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Guatemala: Protect human rights defenders working on corporate accountability and land rights

Guatemala must develop and implement stronger laws and measures for the protection of human rights defenders, particularly those working on corporate accountability issues and land rights, ISHR said today.

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(Guatemala City) – The Guatemalan government must prioritise the protection of human rights defenders, and particularly those working on corporate accountability issues and land rights, said the International Service for Human Rights today. The call came after ISHR’s Ben Leather met with defenders in Guatemala City for a series of consultations on the situation and protection needs of human rights defenders in the country and the region.

‘It is clear that acivists working on business and human rights issues face particular and heightened risks,’ said Mr Leather, noting that ‘the widespread judicial harassment and stigmatisation of these defenders has made the criminalisation of their work a lamentably common phenomenon’.

Mr Leather met with several internationally respected Guatemalan defenders, including Rafael Maldonado, Director and Lawyer with the Centro de Acción Legal-Ambiental y Social de Guatemala (CALAS), Antonio Reyes of La Puya, Lorena Cabnal of AMISMAXAJ and Omar Jeronimo of Chortí Nuevo Día. The meetings were facilitated by Peace Brigades International Guatemala.

The activists testified that judicial harrasment and physical attacks by public and private security forces are tools frequently used to silence and criminalise those advocating in relation to large-scale development projects. They also expressed grave concern at the lack of genuine and informed consultation on the impact of major business and development projects prior to the commencement of such projects. The threats affecting these defenders have an even greater impact on indigenous communities and women human rights defenders. Mr Leather also heard how the so called ‘Ley de Túmulos‘ and ‘states of siege’ and ‘states of emergency’ have been invoked to justify legal and physical attacks against communities which protest or resist the adverse human rights impacts of large-scale development.

‘It is very clear that more needs to be done by the Guatemalan authorities to protect human rights defenders and provide safe spaces in which local communities can be properly consulted regarding the impact of business interests,’ said Mr Leather.

In October last year, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found the Guatemalan State guilty of failing to adequately investigate the death of human rights defender Florentín Gudiel Ramos, as well in failing to protect his activist daughter. The sentence obliged the Guatemalan State to implement public policies of legislative, institutional and judicial character to guarantee the protection of defenders, yet all of the defenders interviewed by ISHR complained of a lack of implementation of protective measures. In 2013, Udefegua documented 657 agressions against human rights defenders in Guatemala.

Mr Leather, who was in Guatemala to facilitate a regional consultation of actvists by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, concluding by commiting to closely follow the security situation of the defenders interviewed and announced that ISHR will publish a briefing paper and recommendation on the situation facing defenders working on business and human rights, later this year.

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