The Special Rapporteur was particularly disturbed to observe the dire situation of indigenous defenders in Guatemala during her most recent official country visit in May 2018. A staggering seven indigenous leaders were killed during and shortly after her visit. They were killed in different locations by different means: some were shot in the head or the back while others were stabbed in the throat and their bodies mutilated by machetes. All were representatives of two indigenous farmers’ organizations advocating for land rights and political participation. The killings took place in a broader national context of pernicious closing of spaces for civil society. The President of Guatemala has been publicly hostile to human rights organizations; draft legislation in Parliament seeks to restrict the work of non-governmental organizations; and social media, driven by private actors, stigmatizes Indigenous Peoples defending their rights, labelling them as “criminals” and “terrorists” who are “anti-development.”
Added to this context is the escalating number of criminal charges, reportedly in the hundreds, being filed in Guatemala against indigenous leaders and community members. The active participation of private entities in pressing charges signals the collusion between prosecutors and judges with companies and landowners in some of these cases. While in Guatemala, the Special Rapporteur visited several indigenous leaders in prison in retaliation for their land rights advocacy and attempts to litigate against large-scale projects on their territories. Arrest warrants have been issued for vague charges and in some instances on the basis of uncorroborated witness testimonies. The repeated suspension of hearings and the long periods of preventive detention violate fair trials guarantees.
TESTIMONY FROM THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR’S
CRIMINALIZATION SUMMIT IN GENEVA IN MARCH 2018
Consejo de Pueblos K’iche’ por la Defensa de la Vida, Madre Naturaleza, Tierra y Territorio (Council of K'iche' People for the Defense of Life, Mother Nature, Land and Territory)
Aura Lolita Chávez Ixcaquic
0:00: “The current situation, with widespread impunity and ongoing violation of our rights is very problematic. We are not only attacked because we are social leaders. Crimes against us are not considered attacks, but merely an offence which is forwarded to the Juzgados de Paz, through which we are expected to reach an agreement with the perpetrators of these crimes. This happens very often in Guatemala. On the other hand, when we are accused of something and we go to jail, they claim that the crimes they accused us of are real. Moreover, when our sisters are put in jail they are sexually assaulted. I face this particular risk, because there is no penitentiary in my territory, so if I were accused of something, I would have to be transferred to a jail outside of my community, where all of this police mafia is.”