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Hi, this is Michelle and today we’re asking: how can international organisations protect threatened human rights defenders? We meet with one volunteer who spent a year in Guatemala using her presence to discourage attacks but also abuses by the country's authorities.

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Michelle Langrand


Deterring attacks against land rights defenders in Guatemala

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Anuja Pathak was in Guatemala for a year, escorting threatened rights activists for International Peace Brigades (PBI). (Credit: Geneva Solutions/ML)

Anuja Pathak sits back under the reddish shade of a parasol, sipping her coffee. It is a sunny Friday morning and summer is just around the corner when we meet at Boréal Coffee Shop in Geneva. Pathak has a carefree vibe that contrasts with her professional path.

The 27-year-old has just returned from spending one year in Guatemala as an international observer for Peace Brigades International (PBI). The NGO provides protection to threatened human rights defenders in different Latin American countries and other regions by stationing volunteers whose presence is meant to discourage attacks.

Along with other young volunteers, Pathak was sent to Guatemala to accompany indigenous and peasant rights groups persecuted for resisting mining, hydroelectric and farming projects in their lands. The Central American region, and particularly Guatemala carry a history of violent repression against land rights defenders. In 2020, the country ranked seventh worldwide in killings of environmental activists, according to the NGO Global Witness.

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