Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) wishes to express its alarm over the increase in murders and aggressions against human rights defenders in Guatemala. The IACHR calls once more on the state of Guatemala to take urgent measures to protect those who are defending human rights in the country and to fully investigate these crimes, taking the fact that the victims were engaged in defending human rights fully into account.
On June 27, 2018, the IACHR and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Guatemala condemned the murders of 10 human rights campaigners belonging to indigenous and peasant organizations that took place in the first half of the year. The two organizations also urged the state of Guatemala to make progress on adopting and implementing public policies to protect human rights defenders.
Since then, the IACHR has learned of at least six further murders of human rights defenders in Guatemala. In the month of July alone, at least three social and community leaders were killed. Ángel Estuardo Quevedo, a community leader from Casillas municipality, was murdered on July 12; Adolfo Chon Pacay, a member of the Committee for Peasant Unity (CUC) was murdered on July 20; and the body of Juana Raymundo was found with signs of torture on a riverbank between Nebaj and the Acambalam community on July 28. Juana Raymundo was a Maya Ixil human rights defender and a member and part of the leadership of the Committee for Peasant Development (CODECA). Juana Ramírez Santiago, a member of the board of directors of the Ixil Women’s Network, was murdered on September 21, and father and son Benedicto Hernández and Arnoldo Hernández, both members of CUC, were murdered on October 10.
The predicament of human rights defenders in Guatemala has been a source of ongoing concern for the IACHR due to the acts of violence, aggression, and criminalization that they are constantly exposed to. In its 2017 Country Report, the IACHR discussed the increase in attacks on and murders of human rights defenders in comparison with 2016. According to the Human Rights Ombudsman, 20 human rights defenders have been murdered so far in 2018. This figure was endorsed by the civil society organizations that took part in the public hearing entitled “Reports of Grave Human Rights Violations in the Disappearance of Social and Peasant Leaders in Guatemala” at the IACHR’s 169th Period of Sessions in Boulder, Colorado.
The IACHR wishes to remind the state of Guatemala of its duty to carry out official investigations into crimes of this sort and sanction those responsible for planning and implementing them. The Commission particularly urges the state to pursue lines of investigation that contemplate whether the murders in question were committed specifically because of the victims’ involvement in human rights work. These investigations must be exhaustive, serious, and impartial, and be conducted with due diligence. The IACHR insists that the state must take all necessary steps to guarantee the right to life, integrity, and security of all human rights defenders, especially indigenous and peasant leaders, who have been targeted by the current wave of violence and who face specific risks.
"In the context of discrimination against women that prevails in Guatemala, women human rights defenders challenge stereotypes disapproving their participation in public life," stated Commissioner Margarette May Macaulay, President of the IACHR and Rapporteur on the Rights of Women and on the Rights of Persons of African Descent. "Because of their commitment, they are exposed to misogynistic attitudes, to threats of sexual aggression, to insults based on their gender and even, to their death. The stigmatization and violence against them very often extends to their families and their communities, with clear discriminatory and racist dimensions in the case of women human rights defenders of indigenous origins or African descent" she added.
The State must also take the inherent risks faced by women human rights defenders into particular account, as the hazards that are inherent to their work are compounded by the prevailing context of gender discrimination. The state must therefore take reasonable steps to prevent acts of violence against them and attempt to remedy the current climate of discrimination, which fosters the repetition of such acts. Specifically, the state should take a special approach that includes a gender and ethnic-racial perspective when investigating, prosecuting, sanctioning, and providing reparation for these crimes.
“It is essential that the state of Guatemala approve the Public Policy for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders,” said Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren, IACHR rapporteur on human rights defenders. “Any progress on passing this policy should include consultations with civil society organizations,” he added.
The IACHR also urges the state of Guatemala to provide the relevant resources and implement any training necessary for officials from the Public Prosecutor’s Office to be able to effectively implement the Investigation Protocol for Crimes against Human Rights Defenders, which was passed on May 14, 2018, in compliance with General Instruction 05-2018 from the attorney general.
As the IACHR has observed previously, acts of violence and attacks against human rights defenders do not only affect the guarantees that apply to all human beings, they also undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society, thus rendering all those who they seek to protect defenseless. The Commission also wishes to remind the state of Guatemala that the work of human rights defenders is an essential part of building a solid, lasting, democratic society and that they play a key role in achieving rule of law and strengthening democracy. These individuals fight to combat impunity, and the monitoring, reporting, outreach, and education that they are engaged in is an essential contribution to guaranteeing human rights.
A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.