On March 23, 2018, unidentified individuals violently attacked participants in an organized, on-campus human rights march on the campus of the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala.
The march, known as the Huelga de Todos los Dolores del Pueblo de Guatemala, or Strike for All the Pain of the People of Guatemala, is a traditional protest event that takes place during lent. In connection with this year’s protest, students from the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala organized a protest on campus to denounce human rights violations and government corruption in Guatemala. Jorge Santos, a prominent human rights defender and the general coordinator of the Protection Unit for Human Rights Defenders Guatemala, was walking in a procession in the event when he was attacked by a group of men wearing gowns and hoods bearing the colors of the university’s economic sciences faculty. The attackers hit Santos in the head with a baseball bat, and attacked two other students who were participating in the march. Santos was treated on the scene, and no other serious injuries were reported.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about violent attacks on campus in apparent retaliation against and the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such attacks threaten academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally. State and university authorities have a responsibility to prevent violence on campus, and to investigate and hold accountable perpetrators of such attacks.