Public servants, journalists, and indigenous defenders have suffered targeting and reprisals from an increasingly brazen government, confirming the urgent need to adopt legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.
‘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’.