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Guatemalan Environmental Leader Shot by Masked Gunmen

September 10, 2008

Yuri Melini, environmental activist, lawyer, and Director of Center of Legal Action in Environment and Social issues (CALAS) was shot outside his house in Guatemala city at 7:30am on September 4 by masked gunmen; the bullets entered his stomach, knee, and leg.

In June 2008, CALAS won a legal process in the Constitutional Court of Guatemala to change and censure the mining law that violates Guatemalans’ land, environmental, and health rights.

CALAS has taken an active role in a number of high profile environmental issues, including legally challenging the law that permits open pit mining for gold and other metals, campaigning against contamination of water sources and occupation of land in nature reserves. (A one-year study of the local water supply surrounding the Marlin Mine in San Marcos shows 5 heavy metals present in the drinking water, above World Bank permissible levels.)

The attack against Yuri Melini is believed to be linked to his role in CALAS and the work of the organization.


Attacking Guatemalan environmental activists is a method to stop them from carrying out their work. Their efforts to protect the environment and the human rights of indigenous and peasant communities (whose livelihoods depend upon the environment) threaten the profits of multinational mining companies.

On 10 January 2007, Carlos Albacete Rosales and Piedad Espinosa Albacete of the environmental organization Trópico Verde were shot at while they were in a taxi. They managed to escape unscathed.

In January and February 2007, Flaviano Bianchini of the environmental organization MadreSelva Collective (Colectivo MadreSelva) was threatened with death and followed by unidentified people on several occasions.


Using violence as a tool to repress activists, human rights defenders, environmental protectors, and community leaders is a common tactic in Guatemala. Almost total impunity is guaranteed for the perpetrators, in a country where the rule of law if weak and political will to reform is low.

The global mining industry, the World Bank (that invests in mining), and the governments of Guatemala, Canada and the USA must enforce international human rights law, be accountable for their investments, and consult with the people in the region prior to planning their mining projects.

Yuri was very involved in the communities affected by the mines. The Guatemalan Government released a statement that they reject and condemn all acts of intimidation toward environmentalists. However, the government needs to take the necessary measures to protect and safeguard the lives of human rights and social justice defenders.

In the past, Yuri has received threats as a result of his environmental protection work and speaking out against impunity.

To date, there have been 50 recorded cases of attacks on environmentalists, none of which have been resolved.

Yuri Melini and his family are asking state authorities to provide security and protection for environmental workers and their families.


Thanks to Rights Action and Amnesty International for the information included in this report.


Learn more about our Human Rights Defenders Program


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