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Access to Justice

Human rights activist falsely imprisoned in Guatemala

Abelino Chub Caal, a human rights activists who Trócaire supports in Guatemala has been imprisoned since Feb 2017 under false criminal charges because of his role defending indigenous community’s right to access and protect their land.

Abelino, a member of the Guillermo Toriello Foundation and CUC (The Committee for Peasant Unity), which advocate for land rights and dignified housing for all, and environmentally sustainable agriculture.
As part of his human rights work, Abelino frequently acted as a mediator for indigenous communities fighting for their land rights against landlords and mining companies.

The Maya people of Guatemala rely mostly on the land and have a deep appreciation for the environment.  Abelino is from a community called Quebrada Seca from the Department of Izabal.

Human rights defenders in Guatemala are often subjected to death threats, harassment, stigmatisation,  arbitrary detention, and even murder.
Many of the violations are carried out by clandestine security structures and illegal groups.
The exceptionally high level of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators increases the risk exponentially for defenders.

The use of criminal proceedings in order to prevent human rights defenders from carrying out their legitimate human rights activities is common.

Many criminal proceedings are launched by private companies (often backed by European and North American governments) related to the mining sector and the construction of dams, spuriously accusing defenders of crimes such as acts of terrorism, usurpation of land, and other criminality.

For the past year, Abelino, as well as the Guillermo Toriello Foundation and CUC,  has been targeted by a smear campaign falsely portraying him as a criminal.

The judicial harassment and defamation campaign against Abelino Chub Caal follows a well-established pattern of criminalisation of land, environmental and indigenous rights defenders in Guatemala.

As the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has already denounced the criminalisation of human rights defenders in its 2016 report, it is still common for arrest warrants to be issued against defenders.

Increasingly defenders are charged with serious criminal offences that require mandatory pre-trial detention, enabling long periods in detention even with a lack of evidence.
In February last year, Abelino was detained, charged with several criminal offences and sent to pre-trial detention.

Both the defence and the prosecution highlighted that no evidence was found against Abelino for the alleged crimes of aggravated land grabbing and arson.

Despite this, on 6 June 2017, the presiding judge ruled to maintain the case against Abelino and to keep him detained until final judgement. Following this, Abelino´s defence requested the case to be moved to a court in Guatemala City, and this has been accepted. The next hearing will be on 20th March, and the Attorney´s General office has to submit their final investigation to the Judge on 28th February.

This strategy of criminalisation is clearly aimed at debilitating social movements by depriving them of their leaders at pivotal moments of their struggle, in addition to intimidating other defenders.

Far away from his home and people for nearly a year, Abelino is in good spirits, he said:

“I’m the son of a Maya Q’Echi family. (The Q’eqchi Maya is one of the 23 Mayan groups that live in Guatemala.) I am imprisoned for pleading for justice and defending my people. My deprivation of liberty is a sign of the inability of the State authorities to resolve the social conflict.

“I deeply thank everyone who has supported me.”

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