News Release

North American organizations call for stop to criminalization of rights advocates in Guatemala

Dear Honourable MP Diane Ablonczy,

During the course of the last year, repeated efforts have been made to impede a group of human rights advocates in the Guatemalan municipality of San Rafael Las Flores and their legal support group from exercising their civil and political rights to participate in decisions being made about the Escobal silver mine project owned by British Columbia-registered Tahoe Resources, in which Canada’s Goldcorp is a 40% stakeholder. We have been dismayed to hear in recent weeks that seemingly baseless allegations have been brought against these advocates. We are further troubled that this was taking place at the same time that Guatemalan press reports were circulating about high-level industry lobbying of the Guatemalan government to expedite the remaining permits needed to put Tahoe’s mine into production.

In early August, complaints were filed against Dr. Yuri Melini and five others. Dr. Melini is Director of the Centre for Legal, Environmental and Social Action in Guatemala (CALAS). CALAS is an organisation established in 2000 that works in defence of environmental rights through legal and political means. Dr. Melini received the 2009 Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk. He and other members of CALAS have previously received threats for their advocacy work, including an attempted assassination against Dr. Melini in September 2008. According to Front Line Defenders, Dr. Melini does not know the persons who filed the claims.

The others against whom complaints were made are all members of the Committee in Defence of Life and Peace in San Rafael Las Flores (“the San Rafael Committee”). Among their diverse activities in response to this mine project, they have recently been trying to organize a municipal plebiscite in San Rafael Las Flores that would provide local residents with the opportunity to express their opinion over the development of the Escobal silver mine project. CALAS and the San Rafael Committee vigorously deny the claims that were brought against them, but are not being allowed the opportunity to appeal this decision and thus being denied a fair process and due process of law.

On the basis of the allegations, a lower court issued a provisional ruling, which found Dr. Melini, Messrs Rudy Pivaral, Oscar Morales, and Gustavo Martínez guilty of “violence against women” and Lawyer Andrea Marcilia Hernández Melini guilty of “threats.” Judge Estuardo de Jesús Barrientos Archila, Justice of the Peace of San Rafael Las Flores then rejected a motion to reconsider this decision, which was submitted by another legal representative of CALAS. According to Front Line Defenders, it is against the law to reject such a motion. The Judge then issued a writ against the CALAS representative, Rafael Maldonado, accusing the lawyer of slander, and threatened to report him to the relevant authorities should he initiate similar actions in the future.

These are the latest in a series of attempts that Front Line Defenders has documented to criminalize environmental defenders in the municipality of San Flores. They report that past complaints were brought against various members of the San Rafael Committee including allegations such as “usurpation of functions” for the involvement of some members as civil society representatives on a committee to discuss a possible community consultation process, and an attempted injunction against the local priest who was advocating for a consultation process as well, despite this legal mechanism only applying to public authorities and not private individuals.

While efforts are underway to suppress opposition to the project, Guatemalan press reports indicate within the last two weeks of August that industry representatives have been meeting with top Guatemalan authorities to speed up the approval process for Tahoe’s environmental licence so that it can proceed with construction of its controversial mine. The Prensa Libre reported on August 17th that the Guatemalan Chamber of Industry (CIG by its initials in Spanish) expressed concern to President Otto Pérez Molina about the apparently slow process by which environmental impact studies and mining licenses are processed in Guatemala. In a very unusual move, CIG President Andrés Castillo is cited as only having mentioned one company and one project, stating that “the most urgent” is that of San Rafael Mining Company (Tahoe’s Guatemalan subsidiary) in the department of Santa Rosa.

We are writing to you in order to request that your office become informed of this case, that you urge Guatemalan authorities to ensure a fair and transparent process of justice for these human rights advocates, and that you insist that the company desist from any pressure tactics it may be using, supporting or tolerating to advance its project at the cost of the rights of local residents and human rights advocates. To the contrary, we believe that the stage is being set once again for a prolonged, socially divisive and potentially violent conflict, such as has already been well documented at Goldcorp’s Marlin mine in northwest Guatemala where criminalization has also been used to repress human rights advocates, as well as in relation to other mega-projects in the country.

Thank you for your prompt attention and response to these concerns.

Attentively,

  • Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network
  • BC CASA/Café Justicia BC - Vancouver
  • Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (CPSHR), Vancouver
  • Center for International Environmental Law, Washington
  • Maquila Solidarity Network
  • Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
  • Mining Justice Alliance, Vancouver
  • MiningWatch Canada
  • Mining Working Group, Maritime Conference, United Church of Canada
  • Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala, US
  • Rights Action - US/Canada
  • Social Justice Coalition - Montreal, Canada

cc: Canadian Ambassador to Guatemala, Mr. Hugues Rousseau