Posts Tagged ‘Guatemala’

Profile of Sonia Acabal, woman human rights defender from Guatemala

March 7, 2018

 published on 24 November 2017 this video  interview Sonia Acabal from Guatemala about the situation in her country, the women’s network Rednovi and what it means to be a women’s rights defender.

Important side event on Thursday 21 September 2017: Ending Reprisals

September 19, 2017

organizes on 21 September 2017 an important side event: “Ending Reprisals: Discussion with Human Rights Defenders and Experts”. The purpose of this discussion is to contribute to the critical debate on developing and strengthening procedures to prevent and address reprisals at the UN, ensuring that the voices of defenders are at the front and centre of the discussion.

This panel coincides with the presentation of the Secretary-General’s annual report on Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights (‘the reprisals report’) at the Council’s current session. [for some of my earlier posts on this crucial topic see:]


  • Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Peggy Hicks, Director of Thematic Engagement, Special Procedures and Right to Development Division, OHCHR
  • Claudia Samayoa (UDEFEGUA), Human Rights Defender from Guatemala
  • Ellecer Carlos (iDEFEND & PAHRA), Human Rights Defender from the Philippines
  • Women human rights defender from Burundi, member of the MFFPS

Moderator:   Tess McEvoy, Legal Counsel, ISHR

(Attendance with UNOG pass only.)

Source: Invitation: Thursday 21 September, 3.00pm – Ending Reprisals: Discussion with Human Rights Defenders and Experts

Video interview with Andrea Ixchíu Hernandez, human rights defender from Guatemala

February 5, 2017

Andrea Ixchíu Hernandez  is an indigenous rights defender working for several organisations in Guatemala. She talks – in English – to ISHR (International Service for Human Rights) about her work to build up community media so the voices of indigenous people are  heard and the violations they face are publicly unveiled.

Killing of human rights defender David Choc Pop in Guatemala

June 17, 2016

It has been stated time and again that nowadays Latin America is the most dangerous region for human rights defenders, especially those working in the area of indigenous and environmental area [see e.g.]. Guatemala no exception: Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights Defender Profile: Pedro Sica from Guatemala

April 21, 2016

Pedro Tzicá (or Sica) is a K’iche’ Guatemalan human rights defender working on human and environmental rights, as well access to justice and the right to development of indigenous peoples. Tzicá spoke to ISHR about his work, including organising community consultations to defend the indigenous peoples’ rights to land and natural resources in the face of mega-projects. The profile appeared in the ISHR Monitor of 7 March 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

UN experts launch practical advice on how to implement the freedom to demonstrate

March 28, 2016

At the latest session of the Human Rights Council, States and NGOs reacted to the new compilation of advise and recommendations on how to protect the right to assembly (‘freedom to demonstrate’). UN human rights experts have launched a major new report on the proper management of assemblies. The compilation of practical recommendation, which seeks to ensure that the management of assemblies and protests comply with international law through which to apply international law, was drafted by the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Association and Assembly (Maina Kiai) and on Extrajudicial Executions (Christoph Heyns), after a series of consultations with multiple stakeholders including civil society.

An interactive dialogue with the Rapporteurs followed the report’s presentation, and several States – including Norway, Egypt and Ireland – reiterated the responsibilities of business. Whilst a broad range of States – including Costa Rica, Turkey and Tunisia – acknowledged the report’s importance, others used their interventions to emphasise the responsibilities of protesters. In response to Russia, Botswana and Cuba amongst others, Mr Heyns was clear: ‘Rights come before responsibilities. The report does not challenge that responsibilities are an inherent component of human rights, but one must come before the other.’ Maina Kiai underlined that ‘requiring authorisation for a protest dilutes a right to a mere privilege’.

ISHR’s statement reiterated that free assembly is a vital component of a safe and enabling environment for human rights defence, and highlighted how vague laws such as the Ley de Tumulos in Guatemala, repressive clampdowns on protest such as in Gezi Park in Turkey, and the imprisonment of protesters such as the Bahrain 13 are being used to hamper the work of human rights defenders.


ISHR welcomed the report’s emphasis on the responsibilities of business. ‘We hear increasingly of abuses by private security firms against protesters, as well as strategic lawsuits against public participation brought by companies and the enactment, by States, of laws which specifically target and restrict protests against business operations,’ said ISHR’s Ben Leather. ‘States should take heed of the recommendations made in the report to reverse these trends’.

For other posts on this topic:

Source: UN experts launch practical advice on management of protests | ISHR

Berta Cáceres death may lead to reconsidering financing of Agua Zarca dam

March 16, 2016

The killing of Honduran human rights defender Berta Cáceres [] has resonated widely in the media and may (finally) lead to some real action in the world where the dam is being financed. Peter Bosshard, Interim Executive Director, International Rivers, wrote under the heading “Agua Zarca: A Stain on the Dutch and Finnish Human Rights Record” (15 March 2016) that the Dutch government announced that it will send an ambassador to Honduras “to express concern over the killing of human rights activist Berta Cáceres” and presumably assess the state of the Agua Zarca Project. In response to International Rivers’ online action, FMO (the financial arm of development aid) said that it would decide about continued involvement in the dam project on the basis of this visit. Finn fund says that speculation about an exit from Agua Zarca is “at the moment premature,” but the financier would probably follow if FMO pulled out of the project. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Iduvina Hernandez: Human Rights Defender from Guatemala

October 8, 2015

The newsletter of the ISHR of 7 October 2015 carries an interview with Iduvina Hernandez, co-founder of Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy in Guatemala.

