Special Rapporteurs raise concerns about the criminalization of Maya Q’eqchi’ journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc in Guatemala
Photo: Irene Khan, David R. Boyd, Mary Lawlor, José Francisco Cali Tzay, Marcos A. Orellana, and Damilola S. Olawuyi.
Three letters have been sent by UN Special Rapporteurs highlighting complaints of judicial harassment and criminalization of journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc Chub in relation to his reporting on the Fénix nickel mine in El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala.
All three letters were sent by five Special Rapporteurs including the rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (Irene Khan); on the question of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment (David R. Boyd); on the situation of human rights defenders (Mary Lawlor); on the rights of indigenous peoples (José Francisco Cali Tzay); and on the human rights implications of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes (Marcos A. Orellana); as well as the Working Group on the Question of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises (chaired by Damilola S. Olawuyi).
The letters were sent to the Government of Guatemala; Solway Investment Group, Solway Holding, Ltd., Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel SA (CGN), Compañía Procesadora de Níquel de Izabal SA (PRONICO); the Government of Malta and the Government of Switzerland.
Key excerpts that explain the situation include:
– “In February 2017, a red stain appeared in Lake Izabal, near the operations of the Fénix nickel mine, operated by Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel SA (CGN). Compañía Procesadora de Níquel de Izabal SA (PRONICO) owns the mine’s nickel processing plant, although PRONICO shut down operations in 2023.”
– “Local indigenous communities demanded that the relevant state institutions conduct investigations and reviews of the mine’s waste. In official statements, the state and the CGN claimed that the coloration came from microalgae and that an analysis showed that 90% of the water contamination was not generated by the company’s operations, but by local communities along the Polochi River. However, internal company documents to which they later had access show that CGN allegedly knew from the beginning that the mine’s wastewater was severely polluting the lake.”
– “In mid-May 2017, the Artisanal Fishermen’s Guild, local indigenous Maya Q’eqchi fishermen from Izabal, filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s Office for the contamination of Lake Izabal. At the same time, they denounced the CGN’s lack of dialogue with local communities. On 27 May 2017, following the failure of roundtable negotiations with the CGN, indigenous fishermen and other affected citizens exercised their right to protest against the mine.”
– “In the course of alleged clashes during the protest, police killed an indigenous fisherman present at the protest and another protester was injured. Police reported six police officers injured.”
– “According to the analysis of samples taken from Lake Izabal on 20 August 2017, carried out by an institute of environmental hygiene and toxicology, and the department of environmental health and water protection of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, the amount of nickel present in the samples considerably exceeds the maximum permitted level.”
– “On 27 May 2017, Mr. Choc reported on the protest in which local indigenous fishermen in El Estor demanded an environmental study following the appearance of a red stain in Lake Izabal, which they attributed to the Fénix mine, operated by the CGN. Mr. Choc photographed the exact moment a fisherman was shot dead by police. Police reportedly denied that he had died.”
– “In August 2017, he was charged with the crimes of threats, incitement to commit a crime, illicit association, unlawful assembly and demonstrations, and damage and illegal detention of four CGN employees. These charges were allegedly the result of a complaint filed by the CGN and PRONICO.”
The letters ask a series of key questions including: “Please explain the legal basis for the charge of ‘unlawful detention’ and the charge, now dropped, of ‘incitement to commit a crime’ against Mr. Carlos Ernesto Choc Chub and how they are compatible with article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
We continue to follow this closely.
For more: PBI-Canada conversation with Maya Q’eqchi’ frontline journalist Carlos Ernesto Choc (August 19, 2023).