On the night of 6 December, 2020, unknown gunmen shot community leader Abelardo Quej Ixim dead in the community of Nueva Gloria in Purulhá Baja, Verapaz, Guatemala.
Quej Ixim was deputy mayor of Nueva Gloria and was part of the indigenous guard, formed to look after the security of the community and prevent incursions by illegal loggers and miners. He was shot as he was carrying out his nightly bsecurity rounds in the village.
Three days before his murder, he had reportedly received death threats from individuals townspeople say are linked to a landowner in the area. Local communities report that this landowner’s private security forces have fired on campesinos living on contested land, seriously wounding two youths during the previous summer.
The Union of Campesino Organisations of the Verapaces (UVOC), has called for a full investigation and for protective measures to be granted to the wife and six children Quej Ixim leaves behind. UVOC also called for progress in the investigation of the disappearance of another indigenous leader, Carlos Enrique Coy who disappeared in August, 2020.
On 3 August, 2020 Carlos Ernesto Coy, disappeared and nothing has been heard of him since then. Quej Ixim was one of the main organisers of the ongoing search for Coy and had received several death threats because of his work.
In 2018, the ILC, Front Line Defenders and Civicus carried out an international mission to Guatemala in response to the escalation of violence (criminalisation, arbitrary arrests, murders, among others) against defenders of land and the environment, which revealed a worrying pattern of systematic violence that remains unchanged.
According to the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), 2020 was the worst year on record in terms of attacks on human rights defenders since the organisation began documenting abuses in 2000. From January 1 to December 15, UDEFEGUA documented 1,004 attacks on human rights defenders. Women defenders were the targets of 33.66 percent of these attacks. The attacks include 15 assassinations and 22 attempted assassinations of human rights defenders.