The Power of Perspectives

The Canadian Bar Association

Kim Covert

Guatemalan lawyer faces death threats for actions against mining company

January 15 2018 15 January 2018

 

Everyone deserves to be able to do their jobs without death threats and acts of intimidation and violence – including lawyers working to support the rights of an Indigenous people against corporate interests. Indeed, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers state in part that:

  • Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; and
  • Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.

Pedro Rafael Maldonado Flores and his colleagues at CALAS, a non-governmental human rights organization in Guatemala, have been subject to all of these acts of intimidation while representing the rights of local people in a dispute with Canada- and U.S.-based Tahoe Resources over the Escobal mine. One of Mr. Maldonado’s colleagues was shot and died in November 2016; in April 2017 motorcyclists shot up a vehicle in front of Mr. Maldonado’s home.

In a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, CBA President Kerry Simmons notes that the violence coincides with Mr. Maldonado’s court challenge to Tahoe’s licences for the mine. In July 2017, the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice granted a temporary suspension of two of Tahoe’s mining licences until the case is decided. (In its third-quarter earnings report last November, in which it refers to CALAS as an anti-mining NGO, Tahoe noted that the licence had been reinstated.)

“We believe there is cause for increased concern about further threats, intimidation and violence against Mr. Maldonado and his colleagues at CALAS,” the CBA President said. “This situation has already spurred global denunciation and calls to action, including an open letter from the Law Society of Upper Canada calling on the Guatemalan government to comply with the United Nations’ Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.”

Ms. Simmons urged the Minister to publicly support Mr. Maldonado and his colleagues at CALAS by asking the Guatemalan government to take steps to ensure compliance with those principles, which require authorities to safeguard lawyers when their security is threatened as a result of their work.

“The CBA urges Canada to stand with lawyers in their efforts to uphold the rule of law and respect for human rights, in Canada and internationally.”

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