Brussels, novembre 2007
Claudia Samayoa and Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala
Background on the key partners for NP in the Guatemala project.
The partner in this project is The Unit for Protection of Human Rights Defenders of the National Movement of Human Rights of Guatemala (La Unidad de Protección de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos), The Unit, based in Guatemala City. It was established to monitor, accompany and protect human rights defenders of all sectors, whether or not they belong to an organization or to a social movement. The Unit has been working since 2001 informally through the work of a person and was officially established in 2003 as an ad hoc service.
In 2004, one social worker started working as a staff person to provide services on cases that happen in the rural areas of Guatemala. As the attacks have grown in number and intensity, the Unit has grown. There are now 5 persons (3 voluntary and 2 working staff) that serve in the unit.
“Our offices are located in the center of Guatemala City (1 calle 0-11 zona 2) but we attend human rights defenders all over the country both with the help of other human rights organizations and with the personal verification of most of the cases”
The Unit released their May 2007 report with data on attacks against human rights defenders which they have investigated and confirmed. In that period, environmentalists and justice rights defenders have been the most frequent subjects of attacks. (The term “attacks” includes threats in person, by phone or in writing, break-ins, legal complaints, assassinations, attempted assassinations, intimidation, persecution, kidnapping and being followed.) By far the greatest concentration of these abuses, 58 from January-April 2007, took place in Guatemala City.
Several strange anomalies occurred with the cell phone of a La Unidad staff member. In one of the incidents a call came from the office in the middle of a Sunday night when of course no one should have been there. Later that same night a call came in from another staff person who later confirmed she had not made such a call. The staff person registered an official complaint to the ombudsman’s office and acquired a new phone.
La Unidad covered many cases in that month including attacks against five staff of the Institute for Comparative Studies in the Penal Sciences. They were subject to harassment, a break-in, abduction, intimidation and death threats. The attacks came with warnings to stop their investigations, presumably into the case of a woman who was raped by police officers. One staff person abducted at gun point was told “Tell those sons of bitches that we know how they are organized and how many people they have. If they continue getting involved in things where they have no business, we are going to start cutting heads off. We are tired of giving warnings.” The Institute had reason to believe the attacks were committed by policemen and they appealed to the director of the PNC for assistance. Nevertheless, attacks and threats continued to escalate to where an international alert was released in May 2007 to Amnesty International on behalf of this group.
Nonviolent Peaceforce has followed and supported the work of Claudia Samayoa in the unit for many years.
Claudia Samayoa is one member of the Unit and her work involves researching and exposing Organised Crime in Guatemala. She is also a key person in the establishment of Nonviolent Peaceforce and has been co-chair in 2002-2007. Her expertise and experience in both these organisations is an important component that will increase the likelihood of success in this project.
Nonviolent Peaceforce will be providing the accompaniment for the persons working for the Unit because of a recent increase in threats and attacks, and will continue throughout the year until after the elections.
The Unit coordinates protection for human rights defenders with two other international accompaniment groups: PBI and CAIG (Network of International Solidarity for Guatemala, Project of Accompaniment Quebec-Guatemala, Project of Accompaniment of Austria, Swefor and other European groups). These organisations have agreed to the Unit making the request to Nonviolent Peaceforce for accompaniment, and have given support to The Unit until Nonviolent Peaceforce staff arrived.
The team coordinator for the Guatemala project is Ms Betsy Crites who is a former director of Witness for Peace. The total staff at any one time will be four, they all speak Spanish and have experience and training in providing unarmed protective accompaniment.