Press Release

IACHR and OHCHR Condemn Murder of Campaigners and Activists Supporting Indigenous Peoples and Peasants in Guatemala

June 27, 2018

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Washington, DC / Guatemala City - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Guatemala condemn the recent murders of human rights campaigners and activists from indigenous and peasant organizations. The IACHR and the OHCHR have expressed their concern over the risks facing human rights campaigners and the increase in acts of violence and attacks against them.

The two organizations have been informed that on May 9, 2018, Luis Arturo Marroquín, head of the Peasant Farmers Development Committee (CODECA) and a campaigner for rural development for indigenous peoples and peasants, was murdered in Jalapa department. The following day, on May 10, José Can Xol, head of the Peasant Farmers Committee of the Highlands (CCDA) and a community elder, was murdered in Alta Verapaz department. Three days later, on May 13, activist and CCDA member Mateo Chamán Paau was murdered in the same department, and another CCDA activist, Ramón Choc, died on June 1 from serious knife injuries. On June 4, CODECA leaders Alejandro Hernández and Florencio Nájera were killed in Jutiapa, while Francisco Munguía was killed in Jalapa, all three in machete attacks.

The IACHR and the OHCHR wish to express their concern over the violence being inflicted on indigenous communities and those campaigning to protect them in Guatemala, which is closely connected to the discrimination and exclusion that these communities experience and the lack of legal certainty regarding their lands and territories.

As the IACHR pointed out in its 2017 Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala report, the numbers of attacks on people campaigning to protect indigenous people’s rights in Guatemala has been on the rise in recent years. These new incidents add to the list of attacks on three other human rights campaigners and two journalists that have taken place since early 2018. The IACHR and the OHCHR trust that the state of Guatemala will look into these murders in an urgent, comprehensive, and objective fashion so as to shed light on the motives and circumstances surrounding them. Particular attention needs to be paid to the victims’ work defending human rights, particularly their communities’ right to land and territories, which may prove to be a significant factor in these investigations. They also trust that both the intellectual authors and perpetrators of these murders will subsequently be judged and sanctioned accordingly.

Murder and other acts of violence against human rights campaigners have an especially strong impact on all the people and communities these campaigners are working to defend, leaving them even more exposed. The loss of a leader or activist can affect the participation of indigenous communities in matters that affect their rights, inclusion, self-determination, and free development within a multicultural, democratic state.

The IACHR and the OHCHR have also received information on proposed legislation that might limit human rights organizations’ capacity to carry out their legitimate work of defending human rights in Guatemala. These include bill no. 5257, which proposes that reforms to the Law for Nongovernmental Development Organizations should be passed in order to implement limitations on and monitoring of NGOs’ activities in a way that is incompatible with the rights to freedom of expression and association.

Finally, the IACHR and the OHCHR would like to underline that states are obliged to protect and safeguard the lives and personal safety of human rights activists and campaigners by adopting specific measures. The two organizations thus urged Guatemala to move toward adopting and implementing a public policy to protect human rights activists and campaigners as set out in the report entitled Toward a Comprehensive Policy to Protect Human Rights Defenders (link in Spanish) and in the international standards and recommendations given to the country.

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.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Guatemala was established in 2005 through an agreement that was signed with the country’s government. The OHCHR’s mandate is to observe and report on the human rights situation there so as to provide guidance to Guatemalan authorities in the formulation and application of policies, programs, and measures to promote and protect human rights in Guatemala. The OHCHR promotes the enforcement of human rights and the application of recommendations and mechanisms put forward by international human rights organizations. It also provides advice for individuals, representatives from civil society, and NGOs working on civil rights issues.

No. 137/18