Sr. Jimmy Morales
President of Guatemala
Lic. Thelma Esperanza Aldana Hernández
Attorney General of Guatemala
June 25, 2016
Dear President Morales and Attorney General Aldana:
We are angered and saddened at the assassination of human rights defender Diego Choc Pop on the afternoon of June 8 by unknown individuals who repeatedly shot him. He was an indigenous and campesino human rights defender from the community of San Juan Tres Ríos in Cobán Department which he represented at the General Assembly of the Highlands Campesino Committee (CCDA). The CCDA is a national organization committed to defending local sources of water used by indigenous communities and supporting the implementation of the Comprehensive Rural Development Law. The CCDA Committee in San Juan Tres Ríos has petitioned the Land Fund to grant them legal ownership of land disputed with the owner of the Rancho Alegre estate.
On March 30, a group of men armed with firearms and machetes went to San Juan Tres Ríos where they threatened leaders of the community with kidnapping and murder. The owner of Rancho Alegre, Germán Sierra Sorio, had authorized them to forcefully displace the community from the disputed land. The armed men said they had been told to kidnap and kill the community leaders if necessary. On leaving the community, they threatened to come back to kill all the residents. The following day, several residents of San Juan Tres Ríos filed a complaint with the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Alta Verapaz requesting an investigation into the threats.
The murder of Diego Choc Pop follows that on March 16 of human rights defender Walter Méndez Barrios, who was shot and killed outside his home in Las Cruces, in Petén Department (cf our letter of Mar 25). At least six human rights defenders working on indigenous peoples’ rights, land and environment were killed in Guatemala last year (cf our letters of May 2, Oct 12, Oct 13, Nov 22 2015).
Because of our deep concern about the murder of Diego Choc Pop and the grave threats made to the rest of the community and the CCDA leadership in San Juan Tres Ríos, we strongly urge that you
- conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the murder of Diego Choc Pop and the threats issued against other community leaders, and bring those responsible to justice;
- take all necessary efforts to protect the family of Diego Choc Pop, as well as leaders and members of CCDA in San Juan Tres Ríos, in strict accordance with their wishes;
- ensure that all human rights defenders in Guatemala are able to conduct their peaceful and legitimate activities without fear of harassment, threats or retaliation.
Brian J. Stefan Szittai