International organizations call on Salvadoran government to drop charges against Water Defenders

Press Release



  • John Cavanagh, Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), co-author (with Robin Broad) of The Water Defenders: How Ordinary People Saved a Country from Corporate Greed, (202) 297-4823, [email protected]
  • Pedro Cabezas, Central American Alliance on Mining (ACAFREMIN), (503) 7498-4423, [email protected]
  • Alexis Stoumbelis, Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), (202) 521-2510 ext. 205, [email protected]

251 Organizations from 29 countries call on Salvadoran government to drop the charges against leading Water Defenders arrested on January 11

Washington, D.C. and San Salvador – On January 20, 251 organizations from 29 countries released the following statement:

On January 11, at the order of the Salvadoran Attorney General, police arrested five prominent Water Defenders in northern El Salvador: Miguel Ángel Gámez, Alejandro Laínez García, Pedro Antonio Rivas Laínez, Antonio Pacheco, and Saúl Agustín Rivas Ortega.

These individuals were among leaders of the historic and successful campaign that convinced the Salvadoran legislature to unanimously pass a ban on metals mining in 2017 to save that nation's rivers. In 2009, the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) honored the coalition that several of the five helped build, the National Roundtable on Metals Mining, with IPS's Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.

Today, thanks in part to its ill-advised embrace of Bitcoin, the Salvadoran government is under enormous pressure to find new revenues. The government is reportedly considering overturning the mining ban, and allowing environmentally-destructive mining. Environmental and human rights organizations in El Salvador have stated that the arrests are politically motivated as they seek to silence these Water Defenders and to demobilize community opposition at this critical moment.

The five are accused by El Salvador's Attorney General of an alleged murder over 30 years ago during the brutal civil war in El Salvador that claimed the lives of 75,000. The victims of crimes from that war, which saw a U.S.-backed dictatorship and right-wing death squads kill tens of thousands, have, for decades, been calling for justice. The current government, however, has chosen to actively uphold decades of impunity. Rather than investigate or prosecute those responsible for the dozens of cases of human rights violations and crimes against humanity that members of the Salvadoran military committed against the Santa Marta community (including the murders of the Lempa River massacre in 1980, where 30 people were assassinated and 189 were disappeared), the government is now re-victimizing the community by targeting their leaders, who have been outspoken against the policies of the current government. This further raises questions about whether the Attorney General’s true motivation is to attempt to silence these Water Defenders, especially in light of the current administration’s crusade to criminalize, persecute and demobilize its political opponents.

The Salvadoran movement to ban mining and the Water Defenders who made it possible have been an inspiration to communities and civil society across the globe. Over the years, hundreds of groups around the world worked with the Salvadoran Water Defenders in the successful campaign to save the country's rivers from toxic gold mining.

The undersigned organizations join in demanding that the Salvadoran government drop the charges against the five Water Defenders and otherwise release them from prison to await their trial.

These groups are based in the following 29 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Germany, Guatemala, India, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand Aotearoa, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Serbia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States.


Asamblea No a la Mina Esquel
Diálogo 2000-Jubileo Sur Argentina
Jachal No Se Toca
La Asamblea de Andalgalá
La Asamblea de Chubut

Asia y Asia-Pacific
Asia-Pacific Gathering on Human Rights and Extractives (AP Gathering)
Focus on the Global South

Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network
Australian National Campaign on Mining in the Philippines (ANCoMP)
Philippines Australia Solidarity Association (PASA)
Philippines Australia Union Link
Rainforest Information Centre

Informationsgruppe Lateinamerika (IGLA)

Basque Country
A Planeta

Fundación Abril

Atlantic Regional Solidarity Network
Blue Planet Project
Breaking the Silence Network
CoDevelopment Canada (CoDev)
Common Frontiers
Friends of the Earth Canada
Guatemala Research Group
Inter Pares
International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines Canada
KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
Le Centre Oblat: A Voice for Justice
MICLA - McGill Investigative Research on Canadian Mining in Latin America
Mining Injustice Solidarity Network
Mining Justice Alliance
MiningWatch Canada
Montreal for a World BEYOND War
NB Media Co-op / COOP Média NB
Rights Action
Saint Gabriel's Parish, Longueuil, Canada
SLAM Solidarité Laurentides Amérique Centrale
Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia Society
The United Church of Canada
United for Mining Justice

Central America
Central American Alliance on Mining - ACAFREMIN

Bloque Disidente Migrante
Fundacion Feminas Latinas
Fundación Tantí
Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales OLCA
Fundacion Chile Sustentable
Observatorio Plurinacional de Salares Andinos

Corporación Ecológica y Cultural Penca de Sábila

Alianza de Organizaciones por l’os Derechos Humanos en el Ecuador
Centro de Documentación en Derechos Humanos "Segundo Montes Mozo SJ" (CSMM)
Observatorio Latinoamericano de Conflictos Ambientales
Organización sinchi warmi
Somos Agua
Yasunidos Guapondelig

El Salvador
Agrupación ciudadana por la despenalización del aborto en El Salvador
Iglesias Hermanas
International Allies Against Mining in El Salvador
Mesa Nacional Frente a la Minería Metálica en El Salvador
Movimiento Ecofeministas de El Salvador

