One year after naming Bernardo Caal Xol a prisoner of conscience, Amnesty International has delivered a petition with 27957 signatures from around the world, including more than 12,000 from Canada, to Guatemala’s Attorney General, María Consuelo Porras, demanding his immediate release.
“Bernardo Caal’s imprisonment for more than three years now sends a frightening message to the Indigenous peoples leading the defense of human rights, justice and the protection of our planet,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“It’s shameful that the Guatemalan authorities continue to criminalize and intimidate those who dedicate their lives to defending nature while a global movement for environmental protection is gaining ground. Guatemala’s authorities have it in their hands to end the injustice against Bernardo and change the course of the country.”
Bernardo Caal, 49, has been unfairly imprisoned since 30 January 2018 for defending the rights of Q’eqchi’ Mayan communities affected by the construction of a hydroelectric project on the sacred Cahabón River in the department of Alta Verapaz in northern Guatemala.
The petition emphasizes Amnesty International’s grave concerns about the major challenges facing those who fight for climate and environmental justice, and Indigenous peoples’ rights in Guatemala and worldwide, and demands that Guatemala’s Attorney General investigate those who handled Bernardo Caal’s case and his unjust arrest.
His detention is emblematic of how human rights defenders, especially Indigenous people and those working on issues associated with territory, land and the environment – are criminalized in Guatemala and Latin America. It also reflects the historical racism and dispossession of Indigenous peoples’ territories in Guatemala.
Amnesty international is calling for an end to the criminalization of justice officials and human rights defenders in Guatemala.
When the organization named Bernardo Caal prisoner of conscience on 16 July 2020, it sent an open letter to the Attorney General expressing concern over the irregularities and negligence in the criminal proceedings against him – including the lack of objective evidence to support the charges – that coincide with the patterns of criminalization that Amnesty International has previously documented in cases against land or environmental defenders.
In a last resort attempt to obtain justice and freedom, Bernardo Caal filed a cassation appeal with the Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice in September 2020. The first public hearing before the Supreme Court’s Criminal Chamber was scheduled for 5 April 2021 but did not take place because the lawyer of the company that sued Bernardo Caal filed a recusal motion against the magistrates. The Criminal Chamber did not admit the recusal on 11 May, and rescheduled the hearing of the cassation appeal to review Bernardo Caal’s unjust detention for 21 June 2021. The court has not ruled yet.