Human Rights Defenders / Human Rights Issue / Latin America

Reporting from Guatemala

Originally published on the Frontline Defenders Blog, by Mary Lawlor –

It was too raw to tell you about Yolanda Oqueli before now and though
it’s very late, and we’re leaving at 4am in the morning, I must try now.

Yolanda is a woman human rights defender in San Jose de Gulfo who is a
community leader resisting the Exmigua mine. From everything we’ve
heard, from all sides, mining of minerals such as gold and silver, sand
and alloys is a huge issue in Guatemala. Generally the community
affected is not consulted. No objective information or public proccess
of consultation takes place to allay fears about damage to the
environment; whether the rivers will be polluted; whether the forests
will be felled and thus their water supply compromised; and also, what
will happen after the mining licence expires and the environment needs
to be repaired and rebuilt.

Yoly (as she wrote her name) has a history of intimidation because of
her work. Her lawyer (pro bono) has lodged roughly 10 complaints through
the legal process. She has been tear-gassed; graffiti had been written
on her walls and threats against her and her children have been
significant. Despite this, the Government to date has been mute.

On her way back from a demonstration against the mine on the 13th June
she was shot. I saw the bullet hole in her side.

Such is the level of the threat to her life, Yoly has had to move
several times since the shooting. She has no State protection.

There we found a woman with a huge heart, not known, not recognised and
not credible in Guatemalan society. She is paralysed with fear.

She has two beautiful baby children with huge eyes… the little girl’s
forehead puckered in anxiety as she saw her mother cry and speak about
the pain.

Front Line Defenders has raised her case everywhere possible; at
Congress; at the Attorney Generals Office; at a Press Conference
(carried on news) and at the UN. Only the UN took action. The UN
Representative, Alberto Brunori, visited her in hospital, asked for
State protection and sent a team to visit the area. The EU, despite the
EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders remains scandalously silent.

For more from her blog see


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