Since december 2012, PBI Guatemala has been contacting members of our support network to inform of our concerns regarding various aspects of the situation in Guatemala, including forced evictions and violent actions taking place within the context of investment projects that are being undertaken without prior consultation and consent from those affected.

In particular, we are concerned about the security of the people, social organisations and rural communities that are affected by these issues and who are fighting for their human rights within this context.

In November and December 2012 there were serious threats and aggressive actions against the human rights defenders involved. This situation is likely to continue in 2013. As such, we are calling on the international community to pay particular attention to the situation and implement measures aimed at ensuring the protection of the organisations and other social actors who are peacefully promoting and defending human rights in various regions of the country.


Forced evictions because of conflicts over land:

According to international human rights standards, the coerced or involuntary displacement of a population resulting from forced evictions eliminates or limits the ability of the people, groups or communities affected to live or work in a home, residence or particular place, without appropriate forms of legal protection being offered or without access to such forms of protection. This situation represents, as indicated by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, a serious limitation on the right to adequate housing and to land, as well as other closely associated rights, including the right to adequate food, water, health care, education, work, security and protection. As a result of these and other serious consequences, forced evictions should be limited to exceptional circumstances that are covered by legal provisions; and in all cases should be carried out in accordance with the relevant provisions under international law, as well as taking into account that certain sectors of the population are particularly vulnerable.

PBI has observed in Guatemala that in practice, particularly within the framework of conflicts over land, these restrictions are not taken into consideration and international standards are not being fulfilled in the preparation, execution and monitoring of evictions that are permitted and regulated by law, in what should be exceptional cases.

We highlight the following main concerns:

- Forced evictions are frequently carried out as part of the state's response to conflicts regarding access to land that have been taking place over many year – even decades – in several areas of the country; conflicts that have arisen because of structural issues and with a long history, that affect access to and enjoyment of rights to land and adequate housing for a large sector of the population, particularly among indigenous populations and campesino (subsistence farming) communities.(1)

- The majority of the evictions are linked to the lack of legal land tenure, which is an essential element for adequate housing, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. All people should enjoy a certain level of security, no matter what type of tenure is involved. In Guatemala, however, this norm is not respected and in rural areas the lack of secure legal tenure applies to both housing and land.- Although it is true that the Guatemalan state's response does include dialogue mechanisms that are officially directed at overcoming this situation, these efforts are wasted when evictions take place based on judicial orders that ignore the previous dialogues and the results of such dialogues, failing to explore every possible alternative for conflict resolution apart from judicial measures.

- There are also international obligations for public institutions contained within the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that are neglected during the evictions - including adequate notification prior to an eviction, comprehensive planning for resettlement measures to be undertaken in each case (taking into account the protection of groups of the population or social sectors that are most vulnerable), respect for principles of necessity and proportion in the use of force, protection against the arbitrary destruction of property, guarantees for adequate alternative accommodations, access to food, potable water and basic health services and fair compensation where appropriate.

- The proposed Law on Integrated Rural Development, which seeks to address some of the roots of the land issues and which has been pending approval by Congress since 2009, was not debated or approved in the November 2012 congressional session despite the fact that it was a key demand expressed by campesino and indigenous organisations and sectors. According to several bodies that are investigating and dealing with land issues, including campesino organisations and state entities, this law represents an opportunity to advance in overcoming structural problems and conflicts associated with land and agrarian development in the country, and it addresses the need for access to land for impoverished and historically marginalised populations.

Attacks related to investment projects that are taking place without the consent of the affected population:

In many cases where private or private-public investment plans are being developed or implemented in Guatemala, the population affected by the projects, often consisting of indigenous communities, has not been informed or consulted as required by both international conventions ratified by the Guatemalan government and by the country's own legislation.(2)

PBI has repeatedly noted its concern over the fact that, within this context of lack of information and consent, attacks, threats and persecution are taking place against those who participate in defending and promoting economic, social, cultural and environmental rights, as well as the collective rights of the indigenous population.

Media outlets repeatedly publish negative comments and articles regarding communities and social and human rights organisations, or entities of the international community that support or accompany them, as put forward by both the public authorities and non-state actors.(3) The inferences are worrying, given that they put human rights defenders at ever greater risk of being targets of aggression.

PBI has observed an increase in unfounded or disproportionate legal accusations against human rights defenders within this context.(4) The detention of numerous individuals is particularly of concern, and PBI considers the accusations of abuse and failure to respect the rights of those in detention to be especially serious. We illustrate the concerns expressed with a few cases presented as concrete examples (please see below on a summary of highlighted individual cases).

Based on the above metioned concerns and illustrative cases, PBI made several recommendations to the international community, in particular to the members of our support network for the PBI Guatemala Project inside and outside of the country. We asked them to focus on this situation and to promote the implementation of protection mechanisms for human right defenders in these situations, specially in the rural regions where there are ongoing or planned investment projects.

