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ATTACKS AGAINST XINCA LEADERS CONTINUE

Attacks against Xinca leaders continue

Guatemala
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In April 2013, the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines granted to the company Tahoe Resources an exploitation license for the Escobal mining project. After that, the conflict around the mine escalated. On 27 April 2013, security guards at the mine site fired tear gas and rubber bullets on community members protesting outside the mine’s entrance, injuring some of them. For more information, see: Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk (AMR 34/002/2014).

In 2019, the Canadian based mining company Pan American Silver completed the acquisition of Tahoe Resources, adding the Escobal mine to its portfolio. However, mining activities in Escobal have been paralyzed since 2017. After several appeals from the Centre for Environmental, Social and Legal Action (CALAS), who previously defended the rights of communities affected by the San Rafael mining company, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) of Guatemala ordered a provisional suspension and the completion of a community consultation with the Xinca people. 

Members of CALAS reported reiterated acts of intimidation and harassment against them. For more information see Urgent Action: Smear Campaign against Human rights defenders (AMR 34/6680/2017). Lawyer Quelvin Jimenez, defender of the rights of the Xinca indigenous people, reported that on 23 June 2020 a group of armed people disrupted a meeting of the Xinca Indigenous People authorities, which he also attended, threatening and beating some of the participants (see Urgent Action AMR 34/0733/2019). He has faced smear and stigmatization campaigns on social media, judicial harassment, and received death threats and other forms of intimidation due to his work (see Urgent Action AMR 34/0336/2019). 

According to Amnesty International’s research, human rights defenders in Guatemala carry out their activities in an extremely hostile environment. Defenders are also regularly targeted with smear campaigns aimed at stigmatizing and discrediting them by private actors and the Guatemalan authorities. The criminal justice system is regularly misused, defenders are falsely accused and prosecuted trying to keep them silent and break up movements and organizations. 

Those working on rights related to land, territory and the environment are particularly at risk. With continuous threats, intimidation, and attacks against them. For more information, see: We are defending the land with our blood: Defenders of the land, territory and environment in Honduras and Guatemala (AMR 01/4562/2016).

The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) reported more than a thousand of attacks against human rights defenders in 2020, including 15 killings, and 22 attempts of killings. 

Guatemala has yet to adopt a public policy for the protection of human rights defenders, which was ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2014 in the judgement Human Rights Defender et al. vs Guatemala.
 

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INDIGENOUS LEADER SHOT

Indigenous leader shot

Southern border with Guatemala, Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico
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In April 2013, the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines granted Tahoe Resources an exploitation license for the Escobal mining project. After that, the conflict around the mine escalated. On 2 May 2013, the government of Guatemala declared a state of emergency in and around San Rafael Las Flores, a town some 90 kilometres from the capital, following a series of violent incidents around the mining operation of Minera San Rafael, a subsidiary of the Canada and US-based Tahoe Resources Inc. Previously, in January 2013, unknown armed men attacked the mine site resulting in the deaths of two security guards and another person, presumed to be part of the group attacking the site. For more information, see: Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk (AMR 34/002/2014).

In 2019, Canadian based mining company Pan American Silver completed the acquisition of Tahoe Resources, adding the Escobal mine to the portfolio. However, mining activities in Escobal have been paralyzed since 2017. After several appeals from the Centre for Environmental, Social and Legal Action (CALAS), who previously defended the rights of communities affected by the San Rafael mining company, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) of Guatemala ordered a provisional suspension and the completion of a community consultation with the Xinka people. 

Members of CALAS have also reported reiterated acts of intimidation and harassment against them. For more information see Urgent Action: Smear Campaign against Human rights defenders (AMR 34/6680/2017). Lawyer Quelvin Jimenez, defender of the rights of the Xinca indigenous people, reported that on 23 June 2020 a group of armed people disrupted a meeting of the Xinca Indigenous People authorities, which he also attended, threatening and beating some of the participants (AMR 34/0733/2019). He has faced smear and stigmatization campaigns on social media, judicial harassment, and received death threats and other forms of intimidation due to his work (AMR 34/0336/2019). 

