Defending land rights in Guatemala

A Guatemalan lands rights activist and a Swiss volunteer using her presence in the country to discourage attacks against defenders will talk about the human rights situation in the country at a panel on Friday, co-organised by Geneva Solutions and Peace Brigades International.

Guatemala’s 36-year civil war left more than 200,000 people dead and 45,000 disappeared. Over 26 years after the bloody conflict ended, the country is still trying to come to grips with the atrocities committed by ex-military and police men then. 

The film “Nuestras Madres”, which will be screened on Friday at 7pm at the Grutli’s Fonction Cinéma in Geneva, follows the story of a young anthropologist working to identify those who have gone missing. One day, he stumbles upon a lead on his father, a guerrillero who disappeared during the war. Cesar Diaz’s film was screened in 2019 at the Festival des Cannes, where the Belgian-Guatemalan director won the ​Caméra d'Or.

Produced three years ago, the film still resonates with the war’s victims' ongoing struggle to get justice. The trials, one after the other, have been marred with complications and obstructions. A judge, who ordered early May that nine former former police and military officers would stand trial for alleged crimes, including enforced disappearances, sexual assaults and torture, said last week that he was receiving threats since the announcement.

Environmental and land rights defenders are also often on the receiving end of threats and intimidations. Guatemala ranked seventh in the world in number of killings in 2020, according to the NGO Global Witness. Peace Brigades International - Guatemala has raised the alarm on attacks and other rights abuses against indigenous peoples and peasants opposing huge corporation projects, including mining, hydroelectric and farming, in their lands.

In a panel discussion which will follow the film screening, peasant rights defender Imelda Teyul, from Verapaz, in the heart of Guatemala, will talk about the challenges and the dangers of her fight. Also speaking at the event, Swiss-Indian former volunteer at PBI Guatemala, Anuja Pathak, will recount her experience accompanying defenders as part of PBI Guatemala, which uses its international presence to raise the profile of those they support and discourage attacks against them. 

The event, co-organised by Geneva Solutions and supported by the city of Geneva, will be moderated by our journalist Michelle Langrand. The event is in French and  the entry is free. For more information and to book tickets, visit the PBI website.