STRATEGIC LITIGATION

When Mining Turns Into Murder

GuatemalaIndigenous Peoples

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A 16-Year-Old Activist’s Murder Highlights the Struggles of Indigenous Peoples to Protect Their Communities From the Greed of the Extractive Industry in Guatemala

Topacio Reynoso was a 16-year-old activist engaged in peaceful resistance to Minera San Rafael S.A., a company aggressively pursuing silver and gold mining in indigenous Guatemalan regions. Since she was 14, she had devoted her life to preserving the purity of her family farm—which grew everything from coffee beans to corn—and the lands surrounding it, all of which risked endangerment if mining chemicals contaminated local rivers.

In 2014, while leaving a community concert at which she performed with her marimba band, Topacio and her father, Alex—another prominent resistance leader, whom Topacio convinced to join the fight—were shot. Alex lay comatose for days. Topacio died hours later.

Their attacker remains unknown, though the official suspects should be manifold. The Guatemalan government failed to investigate the attack seriously, presenting zero suspects despite multiple leads. Even though Alex continues to be a target, he remains unprotected, despite surviving yet another armed attack the following year.

Why is This a Key Case?

Defending one’s land from the encroachment of the mining industry, especially in indigenous regions, places activists’ lives in great and constant peril. Government inaction only augments that peril and empowers the industry, as Topacio’s death illustrates.

What is the Status of the Case?

RFK Human Rights and the Xinka Parliament of Guatemala are asking the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to hold the Guatemalan government responsible for Topacio’s death and for its ongoing failure to protect Alex’s life and integrity. The broader goal? Ending Guatemalan state impunity against such attacks and forcing them to find and hold the perpetrators accountable. This in turn will help ensure respect for the rights of the Xinca people that Topacio so bravely fought for. The IACHR is expected to study the case over the coming months.

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Merilyn Topacio Reynoso et al. v. Guatemala


Month/Year of filing

January 2020


Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights


Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles 1.1 (obligation to respect rights), 2 (domestic legal effects), 4 (right to life), 5 (right to humane treatment), 8 (right to a fair trial), 13 (freedom of thought and expression), 15 (right of assembly), 16 (right of association), 17 (rights of the family), 19 (rights of the child), and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights


Procedural stage

Initial study by the IACHR


Counsel

RFKHR and Parlamento Xinka de Guatemala

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