November 3, 2021
The Network of International Accompaniment Organizations in Latin America and allied organizations express concern about the recent disinformation, defamation and criminalization against the International Accompaniment Project in Guatemala (ACOGUATE).
The Peace Brigades International (PBI) organizations; Fray Bartolomé de las Casas Human Rights Center (Frayba); Christian Teams of Action for Peace Colombia (ECAP); International Action for Peace (IAP); Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (SweFOR); Peace Watch Switzerland in Honduras (PWS); and International Service for Peace (SIPAZ), forms the Network of International Accompaniment Organizations in Latin America. The network members carry out accompaniment and international observation activities in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia. International Protection Mesoamerica is an ally of the network that carries out protection measures for human rights defenders in the region.
ACOGUATE was founded as an international accompaniment project in 2000. Ever since, ACOGUATE has demonstrated the legitimacy of their work. The project currently consists of six committees from France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Canada, who all send volunteers to carry out international accompaniment and observation.
On October 12, the international day of Indigenous Resistance, a demonstration called “March for Dignity” was held in Guatemala City, during which episodes of vandalism were reported towards the statue in homage to José María Reina Barrios, located on Avenida de la Reforma.
Members of the ACOGUATE proyect attended the mobilization as international observers, in order to safeguard the human rights of the people who were demonstrating peacefully. During the activity, unknown people took pictures of the observers. These images were then used for a disinformation, defamation and criminalization campaign in social media towards ACOGUATE and againtst their accompaniment and international observation work in Guatemala.
On October 27, 2021, ACOGUATE issued a statement in which “it completely dissociates itself from any violent and / or illegal act that may have occurred during said event” and urged to “respect the legality and legitimacy of the accompaniment work and international observation within the framework of the defense and guarantee of Human Rights in Guatemala”.
Due to the defamations and criminalization of which ACOGUATE is currently exposed to, the Network of International Accompaniment Organizations in Latin America aim to clarify what the method of international accompaniment consists of, and express concerns regarding the situation of which ACOGUATE, as well as the international observers of said organization, are victims.
International accompaniment is a non-violent, non-partisan and non-interventionist method that, through the presence of international observers and observers in conflict territories, seeks to expand the space of action of human rights defenders whose life, integrity and work are at risk. It adheres to International Human Rights Law and acts in accordance with, and respects the national laws of the countries where it operates.
The ACOGUATE project in international accompaniment and observation is based upon requests from organizations and social actors that face threats and attacks as a result of their activities defending human rights.
It should be remembered, in accordance with the provisions of the 2019 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, that “by virtue of the principles of universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights, the right to defend human rights cannot be subject to geographical restrictions ”.
In the current context of Guatemala, characterized, among other things, by the shrinking space for human rights defenders, it is particularly worrying that defamatory acts carried out in the media put the integrity of their staff at risk. The same goes for the legitimacy of the international accompaniment, as well as the exercise of the defense of human rights by national actors. Likewise, there are concerns about the risks of criminalization that ACOGUATE is currently exposed to, among them the cancellation of their legal status in the country, the threat of expulsion of international staff, as well as possible judicial processes, at an administrative and / or criminal level.
In this sense, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has drawn attention to the frequency with which acts of disinformation, defamation and criminalization occur, which are used against those who defend human rights in Latin America and whose purpose is to stigmatize defenders in order to close their space of action. As the IACHR has recalled, it is the obligation of the states to guarantee the right to defend human rights in a safe and conducive environment.
For these reasons, the Network of International Accompaniment Organizations in Latin America call the international community, as well as the international authorities and institutions present in Guatemala, including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala, the Delegation and Embassies of the European Union in Guatemala, the Embassies of Canada, the United States, Norway, the United Kingdom and Switzerland in Guatemala to: