Back to top
12 December 2016

Trial for the killing of HRD Adolfo Ich Chaman continues behind closed doors

By Lorena Cotza

Angelica Choc stands next to a sign that says “Adolfo Ich murdered by CGN. Mining is responsible.”  Photograph by Daniel Sosa

This week, a Guatemalan court is expected to issue a verdict in the case of a man accused of brutally murdering a human rights activist in 2009. Adolfo Ich Chamán – a prominent environmental and indigenous people's rights defender from the El Estor region of Guatemala - was attacked by men with machetes and died of the wounds.

For Adolfo's family, this is the opportunity to finally obtain justice. But the family, as well as the organisations supporting them, have expressed concern regarding the decision of the judge to continue the trial behind closed doors, preventing international observers from attending the final hearings at the court of Puerto Barrios, in the department of Izabal,

Adolfo was a respected Mayan Q’eqchi’ community leader and the President of the Community of La Uníon in the El Estor region. Before being killed, the human rights defender was leading his community in the struggle against a Canadian mining company destroying their territory. This week the defense will present its concluding arguments and is expected to issue a sentence.

In the early afternoon of 27 September 2009, Adolfo went to one of the buildings close to the mine. He was not carrying any weapons. When he arrived there, a group of men working as security guards for the mine attacked him with a machete and shot him in the head. He died from the wounds.

The same day, security personnel working for the mine shot at close range another community member, German Chub Choc. He survived the attack, but he suffered life-threatening injuries and he is now paralyzed. Four other Q’eqchi’ farmers from the El Estor region were seriously wounded.

Following her husband's killing, human rights defender Angélica Choc along with 12 other plaintiffs sought justice in a Canadian court. They sued the mining company HudBay Minerals Inc. and two of its subsidiaries, HMI Nickel Inc. and Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel S.A, for the death of her husband.

In March 2015, Angélica also took the lead in a high profile criminal trial in Guatemala against the mining company's former security chief, Mynor Padilla, who is also a retired Guatemalan army agent.

Because of her role in speaking out against the abuses committed by the mining company, Angélica Choc has suffered attacks, threats and intimidation. In the latest attack, on 17 September 2016, four shots were fired outside her home while she and her two children were sleeping.

The Canada-based organisation Rights Action, which has been accompanying HRD Angélica Choc since her husband's killing, has expressed serious concerns for the irregularities of the trial and the lack of protection provided to  Angélica Choc. The judge decided to continue the trial behind closed doors due to “security threats” for the defendant, for the judge herself, and for the prosecution. However, according to Angélica Choc this ‘closed door’ resolution is not justified, and she fears it might be detrimental to the transparency of the trial and to her own security.

In the case of German Chub Choc, Adolfo Ich Chaman, and other rights defenders like them, Guatemalan authorities need to allow international observers in the court rooms if justice is ever to be served for the murders of peaceful activists. This week, it has a chance to prove it is on the path to reform by affording Adolfo's family and community an open, fair and just trial.