According to our research, human rights defenders in Guatemala carry out their activities in an extremely hostile environment. Defenders are also regularly targeted with smear campaigns aimed at stigmatizing and discrediting them by private actors and the Guatemalan authorities. The criminal justice system is regularly misused, defenders are falsely accused and prosecuted trying to keep them silent and break up movements and organizations. The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) reported more than a thousand of attacks against human rights defenders in 2020, including 15 killings, and 22 attempts of killings.

Those working on rights related to land, territory and the environment are particularly at risk. Amnesty International has documented continuous threats, intimidation and attacks against them. For more information, see the Amnesty International report “We are defending the land with our blood”: Defenders of the land, territory and environment in Honduras and Guatemala (AMR 01/4562/2016).
 

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HOSPITAL WORKERS HAVE BEEN PAID

Hospital workers have been paid

Guatemala hospital
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COVID-19 HOSPITAL WORKERS FIRED; NOT PAID

Covid-19 hospital workers fired, not paid

Justice Administration Center (CAJ) of Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, Guatemala
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Prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic, Guatemala was already receiving special support from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) due to its weak health system. As of 9 June, Guatemala has reported 7,055 cases of COVID-19 and 252 deaths.  

The Government of Guatemala opened a temporary hospital in the “Parque de la Industria” in Guatemala City to receive and treat patients with COVID-19. This hospital, with an initial capacity of 319 beds, opened on 21 March. At the beginning of May, medical staff publicly denounced the lack of contracts, salaries and safe working conditions at the hospital. According to information reported in the press based from the Public Accounting Office, the Industrial Park Temporary Hospital of Guatemala City has executed less than 2% of the public budget that was assigned to it by the Congress, due to a lack of operative capacity and personnel to be able to carry out the functions of the hospital. 

The authorities of the hospital reported that workers employed by the hospital through the Ministry of Health (MSPAS), need to be hired under a scheme allowed for in the Public Budget, under Budget Line 189. (Titled “Other services”). Representatives of the MSPAS indicated that the Civil Service Law requires for people hired under this Budget Line, to have proof of high school or university diplomas. However, according to the National Human Rights Ombudsman´s office, these requirements were not requested at the time that the Ministry of Health contracted them, contrary to labour Guatemalan labour law requirements. Since the 46 facilities and cleaning staff of the Industrial Park Temporary Hospital did not present this paperwork, the employers have fired them, after almost three months of work in which the maintenance staff had to bring their own tools and equipment to work. The Ministry of Health noted 38 people who did not meet these requirements, however the Human Rights Ombudsman office documented 46 facilities staff who were terminated from their employment. 

Despite the justification giving by the MSPAS, according to the Classification Plan for Public employment, in line with Article 35 of the Civil Service Law, the series of “Operative posts” that require mostly “physical and repetitive labour”, do not require any education beyond that of a primary school level. Also, the Manual of Budget Classifications for the Civil Service (Ministerial Agreement 291-2012) makes no mention of the requirement for high school diplomas to be presented for hiring persons under Budget Line 189. 

Finally, the Ministry of Health has announced a public tender in recent weeks, advertising to contract an outsourced company for the facilities and cleaning services of the hospital. Press reports have noted that no company has been assigned to the contract yet.  

ILO Convention No. 158 concerning Termination of Employment (1982) defines the lawfulness of dismissal in its article 4 and imposes the requirement to provide valid grounds for dismissal as well as the right to legal and other redress in the case of unjustified dismissal. According to Article 9 of this Convention, the burden of proving the existence of a valid reason for the termination as defined in Article 4 of this Convention shall rest on the employer.

Guatemala is a member of the International Labour Organization, and although it has not specifically ratified ILO Convention 158, as a member of the ILO it has pledged to a series of key labour commitments for example, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work adopted in 1998 – which “aims to encourage the efforts made by the Members of the Organization to promote the fundamental principles and rights enshrined in the Constitution of the ILO.” In addition, as a state party to the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESCR), the international human rights treaty which enshrines the rights of workers in its Articles 6, 7, Guatemala must ensure that the right to work is upheld and they are paid fair wages. 

