Ch’orti Campesino Central “Nuevo Día” (CCCND) work in Chiquimula department providing support and legal representation to local communities campaigning on issues related to land, environmental, and cultural rights. As a result of their work Nuevo Día members have been subject to death threats, harassment, and criminalisation.
Guatemala’s indigenous population
Guatemala is home to 21 Maya indigenous groups and the Maya are estimated to make up 51% of the population. Since the Spanish conquest of America the indigenous populations have resisted colonisation, exploitation and fought to protect their ancestral lands. Today many indigenous groups continue the struggle to protect their collective rights in the face of ever increasing threats from extractives activity and hydroelectric dam construction.
The Maya Chort’i’
The Ch’ortí’ are a Mayan people who have lived for centuries in what is now Eastern Guatemala and Northern Honduras. While the Ch’ortí’ at one time occupied an extensive area in the region, historical events marked by wars, plundering, evictions and the concentration of land have restricted the area they now occupy.
The pressures on the lands and territory the Ch’ortí’ inhabit have continued in recent decades. The region is characterised by multiple economic interests, particularly in the exploitation of natural resources. As a result, Ch’ortí’ communities are actively demanding respect and guarantees for their collective rights as indigenous people, as well as their economic, social and cultural rights.
Nuevo Día Chorti Indigenous Association
Nuevo Dia has been involved in these community processes since 2003 in several municipalities in the Department of Chiquimula in Eastern Guatemala.
Several hydroelectric plants are either planned or already under construction in the Department of Chiquimula. The CCCND says inadequate information and a lack of transparency about these projects, as well as the failure to consult the affected communities, has had detrimental effects on the population. Furthermore, community members are worried about potential environmental impacts in what is one of the driest regions of the country. The lack of Free Prior and Informed Consent has effected the social fabric of the community and foments situations of conflict and tension. In this context, CCCND members have been the targets of threats and other attacks.
Threats and Attacks
Due to their work defending human rights CCCND members have suffered numerous agressions including attacks, death threats, illegal surveillance and intimidatory acts. The situation has become deeply worrying, with spokesman Omar Jerónimo and other prominent figures in the organisation warned of assassination plots against them throughout 2017 and 2018.
The dangers faced by the members of the CCCND are compounded by the fact that the murder of local human rights defender and union activists Carlos Hernández remains unpunished. He was shot on 8 March 2013 as he was returning by car from Honduras. Two people accused of his murder were recently released from jail. PBI considers the lack of progress in the investigation and clarification of this crime to be extremely troubling. The impunity in this case is a denial of justice for the victim and increases the risk to other human rights defenders in the region who have received serious threats on their lives.
Members of the organisation continue to face serious risks, due to ongoing conflict surrounding the construction of hydroelectric dams in the area, as well as the communities’ struggles to get recognition as indigenous communities.
In addition, the organization continues to denounce a campaign of criminalization against it. Numerous CCCND members have had to respond in court to repeated accusations, mainly from the Chiquimula state prosecutor, after complaints were filed by private parties and local public authorities in relation to their human rights work in the region’s communities.
Several members of the organization have complaints pending against them. Particularly troubling is the lack of guarantees of due process reported by the CCCND during the detention of their members and in the judicial proceedings against them.
CCCND members Agustín García and Timoteo Suchite, members of the Indigenous Council of the community of Las Flores were sentenced in May 2014 to 6 years in prison. The CCCND has denounced the lack of a proper investigation, due process and the failure to guarantee their rights. The organization also reported that both people have been subject to acts of intimidation and threats in prison from several local people visiting them.
In 2015 a delegation of academics and lawyers from the UK went on a fact finding mission to the region and produced a report on the human rights situation of the Maya Ch'orti' and CCCND. The delegation visited Guatemala in May 2015, facilitated by PBI UK with funding from the Open Society Foundations. It was composed of Human Rights professor Dr Julian Burger and barristers Monica Feria-Tinta and Claire McGregor, all experts in the fields of indigenous peoples’ rights and corporate social responsibility. During their time in the country, they met with a range of actors relevant to the conflict, as well as other organisations able to inform their understanding of the underlying issues. The report is available online; "Indigenous Peoples' Rights and Hydroelectric Projects in Guatemala: The Case of the Ch'orti' in Chiquimula. Nov 2015".
PBI has provided protective accompaniment to the Nuevo Dia since 2009.