coalition.

'Over the last year, HRDs have been harassed and killed with total immunity. While we welcome the announcement by the Attorney General of significant progress in identifying the killers of Juana Raymundo, it is important that those who orchestrated the crime are also brought to justice. We trust that the same attention will be given to the other 17 cases of human rights defenders who have been killed since January this year.' James Loughran, Front Line Defenders.

 

ILC is a global network of multilateral and civil society organisations working together to put people at the centre of land governance. ILC's national members in Guatemala are CODECA, UVOC, CCDA, Nuevo Dìa and CONGCOOP.

Front Line Defenders is an international human rights organisation focusing on the security and protection of human rights defenders at risk.

CIVICUS is a network of civil society organisations strengthening and promoting civic rights and democratic values

 

Contacts (English/Spanish):

James Loughran, Frontline Defenders,  +35 3872316049,  jim@frontlinedefenders.org

Zulema Burneo, International Land Coalition América Latina y el Caribe, +51 987814597 z.burneo@landcoalition.info

Elisa Novoa, CIVICUS, +27 795817941, elisa.novoa@civicus.org