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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.
28 August 2015
21 August 2014
29 May 2014
02 October 2013
11 June 2013
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