March 2014 Inter-American Commission Hearings on Human Rights in Guatemala

By Lindsay Pollack

Lindsay Pollack is a master’s candidate in the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, and is a GHRC Spring 2014 Intern.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held its 150th session of hearings in March. The hearings on Guatemala took place on March 25, 2014, and dealt with transparency and honesty in the justice system and providing reparations for victims of the country’s internal conflict.

About the Commission

At 55 years old, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is the oldest human rights body in the Americas. The themes of human rights issues have expanded greatly in the last 55 years and in response, the agenda of the Commission has changed rapidly to include topics such as gender-based violence and LGBTQ issues. The Commission’s staff is comprised of 65 people, 32 of whom are lawyers. The Commission itself is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence. According to an IACHR official, human rights issues have gained more attention in recent years, but the Commission’s funding has not increased in response, leaving the Commission with a shortage of funding. According to its website, the Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. [1]

Photo courtesy of Daniel Cima of the IACHR

The panel of petitioners at the first hearing on appointing justice operators in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Daniel Cima, IACHR

The First Hearing: The Process of Appointing Justice Operators in Guatemala

Currently, the Guatemalan judicial system is undergoing significant changes. With the announcement that Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz, the country’s attorney general, will end her term in May instead of December of this year, there is widespread concern about the process of choosing a replacement. After much deliberation, Paz y Paz did decide to run for a second term, but there is no guarantee that she will be selected.

There were various complaints about the process thus far. For example, without advance notice, the nominating committee shortened the period of public comment on candidates for the attorney general position to only five days. This made it difficult for organizations to prepare their comments in time. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: April 14-18

La Puya protesters continue fighting, despite police intimidation


Community members at La Puya

Last week, members of the army and the police (PNC) visited San Jose de Golfo to try to break the La Puya resistance movement so that the mining company, KCA, could continue construction of the El Tambor mine that would severely contaminate the community’s water supply. The protesters believe President Otto Perez Molina is directly involved in the deployment of troops and police. A KCA spokesman denied contacting the PNC, but confirmed that he had been in communication with the Pérez Molina administration.

Support La Puya by asking KCA CEO Dan Kappes and the Ministry of the Interior in Guatemala to respect the rights of community members.

Students march against corruption and insecurity

Hundreds of San Carlos University (Usac) students gathered to march in protest of the rampant corruption and insecurity that plagues Guatemala on Friday. Various departments of the university participated, the majority centering their attention on the index of violence in the country, which stands at 16 homicides per day. In addition, in anticipation of Semana Santa, which in 2013 included 96 murders, the PNC is stepping up its forces again.

UN expresses concern for Judge Barrios suspension

The UN responded to the one-year suspension of Judge Barrios, voicing concern about Guatemala’s justice system. The International Commission of Jurists (CIJ) also spoke out against the “pact of impunity” in Guatemala that stands as an obstacle to judging gross human rights violations committed during the 30-year civil war.

GHRC and other international organizations also released a statement criticizing the suspension of Judge Barrios.

New president named to Constitutional Court

Judge Roberto Molina Barreto took on the role of president of the CC yesterday for the 2014-2015 period. Among his upcoming responsibilities will be choosing the next attorney general and the judges for the Supreme Court. Molina Barreto commented that there has been no interference in recent decisions such as the Rios Montt genocide case or the term of Claudia Paz y Paz. He also noted the necessity of reform in the judicial sector.

 Guatemalan President pleads for reelection

President Otto Pérez Molina expressed support for the possibility of reelection in Guatemala. He claimed that Guatemala has “the worst system,” and that four years are too few to effectively govern. Aristides Crespo, the head of congress, voiced his support for reelection as well, at least for the incumbents. However, there are no current plans to change the constitution in regard to the elections.

Task Force to combat crime announced 

The Guatemalan government announced its plan to “prevent, combat, dismantle and eradicate criminal actions,” specifically in areas near the Honduran border. Modeled after a similar task force in San Marcos along the Mexican border, the plan, called Fuerza de Tarea Interinstitucional Chortí (Chortí Interagency Task Force), will aim to strengthen security along the border. The “Northern Triangle” of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, according to a recent UNODC report, has the highest murder rate in the world.

