GENEVA - A report by the U.N. Human Rights Office finds human rights defenders, minorities and indigenous people in Guatemala are subject to widescale, wanton attacks by state and non-state actors. The report, prepared with Guatemala's National Human Rights Institution, covers the period from January 2017 to April 2019.
The U.N. human rights office has recorded an alarming 884 attacks against human rights defenders, including 39 killings during the two-year reporting period. It says human rights defenders are subject to physical attacks, threats, intimidation, surveillance, stigmatization, and gender-based violence.
The report accuses the government of misusing criminal law to silence those defending peoples' rights to lands, territories and natural resources. It notes indigenous peoples, women defenders, LGBTI defenders, and journalists are among those at particular risk of abuse.
In mid-June, Guatemalans will go to the poll to elect the President and Congress. U.N. human rights spokeswoman, Marta Hurtado said this is a particularly precarious time for human rights defenders. She said her office has documented a number of attacks against community and indigenous leaders targeted for their political involvement.
"Three political candidates and two people with declared intentions to run for office have been killed since January 2019. Impunity in relation to these crimes is persistent and rampant. Independent judges — including from High Courts — and prosecutors have faced assaults, threats, reprisals and have been stigmatized," said Hurtado.
The report warns these attacks and abuses of peoples' civil rights bring into question the credibility of the electoral process. It says widespread violations will persist unless measures are taken to end the country's endemic corruption, redress the lack of land tenure, improve security and institutional weaknesses.
The report recommends the government strengthen measures to prevent, protect, investigate and prosecute crimes committed against human rights defenders.