2016 has witnessed an increase in fatal attacks on human rights defenders in Guatemala. From January 1st to October 31st, eleven human rights defenders were killed and since October 31st, the killings have escalated, and by November 18th the total number of defenders killed came to 16. (The total for 2015 was 13.)
|On 16th March, Walter Méndez Barrios (shown left) was shot and killed outside his home in Las Cruces. He was a well-known environmental rights defender, who tried to protect natural resources in communities in the Maya Biosphere Reserve. He was a founding member of the FPCR (Petenero Front Against Dams), formed in 2005 to defend land rights, water rights and other natural resources.
|On 13th April, Benedicto de Jesús Gutiérrez Rosa, Juan Mateo Pop Cholom (shown left) and Héctor Joel Saquil Choc, all forestry engineers with the National Institute of Forests, were ambushed and shot to death by gunmen in a car around 2 pm as they were driving in Carcha, Alta Verapaz. They were returning home from a finca where they had been working for the day.
|On 8th June, human rights defender Daniel Choc Pop (shown left) was killed by unknown individuals who shot him numerous times. He was an indigenous and campesino human rights defender from the community of San Juan Tres Ríos in Cobán, which he represented at the General Assembly of the Highlands Campesino Committee (CCDA). The CCDA is a national organisation committed to defending local water sources used by indigenous communities. There had been recent disputes over land ownership with owners of the Rancho Alegre estate|
|On 12th November, Jeremy Abraham Barrios (shown left) was shot to death. He worked as the Assistant to the General Director of CALAS (Centre for Environmental and Social Legal Action in Guatemala). CALAS is a human rights organisation based in Guatemala City and has been active in denouncing abuses committed by mining companies as well as in the protection of environmental rights. There was no prior indication that he had received any threats, although the organisation had received warnings.|
A variety of sources have been used in the compilation of the lists above. These include: Prensa Libre, Aquitodito, Cerigua, Radio La Franja, Front Line Defenders, Committee to Protect Journalists, NISGUA, UNESCO, Reporteros Sin Fronteras, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC).
The GHRC’s ‘Preliminary 2016 Human Rights Review’ has been particularly helpful and this was the work of Imogene Caird and Pat Davis, to whom I am especially grateful. The GHRC’s website is: www.ghrc-usa.org/