Guatemala: Human rights defender Telma Yolanda Oquelí goes free because ‘woman cannot carry machete’

July 8, 2014

Interesting illustration in Guatemala of how macho notions can get a woman human rights defender off the hook:  On 27 May 2014, charges of “false imprisonment”, “coercion” and “threats” (including brandishing a machete) against human rights defender Ms Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid were dismissed by a Court of First Instance. However, the trial against four other community members, who face the same accusations, is set to continue. The decision of the judge to dismiss the proceedings against Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid was partly on the basis that, as a woman, she would not be able to carry a machete. The decision regarding Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid can be appealed by the complainants within three days. Judge Adrian Rolando Rodríguez Arana stated that additional evidence to support the charges against the four other community leaders must be presented by the Prosecutor’s Office on 30 June 2014. The four men are under house arrest and must present themselves to the Justice of the Peace of San José Del Golfo every month.

[Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid is a leader of the non-violent movement of San José Del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampic, which works to protect land and environmental rights in the context of mining activities. In March 2012, the community group erected a peaceful camp called ‘La Puya’ at the entrance of the mining development El Tambor, to protest their concerns regarding possible water contamination and the lack of consultation with the local community regarding the project.]

Four days before the hearing, on 23 May 2014, Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid was threatened with arrest by a senior police officer during a police operation to break up ‘La Puya’, where organisations and communities are engaged in non-violent protest. A number of protesters were beaten up and threatened. National and international human rights organisations that were observing the dismantlement of the camp and accompanying human rights defenders were also harassed. Members of Peace Brigade International (PBI) were asked to present their personal documents and, despite their lawful immigration status, had their details recorded and published in a national newspaper the next day. The article did not mention their role in accompanying human rights defenders, but reported a statement of the spokesperson of the Directorate-General of Migration declaring that all foreigners can be deported if they break national law.

On 26 May 2014, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala (OHCHR) referred to the eviction of the peaceful protest in La Puya, calling for the renewal of dialogue between the government and the non-violent protesters in San José del Golfo. The OHCHR also emphasised “that in line with the international standards, no live firearms were used during the operation. However, the high number of injured persons, 15 members of the community and 13 agents of the police, demonstrates failings in the adequate use of protocols on the use of force in accordance with human rights, which must be addressed.”

Front Line Defenders released an appeal on the case of Telma Yolanda Oquelí Veliz del Cid on 23 May 2014 <http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/node/26007> .

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