24th May 2023, London - Global Witness is deeply concerned by the situation faced by human rights defenders in Guatemala, as highlighted by our partners Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala (Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders) (UDEFEGUA) whose director, Jorge Santos, is facing increasing attacks.

Santos has been subjected to defamation with the spread of false allegations to discredit UDEFEGUA. These attacks against the organisation are part of sustained reprisals to silence activists, civil society and judicial institutions in Guatemala and include harassment, digital attacks, and criminalisation.

UDEFEGUA has been working with local communities in Guatemala to document attacks against human rights and environmental defenders within the country for the last two decades. Global Witness has worked closely with UDEFEGUA for many years, and we stand in solidarity with our colleagues to denounce the attacks against them and the ongoing criminalisation of defenders in Guatemala.

Shruti Suresh, Land & Environmental Defenders Campaign Lead at Global Witness, said: “Our partners in Guatemala have been unequivocal in their description of the country as witnessing a new era of dictatorship. Conditions for those defending human rights have escalated to a new level of danger, amidst a worrying trend of violence, harassment and criminalisation. This concerning environment is underpinned by a culture of corruption and impunity.”

“Whilst the growth of attacks comes as part of a wider crackdown on civic space, it is land and environmental defenders who are among the main targets of violence - along with the judiciary and journalists seeking to uphold transparency and accountability in the country. As a direct result of their work, UDEFEGUA has been harassed, their members have been physically attacked and online campaigns have been launched against them to deter them from doing their critical work in protecting human rights defenders across Guatemala.”

“We strongly condemn these attacks, and stand with human rights, land and environmental defenders in every corner of Guatemala who are continuing to fight in the face of growing authoritarianism. It is essential that their voices are heard and that they are protected from violence and intimidation.”