Press Release

Experts Condemn the Attacks and Killings of Environment Defenders in Guatemala

June 30, 2017

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Washington, D.C. – Defenders of the environment in Guatemala face one the greatest risks worldwide due to their activity in defense of the territory and the environment against large-scale projects that threaten their right to a healthy environment. So far this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has received information on at least five attacks against defenders of the environment in the country, including two murders.

On 17 January 2017, communities in Huehuetenango staged a peaceful protest against environmental harm they would suffer by a hydroelectric project in Ixquisis, Huehuetenango. During the protest, armed men began shooting demonstrators and wounded indigenous and land rights defender Sebastian Alonso Juan, who later passed away as a result of the injuries. Later, on 27 May 2017, another environmental human rights defender, Carlos Maaz Coc, was killed while attending a demonstration that called on the authorities to resolve the contamination of Lake Izabal due to mining activities. The use of force by the National Civil Police, including the use of rubber bullets, ammunition, gas bombs and sound bombs, reportedly injured many people and led to the death of Carlos Maaz Coc.

More recently, on 7 June 2017, several members of the K'iche People's Council, including Aura Lolita Chávez –beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR-, were reportedly threatened, chased and shot at by ten unidentified armed men, while she and her colleagues tried to deliver a truck-load of seized illegal wood to the local authorities in Santa Cruz del Quiché, K’iche department.

"We call on the authorities of Guatemala to urgently address this unacceptable increase of violence against environmental defenders, and adopt a policy for the protection of human rights defenders," said the experts. "This public policy should include the implementation of a comprehensive protection programme of human rights defenders, in accordance with what the Inter-American Court has pointed out in the case of Human Rights Defenders and Others v. Guatemala. The policy should also take into account the specific risk factors to which environmental human rights defenders are exposed", they continued.

The experts recalled that States have the obligation to combat impunity in instances of violence against human rights defenders by conducting a serious, independent and transparent investigation in order to hold accountable the masterminds and actual perpetrators, as well as to ensure adequate reparation. States must also prevent any attempt on the lives and physical integrity of environmental defenders to ensure in all circumstances that these defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear or retaliation and free of any restriction.


Mr. John Knox is the first Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment appointed by the Human Rights Council in 2012. John Knox is the Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law at Wake Forest University, in North Carolina, where he teaches and writes on human rights law, environmental law, and their relationship with one another.

Mr. Michel Forst was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2014. Mr. Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998.

Mr. José de Jesús Orozco Henríquez undertook the responsibility of leading the IACHR’s Unit for Human Rights Defenders and stayed as Rapporteur when the IACHR decided to convert the Unit into a Rapporteurship in 2011. Mr. Orozco is a researcher on human rights law and other areas at the Legal Research Institute of the Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and he formerly served for 16 years as a Magistrate on Mexico’s highest electoral courts.

No. 088/17