Human Rights Attorney Fatally Attacked

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A fatal assault near Guatemala City, Guatemala resulted in the death of attorney José Domingo, known for his work protecting the rights of farmworkers and Indigenous communities.

Domingo was attacked and shot by several men on Wednesday, June 5, 2024, while in the company of two United Farmworkers Committee members, as reported by Daniel Pascual, a leader of the organization. The Guatemalan authorities have yet to comment on this incident, leaving the human rights community in mourning.

Domingo was mainly involved in legalizing marginalized communities’ land titles, an essential task in rural Guatemala, where land ownership disputes are widespread, and Indigenous groups frequently face unlawful evictions. Pascual highlighted the seriousness of the incident, declaring, “It was an ambush. The crime was planned and premeditated. Common criminals don’t act that way.” This statement underscores the targeted nature of the attack, hinting at deeper political implications.

The attack also resulted in injuries to the two farmworkers accompanying Domingo, one of them severely. This incident emphasizes the perilous environment for those advocating for land rights in Guatemala. Pascual noted that Domingo’s contribution in defending farmworkers against evictions and securing land titles was invaluable. “We can’t separate this attack from politics because the two men who were with him are committee members,” added Pascual.

The death of Domingo is a severe setback to human rights defenders in Guatemala, a country with deep-seated land conflicts and persistent violence. The United Nations Human Rights Office stressed the importance of a swift and impartial investigation into the attack. The Council of the Wuxhtaj Peoples condemned the killing, recognizing Domingo as a protector of Mother Earth and a member of the Popti or Jakalteko people.

Land rights disputes in Guatemala often escalate into violent confrontations. The nation is one of the most hazardous places for environmental and human rights defenders. Over the past few years, numerous activists have been targeted, dealing with threats, harassment, and acts of violence. These advocates, like Domingo, tirelessly work to safeguard their communities’ rights against political and economic forces seeking to exploit the land.

The fight for land rights is part of a broader historical dispute. Since the Spanish arrival in the 16th century, Indigenous populations have been systematically dispossessed of their lands. The 1996 peace agreement concluding Guatemala’s 36-year civil war pledged land redistribution, but progress has been slow and met with resistance from influential landowners.

Global human rights organizations have called for increased international attention to the crisis in Guatemala. They stress the need for support to stop evictions and violence against land defenders and ensure justice for those criminalized for defending human rights, and halt large-scale agribusiness projects in Indigenous territories.

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