Thelma Aldana Hernández
Attorney General of Guatemala
Estimado Sr. Ministro
Héctor Mauricio López Bonilla
Minister of the Interior of Guatemala
Dear Attorney General and Minister of the Interior:
We are very concerned about the continued unjust detention of environmental rights defenders Sotero Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan Pedro and Arturo Pablo Juan of Santa Cruz Barillas municipality in Huehuetenango Department. They are leaders in the organized resistance to a hydroelectric dam project initiated without prior consultation of the local indigenous peoples (in violation of international law). Accusations of threats, illegal detention, illicit association, plagiarism and abduction are being made by Hidro Santa Cruz, a Guatemalan subsidiary of the Spanish company Hidralia Energy. Community and indigenous groups affirm that these arrests were carried out strategically in order to silence protests and organizing against the dam. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has condemned the jailing of environmental defenders from Santa Cruz Barillas.
Here is some background in the case:
April 23, 2013: an employee of Hidro Santa Cruz brought unsubstantiated criminal accusations against the three defendants
October 2013: the defendants organized a community assembly to initiate a dialogue with Hidro Santa Cruz workers to avoid clashes with the local population; agreements were signed to respect nonviolence and collective decisions
November 25, 2013: Hidro Santa Cruz became a joint plaintiff in the case.
January 23, 2015: The First Instance Criminal Court of Santa Eulalia municipality ordered the pre-trial detention of the three men but overturned that order later the same day.
January-February 2015: Hidro Santa Cruz made a constitutional challenge, arguing to hold the men in preventative detention
February 26, 2015: Pre-trial detention of the three men was ordered by the Seventh Chamber of the Huehuetenango Court of Appeals on Criminal Drug Activities and Crimes against the Environment
March 3, 2015: without notification, they were transferred from Huehuetenango to the remand prison in Guatemala City
March 6, 2015: a court hearing challenging their preventative detention was postponed
April 8, 2015: The Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court decided to upgrade the case to a high-impact judicial criminal proceeding
Since 2008 Sotero Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan Pedro and Arturo Pablo Juan have defended natural resources in their area and mediated conflicts. We believe that they are being detained as a result of their nonviolent work in defense of environmental and indigenous rights. Therefore, we strongly urge that you
- release Sotero Adalberto Villatoro, Francisco Juan Pedro and Arturo Pablo Juan and drop the charges against them;
- ensure that the treatment of these men while they remain in detention adheres to the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment (UN General Assembly 1988);
- guarantee that human rights defenders are able to carry out their legitimate activities without fear of reprisals and free of restrictions, including judicial harassment.
Brian J. Stefan Szittai Christine Stonebraker-Martinez