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Guatemala- the struggle for land, justice and human rights
Tomorrow morning Mary Lawlor founder and Executive Director of Front Line Defenders and I are heading off to Guatemala to make a documentary about the situation of human rights defenders told through the eyes of one man - environmentalist Yuri Melini .
In a time of shrinking media budgets in both television and newspapers and with an increasing focus on domestic issues it had become increasingly frustrating trying to get the stories of human rights defenders out into the mainstream media.
In the end we decided that the only way to overcome these obstacles was to make our own documentary which would show what kind of people human rights defenders are, what motivates them to do this difficult and dangerous work and how an organisation based in Ireland can help protect them so that they can continue their work in defence of the rights of others.
We decided that rather than try to condense the many stories of human rights defenders in Guatemala into one narrative we would tell the story through the eyes of one person - environmentalist Yuri Melini.
Yuri Melini works with an organisation called CALAS to uphold the rights of local communities in the face of the environmental devastation casused by indiscriminate logging and mining. Because of his work Yuri has been vilified in the media, threatened and intimidated and has even survived an assassination attempt during which he was riddled with bullets.
He subsequently had to undergo a series of operations and a long period of painful rehabilitation.
Despite the dangers he continues the struggle to defend human rights in Guatemala.
His story and experience is shared by many other human rights defenders in Guatemala. Some work to defend the rights of indigenous peoples whose rights to their ancestral lands are often not recognised in law - others work to defend the rights of small farmers who are trying to hold on to their land in the face of violent takeovers by commercial operators and big land owners. Still others are journalists who document and report on the attacks on human rights defenders or lawyers who try to challenge the climate of impunity by seeking justice in the courts.
Many of these stories converge around the issues of ownership and management of the land - its exploitation and protection.
Guatemala is a country in which a climate of impunity prevails. Threats intimidation and killings of human rights defenders are a regular occurence and the police and the organs of the state are either unable or unwilling to take effective action to protect them .
This is why human rights defenders in Guatemala need our support. We hope that the making of this documentary will contribute to exposing state failure to take effective action to protect human rights defenders at risk and that it will send a message of support and solidarity to the human rights defenders themselves.
This is a daunting challenge - to do justice to the courage of the human rights defenders themselves, to give a true and accurate picture of the situation and to tell a story which is both compelling and true.
So tomorrow we head to Guatemala City with Nuala Cunningham and Ciaran O'Connor from New Decade Productions. After a few days in Guatemala City to meet both supporters and critics of Yuri Melini we will travel north to the Peten, an area of natural forest and great beauty. We will meet some of the people working on the ground and hear their stories.
You can watch a short 5 minute film profile of Yuri Melini and the work of CALAS here. WATCH
Jim Loughtran will be reporting from Guatemala over the next 10 days.