Press briefing notesOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Press briefing note on Guatemala
21 May 2019
Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Marta Hurtado Location: Geneva Date: 21 May 2019 Subject: Guatemala
GENEVA (21 May 2019) A report published today by the UN Human Rights Office highlights the large number of attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala, including 39 killings in the two years spanning 2017 and 2018. An alarming 884 attacks against human rights defenders were recorded during this period. Human rights defenders in Guatemala face not only physical attacks, but also threats, intimidation, surveillance, stigmatization, and gender-based and sexual violence. One worrying pattern is the misuse of criminal law to silence them, which especially affects defenders of rights to lands, territories and natural resources.
The report highlights the particular risks faced by indigenous peoples, women defenders, LGBTI defenders, journalists, judges and lawyers and defenders of victims of the internal armed conflict in Guatemala.
The report, prepared jointly with the National Human Rights Institution (Procuradoría de Derechos Humanos) is based on over 190 interviews with human rights defenders, State authorities and others, as well as monitoring missions around the country. It covers the period from January 2017 to April 2019.
The report found that human rights defenders in Guatemala have been facing extreme risks over the last few years, both from State and non-State actors. Eighty six percent of the people interviewed said they had been attacked or threatened at least once during the reporting period.
The risks to human rights defenders’ safety and work are even more heightened in the current electoral context. We have documented reports of attacks against community and indigenous leaders targeted for their political engagement. This is another worrying trend as Guatemala is in a crucial electoral process and attacks on human rights defenders bring into question the credibility of the process. Three political candidates and two people with declared intentions to run for office have been killed since January 2019.
Impunity in relation to these crimes is persistent and rampant. Independent judges – including from High Courts - and prosecutors have faced assaults, threats, reprisals and have been stigmatized, in particular due to their involvement in cases of corruption or transitional justice.
Endemic corruption, a lack of land tenure, security and institutional weaknesses are some of the elements that hinder the structural changes needed to address the situation.
Despite efforts by the State in various areas, over the last few months, there have been several setbacks, including the closing of spaces for coordination of protection measures and the ongoing promotion of a regressive legislative agenda in key human rights areas.
The report recommends that the Government strengthen measures for prevention, protection, investigation and prosecution of crimes committed against human rights defenders. More political will is needed, as well as civic education and awareness campaigns on the importance of the defence of human rights for democracy and the rule of law. The adoption of a public policy on protection of human rights defenders, which has already been initiated by the Government, would be an important step towards recognizing the legitimacy of the defence of human rights and developing a comprehensive response to the situation of risk that human rights defenders face.