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A force I cannot describe

    Friday, September 19, 2014 - 09:10


    by Alex Neve, Secretary General, and Tara Scurr, Business and Human Rights Campaigner
    Amnesty International Canada

     - Guatemala City, Guatemala, 18 September, 2014

    What better way to spend the evening before launching our important new report, Mining in Guatemala: Rights at Risk?  Over dinner, we were able to catch up with the courageous community leader and human rights defender Yolanda Oquelí.  Yolanda has for several years been at the forefront of the campaign to ensure that mining does not go ahead in her community without consultation and consent. She has been a leader of the La Puya protest camp, which blockaded the road leading in to the mining site for over two years.


    Over 100,000 people have taken action, demanding protection for Yolanda Oqueli and investigations into the attack against her.

      Urge the President of Guatemala to reform Guatemala's mining law

    Yolanda has been targeted for her outspokenness.  In June 2012 she was shot and badly wounded by an unknown gunman.  It led the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to order Guatemalan authorities to provide protection to Yolanda and her family.  And it sparked a massive outpouring of concern and solidarity from Amnesty International members across Canada and around the world.  In Friday’s press conference we will be highlighting the fact that over 100,000 people have taken action, demanding protection for Yolanda and investigations into the attack against her.

    She remains steadfast, despite the dangers that still lurk.  Over dinner she shared updates with us.  She was delighted to see the report we will be releasing.  And she expressed ongoing appreciation for the support she has received from Amnesty International members around the world.  As she put it:

    “To know that with you I have family in all parts of the world gives me a force I cannot describe.”

    It has been a busy week of meetings in Guatemala in advance of the report launch.  We have met with business leaders, diplomatic and government officials, civil society activists, and staff with other international organizations.  We have had frank exchanges about sometimes differing views as to the impact that the current approach to mining has on human rights protection in the country.  We’ve both agreed and disagreed about what improvements are needed to the pending reform of the country’s mining law, particularly when it comes to consultation processes with communities and Indigenous peoples; and the chances of any such improvements being adopted by the Guatemalan Congress.

    Most powerful, however, have been the opportunities to meet with members of two of the communities at the frontlines of mining in Guatemala, who have been struggling for several years to be heard by government and by the mining companies that have arrived nearby.

    For them it comes down to consultation, and the lack thereof to date.

    And to know that Amnesty International stands with them, backing up their demand for meaningful consultation by underscoring applicable binding international human rights standards, is a source of great support. 

    That is what we heard from Yolanda.  We heard it from community leader Oscar Morales, when we visited him in the community of San Rafael Las Flores.  We heard it at every turn.

    We have assured everyone we have met with that the launch of this report is not the end of anything, but is in fact a beginning.  Over the coming weeks and months Amnesty International activists in Canada and around the world will press the Guatemalan government to make sorely needed improvements to the proposed new mining legislation. 

    It is time to guarantee that mining projects in Guatemala will only go ahead on the basis of community consultations that are free of violence and coercion, take place before mining operations begin, offer sufficient time to participate and provide all necessary information in an accessible form.  It is also time to ensure full and proper respect for the vital right of Indigenous peoples to give free, prior and informed consent to mining and other development projects that have consequence for the protection of their rights.

    Together with Yolanda, Oscar and so many others, we can be that force for change.

    < See report:    Mining in Guatemala: Rights at Risk?
    < Take action:  Urge the President of Guatemala t reform the mining laws
    < Learn more:  Visit Guatemala webpage