Bernardo Caal Xol (Q’eqchi’) and Justino Xollim (Poqomchi) were among the criminalized defenders highlighted by PBI at the United Nations today.

At the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland today, Peace Brigades International advocacy coordinator Kim-Mai Vu highlighted our concerns about the criminalization of land and territory defenders in Guatemala.

Kim-Mai highlighted:

Of the 551 attacks against defenders registered by Udefegua [Protection Unit for Human Rights Defenders – Guatemala] in the first semester of 2021, a large part affects those who defend the land, territory and environment, mostly indigenous.

In this context, PBI draws attention to the abuse of criminal law, criminalization for private actors, often linked to economic interests, against this sector of people defenders.

Bernardo Caal of the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón who fights against the construction of hydroelectric plants that threaten the environment, access to water and native peoples’ rights;

Justino Xollim, from the Verapaz Union of Peasant Organizations, victim of accusations by people linked to a logging company in the framework of their struggle against illegal deforestation;

Anabella España Reyes, Abelino Salvador Mejía, Flavio Vicente and Virgilio García Carrillo of the Council of Communities of Retahuleu, defenders of the right to water given the excessive use of this vital resource by sugar companies in the region, and now accused by members of one of these companies; they are examples of this reality.

With the growing weakening of the judicial system and the sharp increase in attacks against justice operators and defenders of the right to justice, PBI fears an increase in the misuse of criminal law and due process failures.

Given this, we call on this Council to urge Guatemala to respect and protect human rights defenders, to adopt and apply a Comprehensive Public Protection Policy, and to guarantee the independence and impartiality of the judicial system.

The video of Kim-Mai’s presentation can be seen here.