Guatemala: “We are not criminals, we are defenders of the rivers and mountains”


His Excellency Jimmy Morales, President of the Republic of Guatemala 


Dr. Ranulfo Rafael Rojas Cetina, President of the Judiciary

Ms. Thelma Aldana, Esq., Attorney General of the Public Ministry[1] 

Mr. Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Ms. Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples 

Ms. Rose-Marie Belle Antoine, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

The undersigned are representatives of social organizations, institutions, authorities, individuals, and peoples in general.

We wish to express our deep concern regarding the systematic violation of fundamental rights of indigenous peoples in Guatemala, as a result of the implementation of an extractivist model in our territories, the imposition of mining, hydroelectric, mono-crop, and other projects, without the consent or prior consultation of our peoples. We consider this historic moment to be a new dispossession in the name of false development.

In Guatemala, since 2005, making use of their participation and decision-making mechanisms, they have been expressing their demands in a peaceful and democratic manner through good faith consultations.[2] This right is fully recognized in international conventions, including ILO Convention 169, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, the State of Guatemala, rather than assume responsibility for the implementation of international instruments regarding the rights of indigenous peoples, has decided to criminalize the legitimate struggles of these peoples as a strategy to intimidate, divide, and confront our communities. 

We are outraged by the social destabilization that the companies Hidrosantacruz, Proyectos de Desarrollo Hídrico -PDH S.A, and 5M S.A,[3] in complicity with successive government administrations, have created in indigenous peoples’ territories in Guatemala from 2010 to date, in particular in the northern area of Huehuetenango.[4] This crisis has led to deaths, illegal detentions, repression, militarization, as well as the assassination of Daniel Pedro and Andrés Miguel,[5] members of the Mayan q’anjob’al ethnicity; as well as the arbitrary detention of Ermitaño López,[6] Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan, Arturo Pablo,[7] Domingo Baltazar, and Rigoberto Juárez,[8] community leaders in Barillas, Santa Eulalia, and San Mateo Ixtatan de Huehuetenango. 

We would like to express our deep concern regarding the systematic violation of due process by Guatemala’s Justice System with respect to political prisoners. We understand that the Public Ministry, specifically the human rights prosecutor, has based its line of investigation on a document that the Hidrosantacruz company itself developed, in which it accuses community leaders Ermitaño López, Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan,[9] Arturo Pablo, Domingo Baltazar, and Rigoberto Juárez of forming part of a criminal network in the northern area of Huehuetenango. We note that the use of the crime of abduction or kidnapping against human rights defenders is used for the sole purpose of keeping community leaders in pretrial detention for an indeterminate amount of time, in order to impede their work defending the rights of their communities. In addition to this, the strategy of permanent suspension of hearings has prolonged the first phase of this process for more than a year. We would not like to think that Guatemala is using the social doctrine of the enemy against indigenous peoples that fight for the defense of their fundamental rights.

In light of this situation, the people that have participated in more than 70 good faith consultations from 2005 to date, social organizations, indigenous peoples’ institutions, individuals, and those in international solidarity with us DEMAND:

  • The prompt release of political prisoners Ermitaño López, Adalberto Villatoro, Arturo Pablo, Francisco Juan, Domingo Baltasar, Rigoberto Juárez and Mynor López; with assurances of a fair trial that fulfills due process, as established by national laws and international standards.
  • Protection of human rights defenders and community leaders from acts of violence, harassment, intimidation, and threats from the State of Guatemala and extractive industries.
  • Respect for the decisions that indigenous peoples reached in 80 good faith consultations, as well as for the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, in accordance with the State’s international obligations regarding human rights, including self-determination of indigenous peoples, the right to prior consultation, land, and their own organization.[10]
  • The abrogation of mining, hydroelectric, and oil licenses authorized in our territories without prior consultation with our peoples, which we consider arbitrary and which provoke social conflict in indigenous communities.


Guatemala, March 2016 

[1] T.N. In Guatemala the Public Ministry is the entity responsible for leading criminal investigations, essentially the National Prosecution Office.





[6] Criminal case number 13005-2014-00268, responsible judicial body: First Instance High Risk Criminal Court, group A. Defendents: Bernardo Ermitaño López Reyes, Arturo Pablo Juan, Francisco Juan Pedro, Diego Diego Marcos, Rigoberto Juárez Mateo, Diego Pedro Marcos and Carmen Lorenzo Mateo.

[7] Criminal case number13005-2013-139, responsible judicial body: First Instance High Risk Criminal Court, group A. Defendents: Arturo Pablo Juan, Francisco Juan Pedro and Diego Diego Marcos.

[8] Criminal cause 13005-2015-120, responsible judicial body: First Instance Criminal Court of Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, and Criminal Sentencing Tribunal of Huehuetenango. Implicados  Rigoberto Juárez Mateo y Domingo Baltazar.[8]

[10] ILO Convention 169, art. 6.1 “In applying the provisions of this Convention, governments shall: (a) consult the peoples concerned, through appropriate procedures and in particular through their representative institutions, whenever consideration is being given to legislative or administrative measures which may affect them directly;” United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigneous Peoples, art. 3 “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development;” article 19 “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”