Guatemala: Peaceful resistance to illegal mining under siege

A Joint Statement was released in response to the state of siege and the violence of state actors against the peaceful demonstrations being held in El Estor.

Errors in translation are mine.


Geneva-Paris-Guatemala City, 4 November 2021 – After more than a week of police violence and violations of the right to protest of the Maya Q’eqchi’ population of El Estor, the Observatory (OMCT-FIDH), UDEFEGUA, CALDH, IM-Defensoras, and the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and Torture urge the authorities to immediately end the declaration of the state of siege in the municipality of Izabal and to guarantee the exercise of the defence of the environment.

On 24 October 2021, the Government of Guatemala declared a state of siege in El Estor, department of Izabal, by means of Decree 9-2021, opening the door to the militarisation of the territory and to undue restrictions on the right to peaceful protest of the Maya Q’eqchi population of this municipality.

Indeed, following the declaration, ratified three days later by Congress, the Guatemalan army mobilised 500 soldiers, who, together with 350 members of the National Civil Police (PNC), travelled to El Estor to ensure the end of the peaceful mobilisation of the communities of the municipality against the activities of the mining company Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel (CGN).

Since 4 October 2021, four peaceful camps had been established in the municipality under the leadership of the Q’eqchi’ Mayan Council of El Estor to prevent the entry of coal supplies to the “Fénix” mine. After 17 days of peaceful resistance, members of the National Civil Police (PNC) violently evicted the camps to facilitate the entry of trucks.

According to the Observation and Verification Mission carried out by the Convergence for Human Rights Coalition (Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos), the security forces made an unjustified and disproportionate use of force against the demonstrators and the population, including the indiscriminate use of tear gas. There were also documented attacks and restrictions on the freedom of information of journalists who were in the area. Four journalists from Prensa Comunitaria were attacked by PNC special forces to prevent them from documenting the eviction. Two of them had their work equipment confiscated and two others had their homes in the community raided. There was also surveillance and raids on the homes of 12 human rights defenders in El Estor by the army, the PNC and members of the PNC’s Special Criminal Investigation Division (DEIC), during which children were physically and psychologically abused. In a raid on 27 October, the PNC arbitrarily arrested human rights defender Eduardo Bin Poou on an arrest warrant issued on 15 August 2017 for a criminalisation case for which he enjoys alternatives to detention. He was released the following day.

Following the eviction, a state of siege and a curfew was declared from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. in the municipality for a period of 30 days. The Guatemalan government also accused the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) of “misinforming” the population, following the publication of a PDH communiqué denouncing the excessive use of force in the eviction and demanding respect for the right to prior consultation.

The signatory organisations emphasise that the “Fénix” mining project, operated by CGN, was implemented in the territory without free, prior, and informed consent [FPIC] with the affected communities, thus violating their collective rights, as established by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in September 2020. Furthermore, in July 2019, the Constitutional Court suspended the CGN mining company’s exploitation licence and ordered it to carry out a consultation process with the affected indigenous populations within 18 months of the issuance of the ruling. The Ministry of Energy and Mines has excluded the indigenous communities from the consultation process and, in the meantime, the mining company has continued to operate illegally, causing environmental damage to Lake Izabal. The failure of the Guatemalan authorities to comply with legislation on the rights of indigenous peoples has led to the conflict between the mining company and the communities of El Estor becoming chronic, resulting in a number of evictions and violent actions, including the murder of community leader Adolfo Ich Chamán in 2009, the rape of Maya Q’eqchi’ women from Lote 8 in 2007, the murder of Carlos Maaz Coc in May 2017, and the arbitrary detention and criminalisation of human rights defenders.

In light of these facts, the Observatory, UDEFEGUA, CALDH, the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and Torture, and IM-Defensoras urge the authorities to immediately revoke the state of siege and to thoroughly investigate all cases of excessive use of force mentioned above. The undersigned organisations urge the State of Guatemala to comply with its international obligations on civil security and to proceed with the withdrawal of the Armed Forces from civil security tasks, as recommended by the UN Committee Against Torture in 2018.

The Observatory, UDEFEGUA, CALDH, the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and Torture, and IM-Defensoras urge the State of Guatemala to comply with the ruling of the Constitutional Court, and to put an end to the criminalisation and persecution of those who defend the rights of indigenous peoples and the environment against the activities of extractive industries operating illegally in the country.

You can read the original statement, in Spanish, here, Guatemala: La resistencia pacífica a la minería ilegal bajo sitio.

The Observatory (The Observatory For The Protection Of Human Rights Defenders) is a programme of World Organisation Against Torture.

Categories: Accompaniment, Criminalisation, Environment, Evictions, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Land, Military, Mining, Poverty, Solidarity in Action, Solidarity in Action/Guatemala, Violence

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