Guatemala News Update: April 7-11


Children from La Puya play at the movement's two-year anniversary

Children from La Puya play at the movement’s two-year anniversary

New tension in La Puya

Members of the peaceful resistance at La Puya are facing threats and intimidation once more from mining company Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (KCA). Yesterday, a new KCA subcontractor, Transmac, attempted to bring heavy machinery into the mining site. Due to community pressure, Transmac eventually removed the mining equipment, but a strong police presence has grown and remains around San Jose del Golfo. For updates, check our blog and Facebook page.

Nomination Committee to review objections against attorney general candidates

The 26 candidates that the Nomination Committee is considering for the next attorney general position underwent psychiatric evaluations. The results of the evaluations, however, will be kept confidential. Human rights advocates expressed their concern for the lack of transparency that surrounds the selection process of the Nomination Committee. The Committee will also review objections presented against 15 of the 26 candidates, among them current Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz. Those who have received objections must submit evidence regarding the accusations in order to continue in the race for the attorney general position.

Central American Regional Security Conference focuses on Operation Martillo 

At the Central American Regional Security Conference last week, leaders from Latin American nations, the UK, and the US met to discuss Operation Martillo, the illicit trafficking mission in Central America and the Caribbean. Beginning in January of 2012, the mission has aimed to dismantle criminal organizations and confiscate drugs being trafficked through the region. U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, called the mission a success, and he and Guatemalan Chief of National Defense Major General Rudy Ortiz met with human rights group Grupo Apoyo Mutual to involve civil society in the operation.

Femicide gets spotlight in court

Guatemala is ranked as having the highest number of femicides in the region, though it is making progress through femicide courts created in 2010. This article outlines the death of 18-year-old Estéfani Julissa Estrada Neill at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, who was given a 50-year prison sentence. Hilda Morales Trujillo, director of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Victim Services, drew attention to the fact that femicide is not just the female counterpart to homicide, but it is a “result of unequal power relations.” Although progress is being made, challenges facing the courts include shortcomings in the use of forensic evidence, excessive reliance on testimonial evidence, and the fact that the courts are not operating all over the country.

Justice for victims of El Aguacate Massacre

At the hearing of Felipe Solano Barillas, alias “Lieutenant David,” families of the 22 people killed in the El Aguacate Massacre in 1988 testified and were horrified to finally learn the details of their relatives’ murders. The El Aguacate Massacre is one of the few massacres that took place during the civil war at the hands of guerrilla fighters. Solano Barillas is the only ex-guerrilla being tried.

UN High Commissioner on Human Rights denounces suspension of Judge Barrios

The Guatemalan Bar Association (CANG) issued a one-year suspension against Judge Yassmín Barrios, who issued the initial ruling against former military leader Efraín Rios Montt, which was later overturned. The suspension derived from an accusation from José Mauricio Rodríguez’s legal team regarding Judge Barrios’ supposed abuse of power. Judge Barrios fought back against the suspension, noting that it signifies “that the door to impunity and corruption is being opened.” GHRC stands with other human rights organizations in support of Judge Barrios.

Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples receives critiques

The Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples, headed by President Pérez Molina, was created to comply with the state’s promise to contribute to the construction of equality and unity among various ethnic groups in the country. According to indigenous rights advocates, however, the installation of the Cabinet is simply a political tool for Pérez Molina to use as positive publicity in the 2015 election and stands no chance of getting any real work done in 2014.

New case puts Guatemalan press freedom in spotlight again

In addition to the case brought against El Periodico editor Jose Rubén Zamora earlier this year by Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Juan Luis Font — editor of the magazine Contrapoder – will be tried for criminal libel. Reporters Without Borders has condemned the charges and is urging authorities to “recognize this judicial aberration.” Guatemala is ranked 125th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Guatemala ranked fifth in countries with the most homicides

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Guatemala is ranked as having the fifth highest homicide rate in the Americas, behind Honduras, Venezuela, Belize and El Salvador, respectively.


Members of ‘La Puya’ Face Intimidation, New Threats of Eviction

*From Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA):

Throughout the day yesterday, intimidation and threats of eviction by the National Police — at the service of US mining company Kappes, Cassiday and Associates (KCA) — continued against communities in resistance at ‘La Puya.’ Transmac, a local company contracted by KCA, arrived at the mine site with heavy machinery. The private company was escorted by the National Civil Police (PNC) as ordered by the Ministry of the Interior. By mid-day, community pressure forced Transmac to remove the machinery from the area, although two representatives of KCA’s local subsidiary, EXMINGUA, remained throughout the day. The police presence also remained and continued to grow. By 4 pm, there were roughly 300 agents, many of whom were women dressed in full riot gear, lined up outside the entrance to the peaceful encampment. No eviction order had been issued, but the intent was clear: to intimidate and provoke those in resistance.

