Guatemala

OVERVIEW

Human rights defenders (HRDs) in Guatemala are subjected to death threats, physical attacks, acts of harassment, surveillance, stigmatisation, 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.

Since Otto Pérez Molina assumed the role of President in January 2012, cases of harassment and threats against HRDs have been on the rise. The Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos – Guatemala - UDEFEGUA (Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit) reported that, in 2014, there were a total of 805 violations against HRDs, including 16 assassinations, making 2014 the most violent year so far. UDEFEGUA further reported that 82% of the violations reported were physical attacks, and more than half of those targeted women human rights defenders (WHRDs).

Trade unionists, along with campesino and indigenous rights defenders defending the right to prior consultation on development projects, continue to be targeted with a number of killings being reported. Unequal land distribution has led to many land conflicts, with those defending the rights to land increasingly being targeted and attacked. Environmental rights defenders, especially those working on issues relating to mining and the extractive industries, have been facing increased threats which include physical attacks and assassination attempts. Journalists are also targeted, especially those covering corruption and accountability for violations committed during the civil war. WHRDs continue to be particularly vulnerable with reports showing a pattern of continued and repeated use of written threats, including with a high content of sexual references, as a means of harassing and intimidating them. The majority of those targeted are indigenous, campesino and environmental rights defenders.

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 related to the mining sector and the construction of dams, accusing HRDs of crimes such as acts of terrorism, usurpation of land, kidnappings and others. As part of the criminalisation process, campaigns of defamation and stigmatisation 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. Such defamation campaigns and written threats released publicly through print media or social media have an immediate impact on the work of human rights defenders.

While general violence and insecurity are a serious concern, HRDs continue to experience targeted threats and attacks against their homes and offices, which are frequently subject to illegal raids and break-ins. Despite evidence and implications indicating the targeted nature of these attacks, the authorities commonly react with an partial investigation before linking them to common criminal activity.

A climate of impunity in regard to human rights violations still prevails in the country, few attacks against HRDs are investigated and even fewer result in convictions.

CASE INDEX

2014/11/11

Human rights defender and community leader, Ms Bárbara Díaz Surín is currently in detention, on fabricated charges of murder. She is being held at the Santa Teresa pre-detention centre for women and will remain in detention until her next hearing, which is...

Norma Lila Sut Sancir, who was arrested alongside Carlos Alfredo Juárez Díaz
2014/09/24

Human rights defenders Ms Norma Lila Sut Sancir and Mr Carlos Alfredo Juárez Díaz were released on 22 September 2014 following their arrest in the department of Chiquimula in what Front Line Defenders interprets as an attempt to criminalise human...

2014/07/7

Members of the Comité de Desarrollo Campesino - CODECA (Association of Farmers' Development Committee), Messrs Mauro Vay Gonón, Mariano García Carrillo and Ms Blanca Julia Ajtum Mejía, continue to be held in preventative detention after their...

Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid at a demonstration
2014/05/23

On 27 May 2014, the first hearing of the trial against human rights defender Ms Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid will take place in the single judge Eighth Court of Criminal, Drug Trafficking and...

Yuri Melini has faced fresh intimidation
2014/04/30

On 22 April 2014, the human rights defender Dr Yuri Melini discovered intimidating text had been painted on his front gate. The text names the member of the police provided as personal security to...