Yuri Melini is a fighter. In Guatemala, he has worked for years shining a bright light on corruption. Government officials, drug traffickers, corporations – none are safe from Yuri’s relentless energy working to protect the rights of Guatemalan people from those who would steal or despoil their land or pollute the water children drink every day.
I have worked with Yuri and his colleagues at the Center for Environmental, Legal and Social Action (CALAS) since 2003. I’ve seen him name names; I’ve read the stories that his work has inspired; I’ve watched with horror as he has had to suffer the physical consequences of the attack on his life.
This week, Yuri was honored with the Annual Front Line Award, from the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. The award is given to a human rights defender who has made an outstanding contribution to defending the rights of others at great personal risk to themselves.
Yuri has the led the campaign to bring the assassins of environmental advocates Erwin Ochoa López and Julio Armando Vásquez (government workers for CONAP – Commission on Protected Areas) to justice. They were murdered in the line of duty – trying to defend protected areas on Guatemala’s Atlantic Coast. The week before Yuri was shot, he published an article in the Central American Diary calling attention to their deaths among the 128 attacks on environmental activists in Guatemala in recent years.
After the year that he has endured, I can’t think of anybody who deserves the Front Line Annual Award more. Congratulations Yuri!