Human Rights Groups Call Out Violence Against Environment and Land Defenders in Guatemala

Dec 19, 2016 04:00 AM EST

A recent spate of murder, intimidation and ecocide (the extensive destruction of the environment) in Guatemala has led an international coalition of environmental human rights and environmental organizations -- including the Friends of the Earth U.S., ActionAid USA, Rainforest Network, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Latin America Working Group, and the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA -- to appeal to the authorities concerned.

The petition letter, which was sent to Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Esperanza Aldana Hernández and Interior Minister Francisco Manuel Rivas Lara, pressed for a thorough investigation on cases of reported violence against environment and human rights defenders, specifically against members of a Guatemalan community group called the Commission for the Defense of Life and Nature of Sayaxché, who are defending their lands against environmental contamination caused by the local palm oil industry, a press release by Friends of the Earth stated.

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Sent in recognition of International Human Rights Defenders Day, the public appeal "urged the Guatemalan government to ensure the security of land defenders in the event that the palm oil multinationals do not follow through on their commitments to remove human rights abuses and exploitation from their supply chains."

"Today we are calling on government officials to take urgent action to address threats against the Commission for the Defense of Life and Nature and other civil society groups that are peacefully demanding justice and ecosystem repair in the wake of last year's palm oil ecocide in the Pasion River and the violence that followed," said Jeff Conant, senior international forests campaigner with Friends of the Earth U.S.

"Both government and private sector actors need to bring an end to the impunity that plagues the country and to clean up the dirty agribusinesses that are a major driver of the violence," Conant added.

In September 2015, three community leaders were abducted by workers of palm oil company, Reforestadora de Palmas del Petén, S.A. (REPSA), and local school teacher and Commission for the Defense of Life and Nature (CDVN) spokesman Rigoberto Lima Choc was murdered by still unidentified suspects.

According to reports, the assaults happened exactly a day after a judge suspended operations of REPSA for allegedly causing a massive fish kill along 100-mile stretch of the La Pasión River in June. A government agency has referred to the immense fish die-off as an obvious case of ecocide.

"We are extremely concerned about the threats towards members of Commission for the Defense of Life and Nature of Sayaxché, especially given that the ecocide in the Pasion River and the killing of Rigoberto Lima Choc remain uninvestigated, in a year in which Guatemala has seen literally a dozen killings of human rights defenders," said Dania Rodriguez of the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA.

Based on the reports of Amnesty International, Guatemala is considered as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental defenders today.

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