Persecution and resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras

August 8, 2007

Persecution and resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras

On 7 July 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights requested that the Honduran authorities adopt precautionary measures to protect the life and physical integrity of the leaders of the community.(21) However, the Honduran authorities have yet to comply fully with the Commission's recommendations. Police officers reportedly call at the homes of community leaders under protection measures three times a week asking them to sign a document stating that protection is being given, and then leave. Community leaders have refused to sign the documents or accept the protection offered because of the inadequacy of the measures proposed. Threats and intimidation against the leaders of the community of San Juan Tela were continuing at the time of writing.(22)

Activists with the MadreSelva Collective hold a street meeting to protest against open-cast mining in the municipality of San Marcos, January 2005. © MadreSelva Collective

Flaviano Bianchini, an environmental activist with the MadreSelva Collective (Colectivo MadreSelva), a Guatemalan environmental group, received an anonymous call on his mobile phone on 13 January 2007. The caller warned him "Be careful, be careful" before hanging up. Over the next six days he received five identical calls. On 25 January, he received the first of three phone calls warning him to "Stop fucking around". In February, after several weeks under surveillance by unidentified men, Flaviano Bianchini, an Italian national, returned home to Italy because of serious concerns for his safety.

The phone calls and surveillance appear to be linked to a report he presented at a press conference on 5 January2007 on contamination of the Tzalá River in Sipakapa, San Marcos Department. In the report he alleged that the river, which is the main source of water for Indigenous people in the region, had been contaminated with heavy metals as a result of mining activity in the area.

On 19 December 2006 the MadreSelva Collective presented a complaint to the relevant ministries regarding the alleged contamination of the Tzalá River. On 8 March 2007, the legal representative of a mining company reportedly pressed charges against the MadreSelva Collective and Flaviano Bianchini, claiming that there was no scientific evidence to support the allegations of contamination. The Guatemalan authorities have reportedly not taken any steps to investigate the charges against MadreSelva and Flaviano Bianchini.

The MadreSelva Collective has faced threats and intimidation on several occasions in the past because of its campaigns against major projects, such as open-pit mining and the construction of hydroelectric dams which are believed to threaten to destroy the local environment and the livelihoods of those communities who depend upon it.

Offices of human rights organizations in Guatemala City, raided in February 2007.
© Movimiento Nacional de los Derechos Humanos

In February 2007, offices shared by three national human rights organizations in Guatemala City were raided. Valuable information was stolen and the offices themselves were vandalized. The raid was seen as an attack on the human rights movement in the country as a whole, such was the importance and prominence of the some of the organizations targeted.