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.
Translation of the letter
Dear Attorney General :
I was informed by the human rights organization Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT) in Luxembourg of the killing of four young people from the Quebrada Seca Maya Q’eqchi’ community, in the Izabal department, among them three well-known activists who were promoting the human rights of their community. Others have received death threats and the rest of the community is also at risk.
Catalina Mucú Maas, Alberto Coc Cal, Sebastian Xuc Coc and their friend Amilcar Choc disappeared on their way back from the University of Río Dulce on the evening of 12 February. The bodies of Alberto Coc Cal, Catalina Mucú Maas and Sebastian Xuc Coc were found two days later floating on the water, and that of Amilcar Choc appeared the day after, 1km away. The four students had all been shot numerous times and had apparently been shot in coup de grace manner.
I am also concerned about the fact that, according to my information, the authorities did not follow adequate practice for collecting evidence on the crime scene.
I therefore urge the Prosecutor’s office to carry out a thorough, independent and impartial investigation into the killing of Catalina Mucú Maas, Alberto Coc Cal, Sebastian Xuc Coc and Amilcar Choc, in order to identify those responsible and to bring them to justice.
I also call on the authorities to take effective measures to provide protection to the Quebrada Seca community, taking into account the wishes of the very people under threat, and to guarantee the security of all human rights defenders in Guatemala, in accordance with the UN Declaration for Human Rights Defenders.
I thank you for considering my appeal.