From July 17 to 23 of this year, three defenders from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras left their homes and headed to the north of the continent to participate in an advocacy mission organized by PBI, with funding from ProtectDefenders.eu, in Washington DC. The mission organised aimed at making the security situation of human rights defenders visible with key actors that can have an impact on their protection.
This specific mission focused on the vulnerability of defenders of the land, the territory and the environment in the region; on the aggressions that they face because of their work and their protection needs. A key objective of this delegation was to make visible the violence that comes with 'development' in many territories, as well as the damage that results from the participation of military forces involved in acts of repression against communities in resistance. Another objective was to highlight the lack of protection offered by the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to those who defend economic, social and cultural rights and ensure commitments by the actors with whom they met to influence their improvement of their security conditions.
During the week the defenders had the opportunity to about their respective situations of risk because of the work that each one carries out in the defense of the land and territory and their countries. They met with 14 offices of members of Congress and the Senate and with the Department of the State of the United States. They also spoke with several NGOs to update them on their various cases and seek international support for their struggles.
Raúl Caal Ical, member of the Cahabón Peace Resistance who opposes the Oxec hydroelectric project in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala; Melvin Ariel, human rights lawyer of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ) in Honduras; and José Ángel Rivas Vega, member of the Ódami indigenous community and Coordinator of the Campo de la Alianza Sierra Madre AC (ASMAC) explained the situation in which they live because of their work defending the land and territory in the Sierra Tarahumara in the state of Chihuahua.
José Ángel dedicates part of his work in ASMAC to advise projects aimed at the conservation and protection of the environment, giving a cultural perspective to these projects. He also participates in the interpretation and cultural translation of texts on the human rights of Indigenous Peoples. In addition, he participates as an interpreter and translator in the hearings of the Superior Court of Justice of Chihuahua. The organization ASMAC was created in the nineties and since its constitution works with peoples and communities of the Sierra Tarahumara promoting their rights to defend the land and territory, their preferential access to natural resources, rights to food, education and to the full exercise of their culture. ASMAC, apart from accompanying and empowering indigenous communities to know and be able to demand their rights, also participates in dialogue processes with authorities and other civil society actors to sensitize them to the rights of the communities.
Melvin Ariel is a lawyer and legal coordinator of MADJ in Honduras. Ariel has worked with the family of Berta Cáceres in the trial about her murder in 2016 and has represented several defenders of the land, territory and environment criminalized for their work. The MADJ has supported indigenous and peasant communities – for example the community of Pajuiles in Atlántida and the community of San Francisco Locomapa of the Tolupán people – in their vindication for the right to free, prior and informed consultation on the implementation of economic projects in your territories. Due to this work, members of the MADJ have suffered threats, attacks, criminalization, raids and even murders. The visit to Washington DC allowed Ariel to dialogue with government and civil society actors in the United States to give visibility to this situation. For Ariel, the visit was positive to establish contacts with potential allies and consolidate a support network in the United States.
Raul Caal Ical is Q'eqchi 'Maya and member of the Cahabón Peace Resistance, a municipality with 195 communities in Alta Verapaz. Since 2015, the communities are organizing to defend their territory and the Cahabón and Oxec rivers before the arrival of the hydroelectric company, OXEC, S.A. who wants to build two dams. The Guatemalan state allowed the company to start construction without having consulted the affected population, as established in ILO Convention 169. Faced with this, the communities organized their own consultation in good faith in August 2017 in which more than 26 thousand people from the