The rights of both facilities staff and medical staff are at grave risk at the Industrial Park Temporary Hospital, and leaving these workers unprotected in turn puts the health of the Guatemalan population at risk.  Since the beginning of the pandemic, health workers across the country have publicly denounced the lack of protective equipment (PPE) in reiterated occasions. According to the Ombudsperson (Procuraduría de los Derechos Humanos), at least 49 nurses and doctors had been infected with COVID-19 by 24 May 2020. On 30 May 2020, the Constitutional Court ordered the Health Ministry to provide health personnel with PPE and other supplies without delay.
 

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Americas: Health workers at 'horrendous risk' of COVID-19 as governments fail to offer protection to those on frontline

Americas has more than 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 - around half of all positive-tested cases globally Workers are enduring unsafe conditions with insufficient protective equipment and risk reprisals from authorities or employers if they speak out Amnesty urges countries to prioritise and protect health workers’ rights and calls on US to take swift and decisive action to guarantee continued funding to the WHO ‘It’s impossible to protect the health of one billion people… if governments insist on silencing the whistle-blowers, journalists and health workers who courageously raise their

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New law threatens NGOs' work

New law threatens NGOs' work

Gates of the Justice Administration Center (CAJ) in Guatemala

Human rights defenders in Guatemala carry out their activities in an extremely hostile environment, particularly those working on rights related to land, territory and the environment. They face continuous threats, intimidation and attacks.

The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) reported 467 attacks against human rights defenders in 2019, including 20 murders and attempted murders. Defenders also face stigmatisation and smear campaigns from private actors and the Guatemalan authorities. The criminal justice system is regularly misused to criminalise human rights defenders, in an attempt to break up movements and organisations by wearing down the defenders and removing them from the public arena.

Amnesty International has fully documented this situation in its reports, “We are defending the land with our blood”: Defenders of the land, territory and environment in Honduras and Guatemala” and “Americas: State Protection Mechanisms for Human Rights Defenders”.

In February 2019, Amnesty International was alerted of the imminent approval of Bill 5257, which is aimed at reforming the 2003 Law on NGOs. If passed, it would impose excessive controls and onerous requirements for the registration and operation of NGOs in the country. It would also grant broad powers to the government to permanently suspend the activities of NGOs for ambiguous reasons such as, “disturbance of public order”. The potential interpretations of “disturbance of public order” could lead to the arbitrary closure of civil society organisations and worsening criminalisation, through the imposition of criminal sanctions against the human rights defenders that work in them.

Amnesty International also recently cited Bill 5257 in its briefings, “Last Chance of Justice, Dangerous setbacks for human rights and the fight against impunity in Guatemala” and “Laws Designed to Silence: The Global Crackdown on Civil Society Organizations”, as dangerous examples of the global trend of using legislation to repress NGOs and human rights defenders.

After several failed attempts, on 11 February 2020, the Guatemalan Congress passed the law, which is now registered as Decree 4-2020.

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Urgent Action update: Lawyer of Xinca people still under threat

Quelvin Jimenez reported that a group of people, carrying weapons, disrupted a meeting of the Xinca Indigenous people.

1st Update on UA 063/19 Issued 17/07/2019

US/Guatemala: 'dangerous' asylum agreement must be abandoned

© Win McNamee/Getty Images

In response to reports (27 July) that the United States and Guatemala may have finalised an agreement on asylum that would potentially limit access to asylum for Hondurans and Salvadorans, Charanya Krishnaswami, Amnesty International’s advocacy director for the Americas, said: “While the agreement between the US and Guatemala has yet to be disclosed, any attempts to force families and individuals fleeing their home countries to seek safety in Guatemala is outrageous. “The United States government knows well that conditions there are dangerous. With high levels of violence and impunity, weak

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Urgent Action: Lawyer of Xinca people under threat

Quelvin Jimenez received death threats and continues to be targeted with smear campaigns, intimidations, and surveillance

UA 63/19 issued 10/05/2019

Urgent Action: NGOs and human rights defenders at risk

Proposed legislative reform in Guatemala would impose undue restrictions, controls and sanctions on NGOs.

UA 28/19 issued 26/02/2019
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