On 15 January 2007, the trade union activist Pedro Zamora was murdered in Puerto Quetzal, in the department of Escuintla, by five people who fired around a hundred bullets at his van. Pedro Zamora was hit by about twenty of them, leaving him seriously wounded and causing his car to crash into a wall. One of his attackers then approached and shot him in the head in front of his two young sons, one of whom, aged three, also received bullet wounds. As general secretary of the Quetzal Port workers’ union, Pedro Zamora had taken part in the negotiations with management to reinstate dismissed workers. Since then, several of his colleagues have also received death threats.
On 6 February, Israel Carías Ortiz, a community leader from the department of Zacapa, was killed along with his two sons ; Robin aged 11 and Luswin aged 9, while returning to his home in Los Achiotes. Four bullet wounds were found on the body of the father, who leaves behind three young children aged 6, 5 and 1. His two oldest sons were killed as a result of being shot in the head. Israel Carías Ortiz, who was active in the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC), had continued to defend the interests of his community, which was embroiled in a dispute over land, despite being threatened on repeated occasions. Israel Carías Ortiz’s mother died upon hearing what had happened.
Taking advantage of the climate of impunity prevailing in Guatemala, clandestine groups linked to major landowners and to those responsible for crimes perpetrated during the 36 years of civil war have in recent months stepped up their efforts to prevent human rights activists from doing their job. During the first 40 days of the year, there have been four murders, one attempted murder, one illegal break-in at the premises of three human rights organisations and at least 20 incidents of intimidation.
This alarming increase in the number of threats against civilian activists bears witness to a total absence of political will on the part of the Guatemalan government to protect human rights activists. Whether the victims are farmers murdered for having defended the interests of their communities, or lawyers intimidated and given death threats for taking on cases of crimes against humanity, these attacks are almost always attributed to common delinquency, despite every indication to the contrary, and continue to be perpetrated with total impunity.
ACAT calls upon the country’s authorities to take a firm stand against such crimes and to conduct in-depth and impartial enquiries into each of them.
Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) in Luxembourg has informed me of the recent wave of attacks on human rights activists in Guatemala.
I was dismayed to hear the news of the murder on 6 February of the community leader from Zacapa, ISRAEL CARÍAS ORTÍZ, who was shot in the head along with his two sons aged 9 and 11. Israel Carías was a member of the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) and had received death threats because of his work in support of his community of Los Achiotes in a dispute over land.
PEDRO ZAMORA ÁLVAREZ, general secretary of the Quetzal Port workers’ union (STEPQ), was murdered on 15 January in Puerto Quetzal while returning home in his van with his two young children, one of whom was also injured in the attack. Since the murder of this union activist, several of his colleagues have also received death threats against them and their families.
Over the first 40 days of 2007, four murders, one attempted murder, one illegal break-in and at least 20 cases of intimidation targeting human rights activists were recorded. These activists include environmentalists, lawyers working on cases of crimes against humanity and peasant leaders representing the interests of their communities.
I therefore call upon the Guatemalan authorities to :
uncover the truth about the murder of Israel Carías Ortíz and his sons and that of Pedro Zamora, and bring to light the truth about all the attacks on human rights activists in Guatemala ;
bring to justice all those physically and morally responsible for these crimes ;
take adequate measures to enable all human rights activists to freely carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals.
Thank you in advance for considering my appeal.