Thursday, November 20, 2014

Human rights defenders from Barillas convicted despite irregularities in proceedings

An excerpt from a press release issued by the Guatemalan Unit for the 
Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA):

"On Thursday, November 13, the trial court judge in Villa Nueva sent Oscar Morales, a leader in the resistance movement in San Rafael las Flores, to trial for allegedly threatening the manager of the mining company, Minera San Rafael, S.A., subsidiary of Canadian company Tahoe Resources. During the evidentiary hearing, the judge revealed his partiality when he indicted the human rights defender without a proper investigation. The judge is now sending the case to trial without a clear investigation and despite the fact that the Public Prosecutor's office has stated that they do not have enough evidence to accuse the defendant. In sending the case to trial, it has become clear that the judge is prioritizing private interests that are represented by lawyers of the third-party plaintiff. The trial against Oscar Morales opens on December 29.

On November 14, Saúl Aurelio Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez, water rights defenders from Barillas, Huehuetenango, were convicted by a Sentencing Tribunal in Huehuetenango for conspiracy to commit murder. The two human rights defenders were illegally detained on May 2, 2012 during a state of siege imposed by the government of Guatemala. After a lengthy process, they were released and declared innocent. However, while en-route with their lawyer for the final hearing on this case, they were arrested by the police outside the Guatemala City court house for the murder and femicide of two people who were lynched in Barillas in 2010.

Both the legal process itself and the verdict against the human rights defenders were plagued with irregularities. The verdict was reached without proving the individual responsibility of the accused, violating one of the core guarantees of the judicial system that states that individuals cannot be brought to trial for the actions of others. Both cases demonstrate how private interests trump justice, leading to the political persecution of social leaders and human rights defenders."

Link to original press release in Spanish can be found here.

Other statements from Guatemala:

"They accuse me of something I did not commit. My intention has always been to defend the rights of nature." (Saúl Aurelio Méndez Muñoz)

"I am someone of few material resources. I have fought for the rights of Mother Nature and for defending natural resources, I am now in prison." (Antonio Rogelio Velásquez)

"Together with their communities, [Saúl and Rogelio] expressed their opposition to the construction of the hydroelectric Hidro Santa Cruz. This struggle has meant repression and criminalization for them, their families and their communities by the Guatemalan state who, far from working for the wellbeing of the citizens of the country, protect the interests of transnational companies such as Ecoener Hidralia and its extractive projects in northern Huehuetenango. All of this threatens the lives of communities and the natural resources of the Guatemalan people." (Statement from the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango)

"It is clear that the case of Rogelio and Saúl corresponds to a strategy of terror that seeks to weaken community resistance and paralyze social movements in defense of territory. This [goal] wasn't achieved because those of us who defend life and territory remain united.” (Statement from the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango)

Link to original statements in Spanish can be found here.

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