We thank you for your interest and hope you might take action to promote spaces for peace, compliance with human rights standards and protection for those who defend them.



(1) According to information provided by the United Nations' Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala, from 2008 to 2012, 114 forced evictions took place in Guatemala.

(2) Among others, Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the United Nations' declaration on the rights of the indigenous peoples. At the national level, the Constitution (articles 66 and 44), the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples (section F, article 6.III), the Municipal Code (articles 63, 65 and 66) and the Law on Development Councils (article 26). All these pieces of legislation recognised the right to be consulted.

(3) Recent statements by public authorities: examble a, examble b

(4) Aprodev, CIDSE, CIFCA, FIAN, OBS, OIDHACO, PBI Colombia, PBI Guatemala, Plataforma Holandesa, “Criminalización de las y los defensores de derechos humanos en América Latina, una aproximación desde organizaciones internacionales y redes europeas”, junio de 2012.



Our demands to the international community which we formulated, include the application of protection measures for communities, organisations and people mentioned in this document:

Eviction of the community 20 de Octubre, Cahabón, Alta Verapaz:

The eviction of the community 20 de Octubre on the estate Secamquim, in Cahabon Alta Verapaz, which occurred between the 14th and 16th of November 2012 represents an example that illustrates the concerns outlined. The Verapaz Union of Campesino Organisations (UVOC) reported that more than 260 families of the community were displaced, resulting in a worrying situation of lack of basic provisions and vulnerability. Accordingly representatives of the community 20 de Octubre as well as the UVOC have expressed their concern over a series of issues: the failure of an appropriate, prior notification; the use of tear gas by the National Civil Police (PNC); the setting on fire and destruction of various houses, belongings of the community and the maize harvest; the seizure of animals as well as the absence of plans of resettlement to provide alternative housing, avoid the dispersion of families, the community and guarantee access to food and essential rights immediately after the eviction. At the same time they criticised the fact that these events had interrupted and overshadowed a process of dialogue in which substantial agreements had already been reached making possible an alternative solution to that of a legal eviction order.(1) The case of the community 20 de Octubre is not an isolated case: in March 2011 14 communities of the Polochic Valley were evicted and represent precedents of this type of practices in the region.(2)

In this scenario, members of the UVOC and of the communities that are accompanying in Alta Verapaz have continued to be subject to threats, defamatory remarks (3) and in some cases legal accusations. During the eviction of the community 20 de Octubre Jose Julio Bernardo was detained and later released on bail and put under house arrest. In November two individuals of the community La Primavera 4, Mario Hernandez Vargas and Arturo Xolim Caal were detained in the context of another land conflict.(5)

Threats, violence and risks in the context of a peaceful protest-camp in La Puya, San Jose del Golfo, set up in front of a mining project

In this case we are concerned for the safety of communities in the municipalities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc. Over the last nine month members of these communities have engaged in a protest-camp in the locality of La Puya, in front of the entry to the mining project of the US company Kappes, Cassidy & Associates (their subsidiaries in Guatemala are Exploraciones Mineras de Guatemala, S.A. and Servicios Mineros de Centro America S.A.) The company has received the authorization to develop the project El Tambor that consists of various licences, among them that of Progreso VII Derivada. Residents of many communities have expressed their disapproval of the project as they fear this will affect the economic, social, cultural and environmental rights of the population and the communities in the area. They point to the fact that they have been informed or consulted with regards to the project. Since the start of the protest in La Puya the group has been subjected to different types of intimidation, threats and acts of aggression. In the course of June an attack on the life of Yolanda Oqueli, one of the activists participating in the protest-camp took place.(6) This grave occurrence highlights the vulnerable safety conditions she and the other members of the group are facing. Fortunately Yolanda survived the attack and currently she and her family have been granted precautionary measures ordered by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH).(7)

Nonetheless a series of concerns persist: On one hand the process of identifying and detaining the individuals responsible for the attack has not advanced which implies the risk of another attack on her family or other people contesting the mining activities in La Puya. Similarly, at the end of November a large group of people identifying themselves as company workers arrived at La Puya and following orders of Pablo Orozco -who publicly identified himself as representing the company- generated a tense situation during a period of two weeks involving verbal aggression, physical aggression and explicit threats against members of the communities, representatives of social and human rights organisations as well as reporters that were taking graphic images of this situation.(8)

On the 7th of December approximately 200 members of the National Civil Police in riot gear arrived at La Puya aiming to undertake an eviction in the area, granting the people taking part in the protest camp 10 minutes to withdraw from the location. Even though the eviction did not take place, the action of the police has been questioned by social and human rights organisations, given the fact that disproportionate force was used against those exercising their right of peaceful protest and who in fact had the permission of the owner of the land to install the protest camp.(9) Four people have been detained and later released on bail until the date of the hearings. (10) The tension in the area remains high.

