Guatemalan church defends right to peaceful protest

Human rights defenders have expressed concern about  the partiality of justice in handling the situation. Photo: ILUGUA
Human rights defenders have expressed concern about the partiality of justice in handling the situation. Photo: ILUGUA

Church stands with human rights defenders, calls for criminal investigations into destruction of water conduits  

(LWI) - The Guatemala Lutheran Church (ILUGUA) has called on the public prosecutor’s office to carry out “a criminal investigation” into the destruction of conduits that has led to critical water shortages in the department of Zacapa, southeast Guatemala. The church and “the defenders of water and the Granadillas Mountain” are also appealing for a judicial enquiry into a recent judgement criminalizing the communities’ right to peaceful demonstrations. 

In a 26 June statement, the church said no one had been held responsible for the destruction of the pipes, which are the main water supply system to farmers and indigenous Chorti communities in Peralta, Matasano, Cerro Grande, Cerro Chiquito, Jicaral and La Trementina. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) member church actively advocates for the rights of indigenous communities to protect the natural resources surrounding the mountainous region. 

However, community members suspect the destruction of the pipes on 8 June was carried out by logging companies operating in the region to counter peaceful resistance to logging at the surrounding La Granadillas Mountains that supplies water to 700,000 people. The community’s resistance has managed to halt logging in the region.

In its statement, ILUGUA also reported that the church president, Rev. José Pilar Alvarez Cabrera, was among 25 human rights defenders who were summoned to appear in court on 15 May over the peaceful protests. The church maintains that such proceedings are used to “criminalize” peaceful protest. The judgement itself, ILUGUA argued, did not follow accepted legal procedure and thus raised questions over its validity in limiting peaceful demonstrations and human rights activities. Investigations will help to “determine the corresponding responsibilities and sanctions according to the law.” 

ILUGUA has urged civil society and international organizations to support the local resistance movement so that activists can continue to exercise their right to hold peaceful demonstrations in defence of their right to access water and the forests. It also urged the media to highlight the “adverse situation” faced by human rights activists in the region.

We are concerned about threats, intimidation and co-option of community leaders, as well as the repeated destruction of the La Trementina water project pipes and its impact in other villages
Statement from the Guatemala Lutheran Church

“We are concerned about threats, intimidation and co-option of community leaders, as well as the repeated destruction of the La Trementina water project pipes and its impact in other villages,” the church stated.

“We hold the logging companies responsible for any action that threatens the life and integrity of the defenders of the right to water and their families.” 

“The defenders of the human right to water regret this situation and we are striving to engage in dialogue so as to find a peaceful and consensus-based solution to this conflict, which has been going on for several years,” the church said.

Rev. Dr Patricia Cuyatti, area secretary for Latin America and the Caribbean, affirmed the LWF will continue accompanying the Guatemalan church. “The achievement of human rights includes the protection of access to livelihoods and services. In this way, we promote human dignity, justice and support people to achieve lasting peace.”

 

https://www.lutheranworld.org/content/latin-america-and-caribbean