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Press briefing notes on Guatemala and Sudan


Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Ravina Shamdasani
Location: Geneva
Date: 18 May 2018

(1) Guatemala

We are concerned about what appears to be a deteriorating climate for the defence of human rights in Guatemala. Over the past 10 days, three human rights defenders working with indigenous and peasants’ rights organizations were murdered.

On 9 May, Luis Marroquín of the Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (Codeca), a civil society organization working on peasant and indigenous peoples’ rights, was killed in the town of San Luis Jilotepeque Jalapa. On 10 May, Jose Can Xol, a community leader of the Comité Campesino de Desarrollo del Altiplano (CCDA), was murdered in the community of Choctún Basilá in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. And on 13 May, another CCDA member, Mateo Chamán Paau, was murdered in the community of San Juan Tres Ríos, Cobán, Alta Verapaz. 

The two latter communities, Choctún Basilá and Tres Ríos, are involved in processes to secure land rights and have been working with the Government on an agreement to address more than 50 land conflicts in the country. Other members of these organizations have also suffered threats and attacks in recent months, which have been documented by the UN Human Rights Office.

We call on the authorities to promptly investigate these murders and other attacks and threats against human rights defenders, and to ensure that those found responsible are held accountable. We also urge the State to adopt all necessary measures to ensure a safe, enabling environment for human rights defenders to carry out their work free from threats and attacks.

We share the deep concerns about the protection of indigenous peoples who claim rights to land, as expressed by UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz during her visit to Guatemala earlier this month, when she met with representatives of the two organisations to which the murdered human rights defenders belonged.

We have also observed with concern smear campaigns against independent journalists and media, judicial officials, civil society organizations, human rights defenders and other actors involved in the fight against past and present corruption and impunity. 

We call on the Government to address these issues as part of its efforts to strengthen the rule of law, the protection of the rights to freedom of expression and judicial independence, and the fight against impunity and corruption. We trust that the Government will honor its commitment to advance with the adoption of a Public Policy on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, with the participation of civil society at local and national levels. We also reiterate the High Commissioner’s call for the Government to strengthen the inter-institutional “Unit on Analysis of patterns of attacks against human rights defenders”.

Our Office in Guatemala will continue to monitor these cases, support victims and provide advice to relevant State institutions as well as civil society.

(2) Sudan

Discrimination and violence, including sexual violence, against women and girls in Sudan has been brought into stark focus by the case of Noura Hussein Hammad Daoud, who last week was sentenced to death by a Sudanese Court. Hussein was convicted of fatally stabbing the man she was forced to marry, who had allegedly raped her. We have received information that Hussein’s forced marriage, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence against her were not taken into account by the Court as evidence to mitigate the sentence, and that the most stringent guarantees of a fair trial and due process were not fulfilled in this case. Since her case has drawn international attention, we are acutely concerned about her safety and that of her lawyer and other supporters. We urge the authorities to ensure full protection for Hussein’s physical and psychological integrity during her detention, as well as full respect for her rights to a fair trial and appeal.

In trials leading to the imposition of the death penalty, scrupulous respect for fair trial guarantees is particularly crucial. The Special Rapporteur on summary executions has argued that the imposition of the death penalty against clear evidence of self-defence constitutes an arbitrary killing, particularly where women have been charged with murder when defending themselves. We call on the authorities to fully take into consideration Hussein’s claim of self-defence against the attempt by the man to rape her, after he had reportedly already raped her on a previous occasion with the help of three other people.

We understand that Hussein was given 15 days to appeal the decision. In such circumstances, the right to have a conviction and sentence be reviewed by a higher tribunal is of particular importance. It is essential that the principles of fair trial and due process be observed in the appeal phase of this case. A review that is limited to the formal or legal aspects of the conviction – without any consideration of the facts – is not sufficient under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Sudan has ratified.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the UN Human Rights Committee – two authoritative independent expert bodies on international human rights law – have expressed serious concern about the situation of women’s human rights in Sudan. In particular, the CRC has emphasized the negative impact of early and forced marriage on women and girls’ health, education and social development. In addition, despite the recent reform of the Criminal Code (article 149 of the Sudanese Criminal Act (1991) was amended in 2015), domestic violence and marital rape are still not criminalized. Better protection of women’s human rights and the criminalization of marital rape could help save many lives, and prevent terrible outcomes like that in Hussein’s case. We stand ready to work with the Government of Sudan on bringing such laws in line with human rights standards.

Hussein’s tragic case is an opportunity for Sudanese authorities to send a clear message that gender-based violence will not be tolerated in the country.

We will remain in contact with Sudanese authorities in relation to her case.


For media requests, please contact or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org) or Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org)

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70thanniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.

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