Iduvina Hernandez founded the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security in Democracy (SEDEM), together with US citizen Rachel Garst in 2000. As journalists, Iduvina and Rachel had studied the behaviour of armed forces and intelligence services which were linked to numerous human rights abuses. The organisation initially questioned the meaning of ‘oversight’ and ‘accountability’ of security services for the public as Guatemala was having raging debate about security forces and intelligence sources. In order to expand this discussion, the organisation started building citizen networks in the provinces providing them with training so as to enable them to conduct independent oversight of State security forces actions in their region.

Guatemala’s public security is handled by the military and dominated by a national security doctrine. Extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances have been documented in a country still haunted by genocide. Civil society organisations have suggested that the militarisation of public security makes human rights abuses more probable, a fact that Iduvina’s organisation aims to change.

‘In a true democracy the military has nothing to do with citizen security.’

Iduvina believes human rights work is in her DNA since she grew up in a family where solidarity was a critical value. She remembers seeing people hidden in her home when she was a child, her father explaining that these people’s lives were in danger. At that point, Iduvina already felt like part of the framework working to protect them.

‘We can always do something for anyone, in any place, in any way.’

From an early age Iduvina was part of the student movement, working for student rights and then became  a student leader for the University Students Association from 1976 to 1981. She lost many friends along the was due to disappearances or killings. She was even forced into exile but returned to the country as soon as she got the opportunity.

Challenges and threats to human rights defenders

One of Iduvina’s major challenges is linked to personal issues. As director of her own organisation she works on a volunteer basis and is therefore forced to have several jobs in order to sustain herself.

As for security conditions in Guatemala they expose human rights defenders to serious risks throughout their work. This usually includes being targeted by various Government actors and former members of the military often linked to the Government.

Iduvina highlights that though the social movement recently overthrew the former president, disappointingly there has not been any significant change in the political sphere.

‘The new person in charge is a fascist and very old. His policies, as well as his security policies, will be the same. We are afraid because we have a Government that does not respect human rights and certainly does not defend human rights.’

Iduvina states that the dangers that human rights defenders face in Guatemala stem from: Government action; Government policies; Government tolerance towards perpetrators; perpetrators’ actions; corruption; the composition of the judicial sector; and impunity.

The legislative framework for NGOs and human rights defenders

A restrictive law against NGOs was introduced in 2003 which imposed new conditions and limitations on NGOs – especially those working for the promotion of human rights. While registering a NGO used to be a simple process (only requiring registration at the  city hall office) the 2004 amendment to the Constitution now requires NGOs to register at the Minister of Interio. This has become a real obstacle for human rights defence as NGOs now need approval to work legally and even to change their board membership. This particularly targets ngos working for the promotion of human rights. Iduvina’s organisation once had to wait  6 months to be registered, whilst another organisation not involved with human rights was registered in 10 days.

‘An organisation working against genocide was required to maintain the same board and president as they were not granted approval to change the legal representation. If you are not registered you cannot deal with the banks, you cannot receive donations, you are on standby.’

No specific law in Guatemala protects the work of human rights defender though there are a number of institutionstasked with their protection. Iduvina believes that oversight over the process of registering NGOs must be removed and thinks it necessary to have a law  to protect the work of human rights defenders. Yet she believes it would be easier and more achievable to introduce a chapter on human rights defenders into the Special Ombudsman Law. With the composition of the current political system – dominated by right-wing ideas – this is still something she knows will be difficult to strive for. Attempting to implement such changes now would likely restrict human rights defenders further.

National and International Advocacy Goals

At the national level Iduvina is currently working on a draft national policy for the protection of human rights defenders. This includes the creation of  focus groups and the use of  workshops and interviews to identify the real needs of  grassroots defenders.

At the international level, Iduvina says it is essential that the international community bears in mind that Guatemala is not a consolidated democracy and that human rights defenders continue to be at high risk.

‘It is more important today than it has ever been. The movement to overthrow the Government suggested that things were going to change in Guatemala. We need to make clear to the international community that although the demonstrations were a huge success, the root problems have not changed, not yet. We still need the international community’s eye on the country, especially as the new President is in many ways worse than the last – coming from the armed forces and involved in the genocide. He is an enemy of democracy.’

