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

    • the National Movement for Human Rights (Movimiento Nacional por los Derechos Humanos -- MNDH) is the umbrella organization which brings together most human rights NGOs in Guatemala.
    • the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (Unidad de Protección de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos -- UPDDH) is the branch of the MNDH which investigates and documents attacks and threats against human rights defenders.
    • the Association for Communication of Art and Peace (Asociacíon Comunicación para el Arte y la Paz -- COMUNICARTE) works on the production of audiovisual materials and had recently produced video material on the issue of consent by local communities for mining activities.

On the day that the break-in was discovered, the UPDDH were set to publicly launch their 2006 annual report which recorded a 19.4 per cent increase in attacks against human rights defenders compared with 2005.

Thirteen computers were stolen which contained information about human rights violations and mining activities. In particular they held information on forthcoming local referendums organized by Indigenous communities on the question of mining activities. A number of such consultations and referendums had already been held which apparently revealed widespread opposition by Indigenous communities to the expansion or initiation of mining projects in rural areas. COMUNICARTE had been involved in filming such referendums. The stolen computers also contained information on financial and operational details of the member organizations of MNDH. Paper files relating to mining from both the MNDH and COMUNICARTE were stolen. The master tapes of COMUNICARTE's entire documentary collection, cameras, projectors and money were also taken from the office. Human faeces were left in the office.

While members of staff were standing outside the building waiting for the police to arrive, a red Toyota Corolla drove by and one of the passengers leaned out and filmed them before driving off.

The offices of the National Coordinating Committee of Indigenous and Peasant Farmers(Coordinadora Nacional Indígena Campesina, CONIC) in Guatemala City were broken into and ransacked sometime between late Sunday evening and Monday morning on 7-8May 2006. Doors were broken down, desks were searched and turned upside-down, cash was stolen, documents were thrown on the floor, and files and computers were searched and some destroyed.

For the two weeks prior to the break-in, CONIC reported that they had received strange phone calls and unknown people appeared at the offices asking for people who did not work there. In April 2006, CONIC had called for national demonstrations by Indigenous communities in support of its negotiations with the government regarding land reform. CONIC works on individual cases of land conflict at the grass-roots level.

According to information received, members of CONIC were only called upon to give their statements during the first months of 2007, around seven months after the break-in. There are no visible results of the investigation to date.

Inadequate protection

States have a duty to ensure the protection of those who are engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights. The fact that many human rights defenders who have been attacked or killed in Guatemala and Honduras had previously been the victims of threats and intimidation shows that the authorities are failing to fulfil their obligations.

In order to be effective, protection must take a holistic perspective, encompassing not only immediate and practical measures, but also ensuring that those responsible for threats, killings and intimidation are brought to justice.