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The danger of being a defender of human rights in Guatemala

During the years 2017 and 2018 there were 39 murders and almost 900 attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala. Violence is not the only danger faced by these people, but they also suffer threats, intimidation, surveillance, stigmatization and sexual and gender-based violence.

One of the main concerns that the report describes is the criminalization suffered by human rights defenders based on “the misuse of criminal law against them”, which especially affects defenders of rights to land and natural resources. .

The report, from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, directed by Michelle Bachelet, describes the specific risks faced by certain groups of people such as indigenous populations, women, LGBTI defenders, journalists, judges. and independent lawyers and defenders of the fundamental guarantees of victims of the internal conflict.

The study, prepared in collaboration with the Human Rights Ombudsman, collected, documented and analyzed the information provided by the Office and the Attorney General during the period between January 1, 2017 and April 30, 2019.

For its preparation, more than 190 interviews were conducted with human rights defenders, state authorities and other actors, as well as on supervision missions throughout the country.

High percentage of cases
Of the 196 defenders of the fundamental guarantees interviewed, 86% suffered attacks or threats at least once during the reporting period and 58% on more than one occasion.

In the same way, it concludes that the attacks come from both state and non-state actors. The Office and the Attorney General’s Office “received information about the involvement in attacks by political actors, organized crime (including in border areas), private security and the private sector, or even people hired or mobilized to carry out the attacks” .

The danger increases during the electoral process
The report also indicates that the current electoral process in which Guatemala finds itself increases the risks to the security and work of human rights defenders.

Thus, it was possible to document attacks against community and indigenous leaders and the murder of three candidates and two people who expressed their willingness to run for public office from January 2019.

“Impunity in relation to these crimes is persistent and widespread. The independent judges -including those of the superior courts- and the prosecutors suffered assaults, threats and reprisals and were stigmatized, specifically due to their participation in cases of corruption or transitional justice. ”

Some of the elements that hinder the structural changes necessary to resolve this situation are endemic corruption, lack of land tenure, security and institutional weaknesses.

More protection and awareness campaigns
The report recommends that the Government increase measures “for the prevention, protection, investigation and prosecution of crimes committed against human rights defenders”.

Likewise, it asks that awareness campaigns be conducted on the importance of “the defense of human rights for democracy and the rule of law,” and that it adopt public policies for the protection of human rights defenders.

In relation to the current electoral process, it recommended that political parties and their candidates “incorporate into their agendas a human rights approach”, with the ultimate goal of “achieving a more inclusive society and a safe and propitious environment for defense” of the fundamental guarantees.