Last week the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association presented his report to the Third Committee of the General Assembly urging states and private sector to respect the exercise of human rights of those mobilising peacefully to address the climate crisis.
‘Human rights defenders are a fundamental pillar to the construction and protection of the nascent democracy that exists in Guatemala. That is why in 2014 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the State to implement a comprehensive public policy for their protection.’ says Carlos Martínez, a lawyer at Bufete de Derechos Humanos of Guatemala, an organisation that has represented human rights defenders at national and international levels.
‘Almost seven years since that decision, and such a policy has not materialised. The fact that journalists and defenders continue to carry out their work despite increasingly adverse conditions is a testament to their courage.’ added Martínez.
During the past few months, there have been multiple reports of harassment of Guatemalan defenders. While this is not new, the direct participation of government agents in cases of reprisals has raised alarms. Four exemplary cases that occurred during the months of May and June are set out below:
- A member of the Supreme Court of Justice harassed a Guatemalan correspondent for CNN by taking and sharing pictures of her during an official event.
- The irregular detention and arrest of anti-graft crusaders Juan Foppa and Aníbal Argüello under disproportionate charges for allegedly ‘falsifying documents to form a political party’.
- Accusations of gender-based psychological violence and restraining orders against journalists Marvin del Cid and Sonny Figueroa following their investigations into claims of corruption and orchestration of defamation campaigns by important political figures.
- The arrest and use of excessive force when detaining 21 Maya Q’eqchi’ defenders of the Chicoyogüito Community, who were peacefully reclaiming their ancestral land.
The need for an HRD protection policy
These cases provide clear examples of where government agents have ordered, aided and/or permitted attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders.
‘It cannot be said that these are isolated incidents, as the government has not shown any interest in protecting human rights defenders’ said ISHR’s Javier Urízar. ‘The national protection agency was inexplicably eliminated 5 days after its creation, even when prisoners of conscience, such as Bernardo Caal, are still serving unjust sentences’ he concluded.
National civil society has expressed its concern about the lack of protection of HRDs, lamenting both the absence of an agency, as well as of a public policy for the protection of defenders.
Jorge Santos, General Coordinator of Unidad de Protección a Defensores y Defensoras de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) indicates that ‘It is necessary that the Guatemalan government facilitates a setting of State-building and institutional rescue that respects, protects and guarantees human rights, particularly enabling the freedom to exercise the right to defend rights. A first step would be to resume the necessary work to design the public policy for the protection of human rights defenders’.
Yesterday, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders presented her report at the General Assembly's Third Committee on the long-term detention of human rights defenders.
Today, UN member States elected members to the UN's top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, for the 2022-2024 term. 18 candidates ran for 18 seats, and all were elected, leaving civil society disappointed in a process that can hardly be called an election.
On 14 October 2021, the UK delivered a cross-regional statement on behalf of 80 countries, condemning intimidation and reprisals, and calling on States to prioritise and support the meaningful participation of civil society at the UN.
Futures thinking encourages us to identify small ‘signals of change’ which might help to identify and influence the futures that come to pass. At ISHR we’ve identified and, together with advocates and activists from around the world, helped contribute to a number of small but significant signals of positive human rights change in recent weeks.
ISHR together with 36 NGOs from around the world have called on member States of the UN General Assembly to sign on to a cross-regional joint statement on reprisals at the 76th session of the UNGA Third Committee.
Mozambique has accepted 236 of the 266 recommendations received. While this highlights a slight progress since their last Universal Periodic Review (UPR), the human rights situation in the country still needs large structural improvements.
During the adoption of the outcome of its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the 48th session of the Human Rights Council, Niger manifested its willingness to cooperate with human rights mechanisms by accepting almost all the recommendations. However, more efforts for an efficient implementation remain necessary.
Despite Sierra Leone's acceptance of recommendations aiming to improve civil society’s space, cases of reprisals against human rights defenders are still reported.
The DRC has noticeably improved the protection of human rights in the Kasaï region but progress remains slow and action is still needed towards transitional justice and the protection of defenders in this region.
During the interactive dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights on the SG’s Reprisals Report, some States raised specific cases of reprisals, whilst others drew attention to the use of COVID-19 as a guise under which reprisals were committed and also raised the additional risks to human rights defenders online as a result of the pandemic.
Defender Zhang Haitao's wife addressed the UN Human Rights Council on 20 September, after more than 1240 days without information about her husband's status. He is serving 19 years on 'national security'-related charges, punishing him for exercising freedom of speech.