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Human rights defenders 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 organisations and illegal groups. The exceptionally high level of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of such violations increase the risk exponentially for human rights defenders in the country.
In the final four years of the Government of President Álvaro Colom (2008 – 2011), 1,286 attacks were reported against human rights defenders, accounting for 51% of the total 2,491 reported attacks between 2000 and 2011. Within the same period 55 HRDs were murdered, with many being killed by hired assassins or illegal groups. The Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos – Guatemala - UDEFEGUA (Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit) reported that 2011 was the most violent year so far for HRDs, with a total of 402 reported violations of the right to defend human rights.
There are many different issues that expose human rights defenders to the risk of threat or attack. Trade unionists, along with campesino and indigenous rights defenders defending the right to prior consultation, 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. Women human rights defenders (WHRDs) continue to be particularly vulnerable with reports showing a pattern of the continued and repeated use of written threats, including with a high content of sexual references, as a means of harassing and intimidating WHRDs.
A serious issue facing Guatemalan human rights defenders is the unfair use of criminal proceedings against them in order to prevent them from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities. As part of the criminalisation process, campaigns of defamation and stigmatisation of HRDs have been carried out by both state and non-state actors, particularly transnational companies and right-wing media publications.
Human rights defenders continue to experience threats and attacks in relation to the security of the premises of their homes and organisations which are frequently subject to raids.
A climate of impunity in regard to human rights violations still prevails in the country, few attacks against human rights defenders are investigated and even fewer result in convictions. Whilst this culture of impunity exists there is nothing to deter further threats, attacks and killings of human rights defenders and increases in reported cases will continue.
21 August 2014
29 May 2014
02 October 2013
11 June 2013
12 April 2012
Guatemala – First hearing in the case against human rights defender Ms Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid
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