Safety of defenders of DESC in the context of the Interoceanic corridor

The “Interoceanic Corridor of Guatemala” is an infrastructure project for commerce that aims to represent an alternative to the Panama Canal. According to its web site it will integrate a strip of land 336 kilometres long and 100 metres wide that crosses Guatemala between the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean. On this strip an interoceanic railway for transporting containers, a paved highway with 4 lanes as well as an interoceanic oil pipeline will be constructed. This will be completed with the creation of industrial parks along the strip and two harbour complexes in both extremities of the corridor one in the Atlantic, the other in the Pacific Ocean. (11) Among the industrial projects to be developed along this area are hydroelectric plants and connexion with the Electrical Interconnection System for Central American Countries (SIEPAC). The project affects land inhabited by rural campesino communities of ladino and indigenous population, among others in the departments of Chiquimula, Izabal, Jutiapa and Zacapa.

These also include dry areas of Guatemala where serious problems of de-nutrition and hunger have been registered over recent years. The project of the Interoceanic Corridor is currently being developed without prior, complete or adequate information being provided to the affected people by the Guatemalan authorities and without consulting indigenous people, all this obligations of the Guatemalan state according to the 169 convention of the OIT (ratified in 1996). Rumours, minimal segments of information, pressure to sell land and defamatory remarks in the media against people that have contested the project and its planning process, contribute to generate a high level of conflict in various municipalities of the affected departments. Over recent years this high level of conflict has led to violence, deaths, threats against human rights defenders and a high degree of tension in multiple communities.(12)

Currently requests for bids have been published for some components of the project of the Technological Corridor (13) while other projects such as the hydroelectric plant El Oregano in the municipality of Jocotán promoted by the Guatemalan company Las Tres Niñas S.A. are seeking to initiate construction.



(1) UVOC, “Eviction in Cahabon”. Santa Cruz, Alta Verapaz, 15.11.2012.

(2) PBI Guatemala, “Evictions in Polochic: Brief summary at the end of the year”, Bulletin No. 25. Guatemala, 2011

(3) PBI Guatemala, “EMERGENCY ALERT: Threats against UVOC and communities”. Guatemala, 06.02.2012.

(4) Precedents on the international community’s monitoring of the situation of the community La Primavera: UVOC, “Visit of OACNUDH to the estate La Primavera”, Santa Cruz, Alta Verapaz, 24.02.2012.

(5) UVOC, “Urgent action”, Detention of Arturo Eladio Xolim Cal, member of the community La Primavera. Santa Cruz, Alta Verapaz, 24.11.2012.

(6) Amnesty International, “Urgent Action: Anti-mining activist shot”, AU: 170/12 Índice AMR 34/003/2012 Guatemala. 14.06.2012

(7) Organisation of American States (OEA), CIDH, Relator on human rights defenders, “MC 207/12 – Telma Yolanda Oqueli Veliz and her family”, precautionary measures granted on 24th of August 2012. According to the resolution: “The CIDH asked the Guatemalan State to adopt the necessary measures to guarantee the life and physical integrity of Telma Yolanda Oqueli Veliz and her family nucleus, to agree on the measures to be adopted with the beneficiaries and their representatives and to Inform on the actions undertaken to investigate the events that led to the prescription of the precautionary measures”.

(8) Two of the video-reports Publisher on the situation can be found under the following links: Noticiero Guatevisión, “Intimidation by company against community members from San José del Golfo”. Guatemala, 26.11.2012 and Madre Selva, “Mining company provokes pacific resistance in La Puya”, 22.11.2012

(9) Madre Selva, “Account of the developments on the 7th December in La Puya”, Letter to the international community. Guatemala, 11.12.2012.

(10) Milton Danilo Carrera (40 años), Tomás de Jesús Aquino (65 años), Francisco Oliva (67), Izabel Muralles (78 años). Madre Selva, Cit. Regarding their arrest we recommend to listen the testimony of Yolanda Oqueli, from La Puya, on 7th December 2012. For more details: Madre Selva, “Account of the developments on the 7th December in La Puya”, Setter to the international community. Guatemala, 11.12.2012.

(11) Interoceanic Corridor of Guatemala, S.A

(12) PBI Guatemala, “Plans of mega project in Chiquimula“, Bulletin No.20. Guatemala, 2010. Valladares, D., “Guatemala, new interoceanic corredor for global commerce”, IPS, 2011.

(13) Castillo Zamora, J.M., “Green Light for Interoceanic Corridor”, Prensa Libre. Guatemala, 08.10.2012.