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PBI warns of increasing attacks on defenders of land and territory in Guatemala

In Guatemala, defending human rights has become the highest risk activity, and the people who carry it out, face threats of all kinds that often end in violent deaths. The murder, in less than a month, of seven peasant leaders who participated in the Peasant Development Committee (CODECA) of Jalapa and Jutiapa and in the Altiplano Peasant Committee of the Altiplano (CCDA) of Alta Verapaz, reveals, without a doubt, a alarming increase in risk, especially for people who defend the land and the territory.

In this context, PBI has seen with concern the security situation of three of the organizations that it accompanies, the Campesino Coordinator Ch'orti 'Nuevo Día (CCCND), the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón and the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations (UVOC). These organizations are suffering, especially since the beginning of 2018, episodes of serious threats and intimidation, attacks with firearms, arrests and criminalization of their leaders. Faced with this situation, PBI has increased the frequency with which international volunteers are present in the Oriente and Alta Verapaz regions, especially in the most threatened communities. PBI has accompanied leaders to make complaints before the state institutions responsible for investigating the attacks and has observed court hearings in cases of criminalization to ensure due process, especially in the case of Bernardo Caal Xól, leader of the Cahabón Peaceful Resistance He has been deprived of liberty since January 30, 2018. PBI has also intensified the follow-up to the work of the state institutions responsible for ensuring the safety and protection of defenders, basically the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Attorney General's Office for Human Rights (PDH) and has maintained a continuous work of information towards the international community, through meetings and the publication of an Alert that collects the security incidents of the three organizations accompanied by PBI and shows their worsening situation.

As a result of this warning, and in the framework of Protect Defenders coordination, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders published an urgent appeal focusing especially on threats to the coordinator of CCCND, Omar Jerónimo. In addition, 61 European human rights organizations sent an open letter to the Government of Guatemala requesting an early investigation of the murders of defenders and the adoption of measures to guarantee the protection and safety of defenders at risk.

Because of the increasingly worrying context, PBI asks the international community to take actions to improve the protection of those who defend land and territory in Guatemala, among which those specific measures included in the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, and especially the realization of visits to the affected regions and the maintenance of meetings with CCCND, the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón and the UVOC. PBI's experience shows that the presence in regions far from the capital, making international attention visible on the situation of violation of rights that exists there, helps to deter new attacks and to preserve the security of those who are defending life.