Iduvina would like the Special Rapporteurs on the situation on human rights defenders and on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, to visit Guatemala. She would also welcome visits from other special procedures and treaty bodies, in particular those working to protect the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of opinion and expression

The Future for Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala

The future for human rights defenders in Guatemala is two sided, says Iduvina. On one hand the social movement has helped to extend their work and in some spaces of society they will now achieve more respect and understanding for their work. On the other hand if the political system does not change, human rights defenders will be confronted with new threats and new levels of risks.

Source: Iduvina Hernandez: Human Rights Defender from Guatemala | ISHR

More on impunity: Guatemala’s ex-police chief, jailed for life, in appeal before Swiss court

May 7, 2015

Erwin Sperisen in 2007

Guatemala ex-police chief Erwin Sperisen in 2007

This morning’s post about impunity in Colombia, could be combined with the case of Erwin Sperisen, Guatemala’s ex-police chief, who in 2014 was sentenced to life in prison in Switzerland over the deaths of seven prisoners in 2006. His appeal is currently (4 to 8 May) serving before the Criminal Chamber of Geneva’s Court of Justice in Switzerland. The Prosecutor has again demanded life imprisonment. Sperisen could not be extradited as has Swiss-Guatemalan dual nationality. Sperisen was tried under a law allowing Swiss nationals to be tried in their own country for crimes committed abroad. [The former Guatemalan Interior Minister Carlos Vielmann, who fled the country at the same time as Sperisen, is due to stand trial on similar charges in Spain.]

More information about this case can be found at TRIAL (TRack Impunity Always) is a very interesting NGO that goes after the perpetrators. The mirror image of a Gallery of Human Rights Defenders so to say!

Guatemala ex-police chief jailed for life by Swiss court – BBC News.

Woman Human Rights Defender María Martín about criminalization

March 8, 2015


As I announced in an earlier post [], Protection International has done a series of interviews with woman human rights defenders. Today is the turn of Maria Martin, a member of Protection International’s Policy, Training and Research Unit, who speaks about criminalization patterns and how it specifically seems to affects women human rights defenders even more than their male colleagues. Here are some extracts:

PI: What is criminalization?

MM: To explain it in simple terms, it’s the use of the criminal legal system to try to dissuade or obstruct the work of people who defend human rights. Often, instances of criminalisation are associated with other processes like stigmatisation or the application of administrative sanctions against human rights defenders. Nevertheless it remains important to be able to distinguish criminalisation apart from these other processes.

PI: So could you explain the difference between criminalisation and stigmatisation? 

MM: Stigmatisation consists of trying to affect the image that exists of a defender. This is often related to criminalisation because it can happen in connection to judicial processes or in detention. Then again, stigmatisation can also be a consequence of criminalisation. I mean, once criminal proceedings have started, the defender’s public image will be affected, which is precisely one of the effects of this criminalisation.

PI: What do you think the impact is of criminalisation on WHRDs

MM: ..Criminalisation does not only have a strong impact on the person that is subject to it and who faces detention, guilty verdicts or unjust processes. The organisations where WHRDs work are also highly affected, since the criminalisation of one defender obstructs the work of all defenders collaborating with her…

Families of criminalised women are also affected. In this respect the criminalisation of women tends to have a stronger impact than with men. This is due to the leading role that women often play in a family, providing support for their children, parents and other dependants.

If the woman is the income-provider of the family, the economic impact on the family can be very severe. Criminalisation may also have a psychological impact on a family, because they see their loved one illegitimately deprived of her human rights and freedoms.

To compare this to the criminalisation of a male activist, normally the male defender has a partner who attends to the children and supports them during the difficult process. In contrast, women defenders are often single parents and have to single-handedly bear family responsibilities in addition to their criminal charges.

PI: What can WHRDs do to combat criminalisation?

MM: I believe women defenders must first know what criminalisation is, and how to recognise it. Only then can they work towards a strategic response within the judicial system that prevents it from reoccurring. In other words, she can develop strategic responses to condemn attacks aimed at women defenders on the bias of incorrect legal norms. On the other hand, once a process of criminalisation has been set in motion, defenders can also take actions to identify and counter the negative impact criminalisation can have in their work, on their families and society in general.

One of the situations where I have seen such a response against criminalisation was by a women defenders’ organisation in the town of Barillas in the northern part of Guatemala. There, defenders were facing police and military interventions. Local women defenders started using different tactics in order to put an end to the government’s criminalisation norms in Barillas.

They carried out large-scale protests and made trips to remote parts in the region to make a conflict little known by national and international populations more visible. Through these actions the women succeeded in putting the issue on national and international agendas. This ultimately generated enough political pressure to paralyse such repressive actions by the state.

PI: What can other actors do to combat criminalisation?

MM: For other actors, the first step is to analyse actions of all stakeholders to see what exactly generates criminalisation and why, and what laws permit such practices to take place. As for governments, they can also fight criminalisation by prohibiting law enforcement officers or justice system officials to carry out norms and practices that favour or lead to criminalisation of defenders. One way of doing this could be implementing fines against police officers that have detained defenders illegally.

The Women Who Defend Human Rights – María Martín – Protection InternationalProtection International.