PBI-Guatemala accompanies BDH at trial for three peasants from La Cumbre accused of land usurpation

Published by Brent Patterson on

On January 7, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted on its Facebook page, “Yesterday we accompanied the Law Office of Human Rights (BDH) to the trial court of first instance in Cobán, Alta Verapaz, for the start of debate against three peasants of the Tactic Summit (la Cumbre Tactic).”

PBI-Guatemala adds, “The lawyers represent the three defenders of the land who are accused of aggravated usurpation, a crime repeatedly used to criminalize social protest. The debate will continue on January 14.”

The Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence (BTS) Network has previously reported on the eviction at La Cumbre, Tactic, Alta Verapaz that took place on November 1, 2017 that displaced 25 families from their homes.

BTS notes, “Women reported sexual violence during the eviction. The community was associated with the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC) and had previously labored on a plantation owned by the Morales Cahuec family. During the eviction, current workers of the plantation were involved in destroying homes.”

“The community had been participating in a dialogue table with the Secretary of Agrarian Affairs to recognize their right as legitimate owners of the land. Currently, there is one political prisoner from the community, and 16 others with arrest warrants.”

“Outcry from peasant farmer organizations and human rights organizations state that the community members’ human rights were not secured before the evictions took place, and no adequate support has been provided after the evictions.”

The Guatemala Solidarity Project further explains, “The eviction was blatantly illegal for a number of reasons, including that there was no advance notice through the Human Rights office and that it was carried out on a holiday which is against the law.  After 45 minutes the Army commenced burning down houses, all the while forcefully questioning people as to the whereabouts of community leaders with fraudulent arrest warrants who had fled into the mountains to avoid arrest.”

“La Cumbre, like many other communities facing violence that we work with, is a village of former ‘mozos colonos’.  These are families who were forced to live and work on plantations for generations without receiving any pay. Because of changes in the international economy, ‘land owners’ often no longer need the indigenous labor and are using extreme violence to evict these communities and then extract natural resources from the land.”

That article also notes that the eviction has “been condemned internationally as illegal by the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.”

In July 2018, the Organization of American States noted, “The IACHR [Inter-American Commission on Human Rights] and the United Nation’s Special Rapporteurs on Adequate Housing and on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons observe with concern the practice of forced evictions that the Guatemalan State has been implementing in recent years, as well as the forced displacement that has occurred as a result of that practice.”

That statement adds, “The IACHR and both UN experts urge the Guatemalan State to comply with international and Inter-American standards and regulations in order to prevent forced evictions and internal displacement, and to ensure protection and humanitarian assistance and find durable solutions when they cannot be prevented.”

Furthermore, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, has stated in a report to the UN Human Rights Council that the “crime of aggravated usurpation is commonly brought against indigenous land rights defenders.”

She highlights, “Disregard of indigenous rights of traditional lands ownership breeds tensions, subsequent violence and criminalization, as indigenous peoples become trespassers or illegal occupants of their own lands, subject to criminal charges such as ‘usurpation’ or illegal occupation, and liable to forced evictions and removal from the lands they rely upon for their livelihoods, social and cultural cohesion and spiritual traditions.”

Peace Brigades International often attends court hearings involving criminalized human rights defenders. Sue Willman, a partner at UK-based Deighton Pierce Glynn, has commented in this article that, “International trial observation is a vital tool in Colombia and other states where the rule of law is fragile and our presence might just make a difference.”

BDH (the Human Rights Law Firm) is a group of lawyers who represent those who human rights have been violated. It has been accompanied by PBI-Guatemala since 2013.

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