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Prominent Lawyer Assassinated While Working

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A devastating event occurred south of Guatemala City, Guatemala, resulting in the death of José Domingo, a lawyer championing the rights of farmworkers and Indigenous groups.

On Wednesday, June 5, 2024, Domingo was traveling with two members of the United Farmworkers Committee when a group of assailants attacked, firing at them. The details of the incident were shared by Daniel Pascual, a leader of the same organization. Official statements from Guatemalan authorities are still pending while the human rights sector mourns Domingo’s death.

Domingo’s professional focus was on legalizing land titles for marginalized communities, a pressing issue in rural Guatemala where disputes over land ownership are widespread and Indigenous groups often confront unlawful evictions.

“It was an ambush. The crime was planned and premeditated. Common criminals don’t act that way,” stated Pascual, underlining the severity and calculated nature of the attack, implying potential political motivations.

The attack also resulted in injuries to the two farmworkers accompanying Domingo, with one of them sustaining serious wounds. This incident highlights the perilous conditions for those advocating for land rights in Guatemala. Pascual acknowledged Domingo’s significant role in aiding farmworkers to resist evictions and secure land titles. “We can’t separate this attack from politics because the two men who were with him are committee members,” added Pascual.

Domingo’s death is a crushing setback to human rights efforts in Guatemala, a country with a long history of land disputes and sustained violence. The United Nations Human Rights Office calls for an immediate and impartial investigation into the attack. The Council of the Wuxhtaj Peoples also expressed its condemnation of the killing, recognizing Domingo as a defender of Mother Earth and a member of the Popti or Jakalteko people.

Land rights in Guatemala have historically been a contentious issue, often escalating into violent confrontations. The nation stands as one of the most hazardous places for environmental and human rights advocates. In recent times, numerous activists have been targeted, facing threats, intimidation, and violent acts. These defenders, like Domingo, labor relentlessly to uphold their communities’ rights against political and economic entities attempting to exploit the land.

The fight for land rights is part of a larger historical conflict. Since the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, Indigenous populations have been systematically dispossessed of their territories. The 1996 peace agreement that concluded Guatemala’s 36-year civil war pledged land redistribution, but progress has been slow and marked by opposition from influential landowners.

Global human rights organizations have urged for increased international attention to the situation in Guatemala. They stress the need to halt evictions and violence against land rights defenders, ensure justice for those criminalized for safeguarding human rights, and halt large-scale agribusiness projects within Indigenous territories.

The fatal attack on José Domingo serves as a stark reminder of the dangers confronted by those who fight for justice in Guatemala. His dedication to protecting vulnerable communities from formidable interests underscores the pressing need for the protection and support of human rights defenders in the region.

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