European Water Movement

Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM)
Ang Aroroy Ay Alagaan, Inc.
Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (APNED)
ECIP National Secretariat
Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment
KuMaSa Na / Koalisyon ng Mamamayan at Sambayanan ng Northern Luzon at Southern Luzon
Manila Observatory, Philippines
Risk taker/AMMKAS/ATM

Asso Tierra y libertad para Arauco - Wallmapu
Association SystExt
Attac 65 Commission Eau
Attac 65 France Hautes Pyrénées
collectif eau publique Les lilas
Coordination EAU Île-de-France
Eau Bien Commun France
Igapo Project
Mix-Cité 45
Romain Champalaune Photography
Sentinelles de Rivières
Simple Citoyen


Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
WUNRN-Women's UN Report Network
Yes to Life No to Mining Global Solidarity Network

Protection International Mesoamérica

All India Union of Forest Working People
Mines, Minerals & People

CAIM - Communities Against the Injustice of Mining
Drumgossatt/Knocknacrann Residents Group
Save Our Sperrins (SOS)

Latin America
Asociación Americana de Juristas
Ecos del Silencio
Red Vigilancia Interamericana para la Defensa y Derecho al Agua, REDVIDA

Americas Program (
Asociación por la Protección de la Tierra y Bienestar de Epazoyucan A. C.
Bios Iguana A.C.
Colectivo Azul México
Comité de Solidaridad con El Salvador en México
Conacyt México
Espacio Migrante
Frente Popular en Defensa del Soconusco (FPDS)
Otros Mundos AC/Chiapas
Red Mexicana de Acción frente al Libre Comercio (RMALC)
Red Mexicana de Afectadas/os por la Minería (REMA)
Union de Comunidades Indígenas de la Zona Norte del Istmo
Witness- Lac

New Zealand
Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki

De Olmenhorst

Heñói Centro de Estudios

Derechos Humanos Sin Fronteras
Derechos Humanos y Medio Ambiente - DHUMA
Frente de Defensa Ambiental de Cajamarca

República Dominicana

Earth Thrive (UK)

Asociación por la Paz y el Desarrollo
Asociación Unimos Internacional
Associació Internacional Enginyeria Sense Fronteres
Ecologistas en Acción
Fundación Montescola
Justicia i Pau Barcelona
Lumaltik Herriak
Paz con Dignidad El Salvador
Perifèries del Món
Salva la Selva

South Africa
Rural Women's Assembly (Southern Africa)


Eirene Suisse

United Kingdom
Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA)
London Mining Network

United States
Bay Area Cuba Saving Lives Committee
A Community Voice
Alianza Americas
Alliance of Baptists
Anakbayan USA
Anthropocene Alliance
Bomazeen Land Trust
Capybara Colectiva
Center for Farmworker Families
Center for International Environmental Law - CIEL
Central American Resource Center
Centro Latino Cuscatlan
Chicago Religious Leadership Network on Latin America-CRLN
Chicanx/Latinx Caucus Cal State LA
Coal River Mountain Watch
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)
Community Water Justice
Denver Justice and Peace Committee
Diaspora Pa’Lante Collective
Doctors for Global Health
Doctors for Global Health- Los Angeles
Eighth Day Church
Eko Social Justice
Episcopal Church
Erie Benedictines for Peace
Feminist Task Force
Ferris State University
Fundación Identidad Goterense
Global Exchange
Green Party of St. Louis
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Gunntown Environmental Group
Haiti Action Committee
Holy Spirit Missionary Sisters, USA-JPIC
Honor the Earth
Immaculate Heart Community Commission on Immigrants, Refugees, Indigenous Peoples
Institute for Policy Studies, Global Economy Project
Institute of Philippine Studies, Human Rights and Sustainability
InterReligious Task Force on Central America
JB Foundation
Kent County Local Management Board
Kickapoo Peace Circle
Klein and Roth Consulting
La Resistencia
Latin America Caucus of Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Madison Arcatao Sister City Project
Malach Consulting
Midwest Environmental Advocates, Inc.
National Lawyers Guild Task Force on Latin America
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala
Nicaragua Center for Community Action
Office of Peace, Justice, and Ecological Integrity/Sisters of Charity of Saint Elizabeth
Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace
Pax Christi
Peace Action of Wisconsin
People's Green New Deal committee of Madison, Wisconsin
Project South
Provincial Council Clerics of St. Viator
Resist US-Led War Seattle
Resistencia Comunitaria
Retired Workers Club
Robert F Kennedy Human Rights
Romero Interfaith Center
Sac State Center on Race, Immigration and Social Justice
Sacramento State's Center on Race Immigration and Social Justice
Salvadoreños Unidos por la Democracia
SHARE Foundation
Sister Cities US El Salvador
Sister Cities, New Jersey Chapter
Sister Parish of Decorah, Iowa
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team
Sisters of Saint Joseph of Chestnut Hill Philadelphia PA
Sisters of St. Francis (Oldenburg)
Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia
SOA Watch
St. Louis Green party
Sunlight Media Collective
The Mauricio Aquino Foundation Corporation
The Social Forum
The Uplands Center
U.S. Federation of the Sisters of St. Joseph
Unite North Metro Denver
Universal African Peoples Organization
University of Colorado-Boulder
US-El Salvador Sister Cities
War Resisters League
Washington Ethical Society
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
WERU-Radio Sumpul  US-El Salvador Sister City Committee
Wisconsin Resources Protection Council
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, U.S.


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