Three human rights defenders from a Maya Q’eqchi’ rural community and one of their friends were killed in Río Dulce, in the Izabal department, eastern Guatemala. Catalina Mucú Maas, Alberto Coc Cal and Sebastian Xuc Coc, from the indigenous community Quebrada Seca, all three university students and campaigners for land rights, were active in promoting the rights of their community. They had participated in negotiations on a land dispute in the area.
On 12 February, they disappeared on their way back from university in Río Dulce. The boat, in which they were travelling with another student, Amilcar Choc, was found the day after and the bullet-riddled bodies of the four young people appeared in the following days. In recent weeks other Quebrada Seca community activists have received death threats and members of the community now fear to go out on their lands and to continue their daily activities.
According to local sources, the relevant authorities – Ministry of Interior and Public Prosecutor’s Office – responded with delay to the community members calls for searching the bodies and for visiting the crime scene. Some crucial evidence, such as the victims’ backpacks, were not collected and preserved according to best practice, but instead were returned to their relatives, thus having an impact on the standards of the investigation.
Additionally, the relevant authorities did not investigate into the threats and other incidents that members of the community had denounced in previous weeks.
The situation of human rights defenders is especially worrying in Guatemala, where they constantly face attacks and threats because of their legitimate activism. Taking advantage of the climate of impunity prevailing in the country, clandestine groups and organized crime are using every possible way to prevent human rights defenders from carrying out their work. Farmers are being murdered for defending their community’s interests, lawyers intimidated for investigating cases of crimes against humanity, as part of a pattern of attacks perpetrated with total impunity. Those who work to promote and protect the economic, social and cultural rights of the most marginalized groups in society are particularly threatened, as well as environmental activists and those campaigning for land rights and the right to natural resources.