"The condemnation of the Q'eqchi' leader is an apparent attempt to silence and discredit the legitimate exercise of the rights of the indigenous community," a group of U.N. experts said.
Caal organized numerous demonstrations against the project for commencing without dialoguing with community leaders of Santa Maria Cahabon, bound to be negatively affected by the changes to the environment, natural resources, and water. He was detained shortly afterwards on allegations of aggravated robbery and theft of Oxec tools and machinery.
Special Rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, said, “The conviction of Mr. Caal Xol for more than seven years in prison on charges of illegal detention and aggravated robbery of a drill, a toolbox and fiber optic seems excessive and was based mainly on testimonies of affiliates of the company Oxec.
After a conjugal visit with Caal, the U.N. delegation also expressed its concerns for the activists safety and called for “effective protection.”
Tauli-Corpuz said, “The criminalization of Mr. Caal Xol has been preceded by virulent smear campaigns in the media, describing him as a violent criminal who acts against the interests of the nation.
Experts agreed, saying, “This is not an isolated case; There are numerous members of indigenous communities who are being criminalized in Guatemala for defending their traditional lands and resources against large-scale development projects that cause environmental damage. We remind that criminal investigations must be independent and impartial.
“We urge the Government to ensure the effective protection of indigenous human rights defenders. We also recall that business enterprises have an independent responsibility to respect human rights, in line with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,“ the experts said.