In June 2015 Omar Jeronimo, coordinator of the Nuevo Dia Ch’orti Indigenous Association, visited London on a speaking tour organised by PBI UK.

The Nuevo Dia Ch’orti Indigenous Association (CCCND) provide support and legal representation for indigenous Ch’orti communities in Guatemala’s Chiquimula region who have been working to strengthen community processes and oppose the construction of hydroelectric and mining projects on their ancestral land.

CCCND has received protective accompaniment from PBI since 2009 following threats, aggression and harassment against its members and their families. Tension in the region increased last year with CCCND suffering 109 aggressions (threats, attacks, illegal surveillance, defamatory comments etc.) between March and November 2014. Omar himself has faced repeated death threats.

“When there are accompaniment organizations constantly reminding the Guatemalan state of its human rights responsibilities, it makes our work, maybe not easier, but with reduces the risks.” – Omar Jeronimo

Over the past year, organisations working to defend human rights across Guatemala have faced increased attacks. 805 aggressions against human rights defenders were recorded in 2014, a dramatic escalation from the 657 recorded in 2013.

“In the last five years we can say that in Guatemala the work of human rights defenders has become a lot riskier, much more violent.” – Omar Jeronimo

During his visit Omar met with Members of Parliament Jeremy Corbyn and Kerry McCarthy, as well as representatives from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights. He also met with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including the desk officer and head of section for Guatemala, and with Amnesty International, the Bar Human Rights Committee, the London Mining Network, the Latin America Mining Monitoring Programme and the Environmental Network for Central America.

PBI UK organised two public events hosted by Bar Human Rights Committee and Senate House where Omar talked about the struggles the Maya Ch’orti’ have faced in their efforts to reclaim and defend their rights as indigenous peoples. Central to their struggle is their cosmovision, their belief in living in harmony with nature and protecting natural resources including water for future generations.

The Senate House event panel included Monica Feria Tinta, a renowned lawyer who in April 2015 led an independent delegation to investigate the situation of the Ch’orti. One of the preliminary observations of the delegation was that:

“Communities have identified the lack of consultation in relation to the different extractive and hydro-electric activities in the region. In particular, representatives have said:  They were not informed about the projects and there has not been a consultation process directly with communities”

Also speaking was Chris Moye from NGO Global Witness who have recently released a report: “How many more? 2014’s deadly environment: the killing and intimidation of environmental and land activists”. The report revealed that the death toll for land and environmental rights defenders has risen dramatically in recent years. In 2014, they found 116 cases of killings of land and environmental defenders in 17 countries. 47 indigenous people were killed defending their natural resources, 40 percent of the total deaths of environmental and land defenders.

In meetings and public events, Omar called on the international community to support the work of human rights defenders in Guatemala and for the Guatemalan government to investigate attacks against human rights defenders, including the assassination of fellow local leader Carlos Hernandez in 2013.

PBI operates a team of international observers in Guatemala, accompanying the CCCND. Ongoing threats and attacks against human rights defenders, prevailing impunity, and the use of unfounded criminal charges to stigmatise social activists are of serious concern to PBI.

“Accompaniment in Guatemala saves lives.” – Omar Jeronimo

It is crucial that CCCND can carry out their work as human rights defenders and reclaim their rights as indigenous peoples without fear of attacks or intimidation.

From left to right: Adam Lunn PBI UK, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Omar Jeronimo
Omar talks at a BHRC event with Sander Wirken and Kirsty Brimelow
Meeting with LAMMP
In the Houses of Parliament