Update: On July 22, the seven defenders were released from prison and charges were dropped against them. One of the three judges on the panel was Judge Yassmin Barrios, who also handed down the guilty verdict in the landmark Rios Montt genocide trial and the Sepur Zarco case.
Nine Nobel Peace Laureates – including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jody Williams, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, and former President Jose Ramos Horta – today released a letter calling on the Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to drop false charges against seven imprisoned environmental defenders, and to release them.
The letter names seven political prisoners from Huehuetenango, a city in the western part of Guatemala: Rigoberto Juárez Mateo, Domingo Baltazar, Ermitaño López, Adalberto Villatoro, Arturo Pablo, Francisco Juan, and Mynor López. The men are accused of crimes that allegedly took place during their protests against the imposition of hydroelectric dams in the region, or during protests against the arbitrary detention of other community leaders.
In the letter, the Laureates point out that there are outstanding arrest warrants for an additional sixty community organizers. They ask those to be dropped as well.
“Given the precedent setting cases in Guatemalan courts in recent years, we find it particularly disturbing that the Mayan community activists and mestizos in Huehuetenango struggling to protect the rights to their lands are being targeted, falsely accused of crimes, and thrown in jail,” the letter states. The Laureates call on the Guatemalan government to stop the criminalization and repression of Mayan communities.
Two weeks ago, a trial against the defenders was opened by the public prosecutor’s office in Guatemala. The Laureates’ letter comes on the eve of the conclusion of the trial.
Read the full letter below or click here to download
18 July 2016
Mr. Jimmy Morales
President of the Republic of Guatemala
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Dear President Morales:
We Nobel Peace Prize Laureates are writing you now not only because of our deep concerns about the ongoing violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples of Guatemala but also in particular with regard to the ongoing criminalization of community organizing against hydroelectric, mining and other large-scale projects on indigenous lands.
Community leaders from northern Huehuetenango who have been arbitrarily arrested because of their efforts to defend their lands from hydroelectric and mining interests include Rigoberto Juárez Mateo, Domingo Baltazar, Ermitaño López, Adalberto Villatoro, Arturo Pablo, Francisco Juan, Mynor López. We also understand that there are outstanding arrest warrants for some sixty additional community organizers in the region.
Racism and discrimination against indigenous peoples is not unique to Guatemala, it is ubiquitous. Struggles around the world by indigenous peoples for their human rights, justice and equality have been going on for generations – and likely will for many more. Equally they must continue to struggle for control over their own lands in the face of national and transnational mega-projects that trample on their rights and attempt in numerous ways to silence and disempower them.
The judicial system of Guatemala has been making significant strides in ending impunity by trying cases related to crimes against Mayan communities during the internal conflict that ended twenty years ago with the signing of peace accords. Guatemala should justly be proud of the fact that it is leading the world in trying and convicting cases of war crimes in its own courts and not in international tribunals.
Given the precedent setting cases in Guatemalan courts in recent years, we find it particularly disturbing that the Mayan community activists and mestizos in Huehuetenango struggling to protect the rights to their lands are being targeted, falsely accused of crimes, and thrown in jail.
We call upon your young government to continue the path of justice and an end to impunity in Guatemala by dropping the false charges against the seven men mentioned above. We also call upon your government to drop the arrest warrants against the 60 other community activists from Huehuetenango and end the practice of criminalizing and repressing communities that are defending their rights and their lands.
We will continue to follow the cases of these political prisoners very closely as well as what is happening in their communities.
We look forward to hearing from you at your convenience.
Mairead Corrigan Maguire (Ireland, 1976)
Adolfo Perez Esquivel (Argentina, 1980)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu (South Africa, 1984)
Rigoberta Menchu Tum (Guatemala, 1992)
President Jose Ramos Horta (East Timor, 1996)
Jody Williams (USA, 1997)
Shirin Ebadi (Iran, 2003)
Leymah Gbowee (Liberia, 2011)
Tawakkol Karman (Yemen, 2011)