On January 17, 2017, community members from the Ixquisis region, located in northern Huehuetenango, held a demonstration against the construction of three hydroelectric projects by the company Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos, Sociedad Anónima (PDH, SA). That afternoon, representatives of the National Civil Police, PDH S.A.’s private security, and forest rangers, all armed, fired on the crowd, killing elderly protester, Sebastián Alonso Juan.
Several national and international organizations published a response, repudiating the brutal attack against peaceful protesters that ultimately led to Juan’s death. Below is the translated statement. For the original statement in Spanish, click here.
In response to the repression of communities defending their rights in the Ixquisis region in San Mateo Ixtatán, Huehuetenango
Today, January 17, 2017, the communities of the Ixquisis region in San Mateo Ixtatán, Huehuetenango, which defend human rights, their territory, life and natural resources, carried out a peaceful protest to express, once again, their rejection and disagreement with the construction of hydroelectric projects owned by the company Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos, Sociedad Anónima (PDH, S.A.)
Months before this protest, the communities had made various efforts before the municipal, departmental and national authorities to express their disagreement over the diversion of the Yalwitz, Pojom and Negro rivers by the company PDH, S.A. These projects have been authorized despite various anomalies, such as the use of explosives without authorization from the Ministry of Defense and the promise of providing electric power to the population, among others.
At around 14:00, the protest was peacefully taking place, when out of nowhere, armed men, who were hiding behind bushes, fired against the demonstrators, severely wounding 72-year-old Sebastián Alonso Juan, who was from the neighboring community of Yulchen Frontera. After four hours of agony Sebastián Alonso Juan passed away without having received medical attention.
There are also reports of the burning of machinery at the company premises around the same time in unclear circumstances, similar to what occurred in 2014.
We would like to draw attention to the fact that these acts were carried out with a high presence of public security forces; at that time, there were three vehicles in the region with military personnel, their faces covered with balaclavas, as well as six National Civil Police patrol cars with approximately 60 personnel.
Faced with this new repressive act, the signatory organizations demand:
1. an investigation, as soon as possible, into the murder of Mr. Sebastián Alonso Juan, to find out who is responsible.
2. That the Human Rights Ombudsman (Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos) officially carry out a verification of the continuous violation of human rights, a request made by the communities of the Ixquisis region in April 2016, which has yet to receive any response.
3. That international organizations and institutions form a verification commission to look into the situation of human rights violations in the Ixquisis region.
4. The implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, monitoring and sanctioning those companies that operate with international funds and that commit human rights violations.
5. That the international community reports the human rights violations described in this statement to the international financial institutions that have investments in the three projects of the company, PDH, S.A.
6. That the authorities in the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources and in the Ministry of Energy and Mines take into account the different anomalies that have prevailed in the granting of the licenses, especially the use of public property without the consultation of the communities, to which the State is bound according to international treaties.
7. An immediate end to the process of criminalization against communities that defend human rights, life, and natural resources.
8. That the will of the communities, who are exercising their right to defend their territory, be respected with regards to:
- The immediate cancellation of the construction licenses for the Pojom I-II and San Andrés hydroelectric projects.
- The immediate realization of an in-depth investigation by the Minister of the Interior and Minister of the Defense, with the goal of identifying the responsible party from amongst the National Civil Police, the private security agents working on behalf of the PDH, S.A. company and military personnel, in this latest aggression against community members and human rights defenders.
- The immediate withdrawal, as part of the investigation process, of both the military detachment and the National Civil Police substation from the Ixquisis region, which have demonstrated in this latest act of repression that their presence does not contribute to peace and harmony in this region.
Guatemala January 17, 2017
Asamblea Departamental de Pueblos de Huehuetenango (ADH) – Guatemala
Asociación Civil El Observador – Guatemala
Acompañamiento de Austria / Guatemala Solidarität (ADA) – Austria
Cadena para un Retorno Acompañado (CAREA) – Germany
Collectif Guatemala – France
Guatemala Solidarity Network – United Kingdom
Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) – Guatemala
Protection International – PI
Peace Watch Switzerland
Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS) – Canada
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) – United States
Swedish Fellowship for Reconciliation (SweFOR) – Sweden
Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) – United States
As a member of ACOGUATE, NISGUA has accompanied communities standing in opposition to PDH, S.A.’s Pojom I, Pojom II, and San Andrés hydroelectric projects since 2016.
[…] Sebastian Alonso Juan, indigenous Guatemalan human rights and land defender, was murdered on January 17, during a peaceful protest against the construction of three mega-hydroelectric dams project.in the state of Huehuetenango. Along with many members of indigenous Chuj and Q’anjob’ local communities, the human rights defender was leading efforts to repeal the company Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos SA, responsible for the construction of hydroelectric project Pojom I and Pojom II. Indigenous peoples in the area have denounced the environmental destruction created by these megaprojects as well as the failure of authorities to consult indigenous peoples before granting construction permits. […]