Photo: CODECA members march to Guatemala City from their communities to march on June 12, 2018. By @GtCodeca on Twitter.
In the past weeks, three human rights defenders from the Campesino Development Committee have been killed, totaling seven fatal attacks on human rights defenders in Guatemala over the past four weeks.
CODECA (by its Spanish acronym) is an Indigenous-led grassroots human rights organization that fights for Indigenous and campesino rights in Guatemala. Its main goals include improving working and living conditions of the rural poor, fighting against exploitative energy companies and engaging in political advocacy.
On June 8, 2018, Francisco Munguia was found hacked to death by machete in the Jalapa region in eastern Guatemala. Munguia, a member of the marginalized Indigenous Xinca nation in Guatemala, was the community vice president of CODECA in the village of Divisadero Xalapan Jalapa.
This comes four days after Florencio Pérez Nájer and Alejandro Hernández García, were found dead by machete attack on June 4, 2018. As human rights defenders for CODECA, they mainly advocated for farmers’ labor rights, land reform and the nationalization of electric energy.
Last month, the regional director of CODECA, Luis Arturo Marroquín, also Xinca, was fatally shot on May 9, 2018 in San Luis Jilotepeque central square when he was on his way to a training of Indigenous women. This came only a week after president Jimmy Morales made a speech that publicly defamed CODECA, which CODECA leaders believe “strengthen[ed] hatred and resentment" towards their organization.
In response to the murder of their colleagues, CODECA issued a press release, saying “While the murder of our friends hurts us dearly, it will never intimidate us. We will fight harder and more united to reach our goals and those of our deceased defenders and friends.”
In a speech from the community cemetery in Xinca territory of Xalapán, Thelma Cabrera Perez, National Director of CODECA, declared, “What we demand is the defense of our rights and to live a dignified life [and] when we organize ourselves to defend our rights, that is when we are persecuted.”
¿Por qué están asesinado a defensores de Derechos Humanos? Aquí una breve explicación desde el cementerio colectivo en el territorio indígena Xinca, Xalapán. pic.twitter.com/16UCv8GoW8— Santiago Botón ?? (@SantiagoteleSUR) June 11, 2018
In addition to the murders of these CODECA members, three other Indigenous Q’eqchi human rights defenders have been murdered this month; Ramon Choc Sacrab, José Can Xol and Mateo Chamám Paau from the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (Comité Campesino del Altiplano, CCDA). Attacks on human rights defenders has been on the rise in Guatemala, as UDEFEGUA reported 493 attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala in 2017. This is happening in the context of government attempts to criminalize and defame human rights organizations such as CODECA.
Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples condemned these murders in an op-ed in the Washington Post last week, calling them evidence of institutionalized racism against Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples. The UN has also called out Guatemala in the past for its criminalization and imprisonment of human rights defenders. Guatemala has received 17 recommendations from UN member states through the Universal Periodic Review system to combat this wave of violence; for example,
In 2012, Australia recommended Guatemala to: “Ensure effective and independent investigations into all reports of extrajudicial executions and ensure that reports of killings, threats, attacks and acts of intimidation against human rights defenders and journalists are thoroughly and promptly investigated and those responsible brought to justice’’
Often times, murders of Indigenous activists are not featured in mainstream news or media outlets, despite Indigenous activists constituting 40 percent of environmental activists murdered worldwide last year.
On June 12, 2018, CODECA supporters marched in protest to Guatemala City to “demand justice for the murder of their colleagues” and call for the resignation of president Jimmy Morales. They demand a fair investigation into the murders of those killed.
CODECA tweeted, “From the fields to the city, our southern contingency at the Trébol begins to organize. We demand justice for the assassination of our defenders; we demand the resignation of Jimmy Morales, his inept cabinet, and corrupt congressmen.”
CODECA is one of Cultural Survival’s grant partners for the community media grants project, through which it receives support for its radio programs on Indigenous Peoples’ rights, decolonization, and the establishment of a plurinational democratic nation.
Cultural Survival stands in solidarity with CODECA and firmly condemns these murders of Indigenous human rights defenders. We call for an immediate investigation into the pattern of violence against human rights defenders in Guatemala, in line with international human rights recommendations.
Via Amnesty International: Contact Guatemalan Attorney General María Consuelo Porras and share your concern that the Guatemalan government must take the following steps:
Initiate a prompt, impartial and thorough investigation on the recent killings of human rights defenders from CODECA and CCDA. The investigation should include the theory of the attack being a possible retaliation for their legitimate activities as human rights defender.
Guarantee the safety of all CODECA and CCDA members at risk in accordance with their wishes;
Condemn the killings and publicly recognize the important and legitimate work of all human rights defenders in Guatemala and refrain from using language that discredits, stigmatizes, abuses, disparages or discriminates them.
For those in the United States, Cultural Survival joins Guatemala Human Rights Commission in asking you to contact your representatives:
Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA) is circulating a letter in congress addressed to the US Ambassador to Guatemala Luis Arriaga. Rep. Johnson invites his colleagues to join him in asking Ambassador Arriaga to clearly communicate to Guatemala’s new Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who took office on May 17, concern over the growing problems of criminalization of human rights defenders and impunity for their murders, while affirming the need to better protect the land rights of Indigenous and Afro-latino communities.
Call (202 244-2131) or ask your congressional representative to sign Hank Johnson’s letter to the US Ambassador to Guatemala, Luis Arriaga, to communicate the following points to Guatemala’s new Attorney General Consuelo Porras:
The prevalence of increased criminalization of land and resource defenders in Guatemala
Concern for the imprisoned human rights defenders Abelino Chub and Bernardo Caal and murders of defenders of CCDA and CODECA
Express Congressional Support for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which is under attack in Guatemala and is losing funding from the United States