The Xinka Parliament accepts the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation’s Human Rights Award, photo credit: Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation

On June 6, the Xinka Parliament was awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Foundation’s annual Human Rights Award. The award honors human rights defenders who face oppression for their nonviolent defense of human rights.

The Xinka Parliament is the highest representative body of the Xinka people, located in the departments of Jutiapa, Jalapa and Santa Rosa in Guatemala. This award recognizes the Xinka Parliament’s work in favor of Indigenous peoples and environmental and territorial defense. The Xinka Parliament has led the peaceful resistance to the Escobal mine. The Escobal mine, located in the department of Santa Rosa, is the second largest silver mine in the world and is owned by Canadian mining company, Pan American Silver. The Xinka Parliament’s efforts to protect ancestral lands from environmental degradation included winning a September 2018 Constitutional Court case, which suspended mining operations until a free, prior and informed consultation process could be carried out. The mine remains closed to this day.

During the ceremony Kerry Kennedy noted, “From challenging the illegal entry of mining companies into ancestral lands to demanding accountability for attacks on environmental and human rights defenders, its members embody peaceful resistance and the pursuit of justice in Guatemala. We are honored to present this award to the Xinka Parliament and look forward to continued collaboration with them.”

The Xinka Parliament is currently involved in several lawsuits to protect their rights across their territory, including the right to free, prior and informed consent and the defense of criminalized Xinka leaders. They also work to promote their culture, science, cosmovision and spirituality, participate in political activism, promote women’s rights, and protect their ancestral territory and the environment.

“I want to thank RFK Human Rights for recognizing the Xinka People as human rights defenders. This award encourages us to continue fighting to defend our territory, always seeking the common good. This prize recognizes our peaceful resistance and our demands that Guatemala respect the international conventions it has ratified on human rights and Indigenous peoples rights. It is a prize for the Xinka People’s unity and organization. May our ancestors’ energies always be with you. We, the Xinka People, are very grateful,” declared Aleisar Arana Morales, Huxi Hurak (president) of the Xinka Parliament.

Kennedy also recounted the threats the peaceful resistance suffered, including the attack against leader Alex Reynoso and his daughter Topacio Reynoso in 2014, in which 16-year-old Topacio lost her life. Both Alex and Topacio were activists against the mine. “Please recognize Topacio’s mother, Irma Pacheco, who is here with us today,” the Foundation’s president urged. The room filled with applause.

“The Xinka Parliament’s struggle against the Escobal mine has not only been a battle to protect their territory, but also a testament to their determination to protect their natural resources and ensure a sustainable future for their communities,” she noted.

According to Aleisar Arana Morales, being a human rights defender in Guatemala is a very difficult and dangerous task. “Many of us human rights defenders face persecution and criminalization. Sometimes we face assassination, as in the case of Topacio Reynoso and Exaltación Marcos Ucelo, attempted murder like Julio González, or kidnapping, like that of the Xinka people’s Huxi Hurac in 2013 and of Roberto González Ucelo.”  

Despite systemic obstacles, discrimination and denial of their existence by the State, Arana pointed out that today the Xinka people are more alive than ever. “We thank the energies of our ancestors for the accompaniment of people and allied organizations such as Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights along this journey. They have contributed greatly to our struggle for justice,” he said.

“On behalf of the Xinka women, I want to thank you for this award that recognizes the efforts and suffering of Xinka women who have struggled for many years to defend our ancestors’ legacy, to defend our mother earth, that mother who like us gives life. This award is in recognition of all our brothers and sisters who have been imprisoned and persecuted, those who have gone before us in the struggle, those who have been the victims of attacks, those who have been kidnapped, those who have been humiliated and harassed by the Guatemalan State for protecting our rights. It is a recognition of all those men, women, children and elders who dream of justice and respect for our territory. We invite every man, woman and child to raise their voice for justice. We will not stop fighting until we achieve a world where human rights are respected, a world where First Peoples can freely enjoy our territory and our mother earth. We accept this award with the firm commitment to continue our struggle,” said Irma Pacheco.

Former judge Erika Aifán, who fled Guatemala due to threats against her, also participated in the award ceremony. She highlighted the Xinka Parliament’s work in a distressing political context.

BTS sends our congratulations and solidarity to the Xinka Parliament for winning the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award, as well as for the six-year anniversary of the peaceful encampment in Casillas. The encampment was established on June 7, 2017. We honor their struggle to protect and defend Xinka territory, especially the struggle against Pan American’s Escobal mine.