May 02, 2013
Social movements in Guatemala are being increasingly criminalized, repressed, intimidated and subjected to human rights abuses
Guatemala has increasingly opened its doors to foreign and European investors exploiting the country's hydrological and mineral resources, and sugar and palm oil plantations, which has resulted in mounting pressure on local communities and the environment, and has led to land grabs and human rights violations.
These violations often take place in collaboration with the government, according to the representatives of social movements.
“The current government has introduced a policy of repression – pursuing and illegally incarcerating people from social movements resisting so called “development” projects,“ warned Víctor Barro, chair of Friends of the Earth Spain.
Barro took part in a November 2012 international mission organized by Friends of the Earth International that verified systematic human rights violations and criminalization of environmental activists and communities resisting mining and hydroelectric projects in Guatemala and El Salvador.
According to Natalia Atz Sunuc, Friends of the Earth Guatemala general coordinator : "Campesinos and indigenous people are labeled as 'terrorists' for defending their basic human rights in a peaceful way".
According to Paula del Cid, representative of the Feminist Association “La Cuerda” of Guatemala : "in a context of mandatory evictions, the role of the army is increasing, and sexual abuse is being used as a tool to intimidate women who are defending their land."
In June 2011, forty European parliamentarians denounced the situation in Guatemala, but the European Union still refuses to take an effective stance in its trade and investment policies.
Civil society organisations based in Brussels – Friends of the Earth Europe, Aprodev, CIFCA and Grupo Sur – have called on the European Union to ensure policies include mechanisms to monitor and enforce the defence of human rights.
The Spanish company Hidralia Energía, developing dams for hydroelectric power in Santa Cruz de Barillas, Guatemala, began development with neither permission nor consent from indigenous and local communities.
This is just one blatant example of how a company supported by the government grab land to exploit Guatemala's natural resources while criminalising peasants and indigenous people.
“The Guatemalan and Spanish governments must take responsibility and do everything in their power to protect human rights in Guatemala,” said Víctor Barro, Chair of Friends of the Earth Spain.
A recent example of unjust detention is the case of Ruben Herrera who has been detained since March 2013 in Guatemala. He has participated in the resistance to projects such as Hidro Santa Cruz (originally Hidralia SA) and a member of the Peoples’ Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH).
An international petition to free Herrera has been launched. The petition states that over 20 community leaders, including Ruben, are being unjustly persecuted or are unjustly put on trial.
AMSTERDAM/PORT HARCOURT, 1 May 2013 – Today, the Nigerian farmers from two villages who lost their case against Shell, together with Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie), have submitted an appeal to the 30 January decision by the court in The Hague. Milieudefensie is also filing an appeal in a third case. All the cases are centred around oil pollution due to spills from Shell pipelines and oil wells.
In one case, the court ruled in favour of Milieudefensie and one of the Nigerian plaintiffs, Elder Friday Akpan. Shell was ordered to pay compensation to this farmer from the village of Ikot Ada Udo, because the company did not adequately protect its oil well from vandalism, and oil from the well streamed over Akpan’s land. In this case, however, the court ruled that Shell Headquarters in The Hague could not be held liable for the failures of its subsidiary, which is responsible for the daily management of Shell in Nigeria. Milieudefensie hopes that the court in The Hague will reverse its decision on this point – for Milieudefensie it is clear that the headquarters shares responsibility for the massive environmental damage in Nigeria.
The lawyer for the farmers and Milieudefensie disputes in its entirety the decision taken by the court in the cases addressing damage from oil spills from Shell pipelines in the other two villages, Goi and Oruma. In those two cases, the court did not find Shell liable for the damages suffered by the farmers due to the oil spills because the cause was
considered to be sabotage and the court ruled that Shell could not have reasonably prevented it.
In Nigeria the cases are being watched with great interest. Oil and Mining campaigner Evert Hassink of Milieudefensie has been to the country numerous times: ‘In the village of Goi, Chief Eric Dooh and his fellow villagers are still living amidst the sticky black remnants of oil spills from the Shell Trans-Niger pipeline. In Oruma, Chief Fidelis
Oguru, Alali Efanga and the rest of the village are trying to rebuild normal lives. But the fish that supported them in the past have yet to return to the polluted creeks, and they are still hoping to receive compensation for all the years that agriculture was impossible because their fields were polluted by Shell oil.’
The case, which today enters its next phase in the court in The Hague, is of considerable international significance, especially after the recent decision by the US Supreme Court in a comparable case. It ruled that under US law it is not possible in principle to take multinationals to court for human rights violations outside the United States. This further increases the need to hold multinationals liable in their home