*From Comunitaria Press:

Nuevamente la resistencia pacífica de La Puya esta siendo amenazada por la presencia de personeros y trabajadores de la empresa minera EXMINGUA – Kappes Cassiday & Associates KCA. Además hay presencia policíaca y del ejército en las cercanías de “La Puya“.

En horas de la mañana de este miércoles 9 de abril 2014, un nuevo contingente de trabajadores mineros pretende ingresar maquinaria y camiones al interior de la finca en donde se encuentra el proyecto minero “El Tambor” Progreso VII Derivada.

A las nueve de la mañana se hicieron presentes un convoy de maquinaria contratada por la por la empresa minera EXMINGUA , esta maquinaria grande y pesada entre ellas una retroexcavadora y camiones de volteo. Continue reading

Organizaciones Internacionales Condenan Suspensión de la Jueza Yassmín Barrios en Guatemala

(In English below)

7 de abril de 2014 — El pasado viernes, el Tribunal de Honor del Colegio de Abogados y Notarios de Guatemala (CANG) notificó la resolución de fecha 9 de enero de 2014 en la cual se acuerda la suspensión temporal como abogada de la jueza Yassmín Barrios por el plazo de un año. La jueza Barrios preside el Tribunal A de Mayor Riesgo y en tal condición conoció del proceso en contra de los generales en retiro José Mauricio Rodríguez y Efraín Ríos Montt por el delito de genocidio y delitos contra la humanidad en perjuicio del pueblo Ixil.

La decisión del Tribunal de Honor se origina en una denuncia que presentó el abogado Moisés Galindo, defensor del imputado José Mauricio Rodríguez, debido a que el 19 de marzo del año 2013, el Tribunal A de Mayor Riesgo le ordenó asumir la defensa técnica de Ríos Montt ante diversas prácticas dilatorias provocadas por los abogados de este último. El abogado Galindo no estuvo de acuerdo con la decisión del Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo y por lo tanto acusó a la jueza Barrios ante el CANG de haberlo irrespetado y humillado públicamente.

El Tribunal de Honor del CANG acogió los argumentos del abogado Galindo y concluyó que la la jueza Barrios incurrió en una falta grave que atenta contra las normas de la ética profesional.

Para las organizaciones firmantes, la decisión del Tribunal de Honor es contraria a los estándares internacionales relacionados con las garantías para la independencia judicial. En primer lugar, dicho ente no tiene competencia para juzgar las actuaciones de los operadores de justicia. Así, de acuerdo con la legislación guatemalteca, el único órgano competente para conocer sobre las actuaciones de los jueces es la Junta Disciplinaria del Organismo Judicial, ente que conoció la misma denuncia presentada por el abogado Galindo y resolvió desestimarla.

Asimismo, dada la naturaleza gremial del Tribunal tampoco se reúnen las condiciones de independencia e imparcialidad, las cuales son indispensables en todo órgano de naturaleza disciplinaria.

Considerando lo anterior, resulta preocupante que el Tribunal de Honor sancione a la jueza Barrios sin ostentar las facultades para ello. De ejecutarse esta decisión, se estaría violentando la independencia judicial y el Estado de Guatemala podría incurrir en responsabilidad internacional.

Las organizaciones consideramos que la decisión del Tribunal de Honor forma parte del contexto de hostigamiento y persecusión que ha sufrido la jueza Barrios por su rol en el proceso sobre genocidio. En tal sentido, exhortamos a las autoridades guatemaltecas competentes a revertir la decisión de suspensión, en particular a la Corte Suprema de Justicia para que se abstenga de considerar la citada decisión y en su luguar se envíe un mensaje claro de apoyo a la labor de la jueza así como de respaldo y defensa irrestricta a la independencia de la judicatura en este país.

Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL)
Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Washington (GHRC)
Fundación para el Debido Proceso (DPLF)
Iniciativa de Justicia de Open Society (OSJI)
Oficina en Washington para Asuntos Latinoamericanos (WOLA)
Plataforma Internacional contra la impunidad en Guatemala

April 8, 2014 – Last Friday, the Honor Tribunal of the Association of Lawyers and Notaries of Guatemala (Tribunal de Honor del Colegio de Abogados y Notarios de Guatemala, CANG) issued a resolution dated January 9, 2014, in which they ruled to temporarily suspend Judge Yassmín Barrios from practicing law for one year.  Judge Barrios presides over the High Risk Tribunal A, where she oversaw the trials against retired generals José Mauricio Rodríguez and José Efraín Ríos Montt. They faced charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Ixil community.

The decision of the Honor Tribunal stems from a complaint filed by the attorney Moisés Galindo, defense counsel for José Mauricio Rodríguez. On March 19, 2013, the High Risk Tribunal A ordered Galindo to assume the technical defense of Rios Montt due to a variety of delaying tactics caused by Ríos Montt´s lawyers. Galindo disagreed with the decision of the Tribunal, and accused Judge Barrios before the CANG of disrespecting and publicly humiliating him.

The CANG Honor Tribunal heard Galindo’s arguments and concluded that Judge Barrios had gravely violated the rules of professional ethics.

To the undersigned organizations, the decision of the Honor Tribunal runs contrary to international standards which guarantee judicial independence. In the first place, the stated entity does not have the power to judge the actions of judicial personnel. In accordance with Guatemalan law, the only body which has jurisdiction over the actions of judges is the Judicial Disciplinary Board, which had already heard the complaint filed by Galindo and resolved to dismiss it.

Furthermore, the professional nature of the Tribunal, which is a collective of lawyers, does not allow for independence or impartiality; these two characteristics are essential for all disciplinary bodies.

Considering the above, it is concerning that the Honor Tribunal has punished Judge Barrios without having the authority to do so. To execute this decision would violate judicial independence and the State of Guatemala could be subject to international liability.

The undersigned organizations believe that the Honor Tribunal´s decision is part of a greater context of harassment and persecution that Judge Barrios has suffered for her role in the genocide proceedings. In this regard, we urge the competent Guatemalan authorities to reverse the decision to suspend Judge Barrios, and the Supreme Court to refrain from considering such a decision and instead send a clear message of support for the judge´s work as a sign of unconditional defense of judicial independence in this country.

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (GHRC)
Due Process and Law Foundation (DPLF)
Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI)
Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)
Platform against Impunity

Guatemala News Update: March 31 – April 4

Say “No!” to U.S. funds for the Guatemalan Army

Upside Down World publicized the call from us at GHRC and our partners at NISGUA for the US government to maintain restrictions on funding to the Guatemalan Army, as Guatemala has not complied with conditions laid out in the 2014 US Appropriations Law.

Click here to sign our petition!

Activist Makrina Gudiel calls on students for solidarity during GHRC Speaker’s Tour 

During the GHRC Spring 2014 Speaker’s Tour, Guatemalan Activist Makrina Gudiel and GHRC Assistant Director Kathryn Johnson are speaking to students and community members at various locations along the East Coast. This article details Makrina’s presentations in Dartmouth and New Bedford, MA, where she outlined her struggle during the armed conflict in Guatemala and her fight to bring her brother’s and father’s deaths to justice. For the full Speaker’s Tour schedule, click here.

CICIG to investigate corruption in the judicial system

CICIG Spokesman Diego Alvarez confirmed that an investigation into the existence of links between criminal organizations and the judicial system is key. He noted that the investigation may be difficult, since certain individuals favor impunity.

Motives of suicide of Judge Barrientos questioned

Guatemalan Supreme Court Justice and human rights defender César Ricardo Crisóstomo Barrientos Pellecer committed suicide one month ago. An investigation suggest that the details surrounding his death relate to the pressure he was facing regarding his work in the judicial system. CICIG chief Iván Velásquez, who worked closely with Barrientos not long before his death, noted that Barrientos was primarily  concerned with judicial corruption and the need for action with respect to those facing a high risk of danger. Barrientos reported several incidents — including threatening phone calls, petitions to have him resign, damages to his mother’s grave and bullet holes in his car — that went unanswered.

New case regarding violence against women brought to Inter-American Court

Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz disappeared and was murdered in 2005. Ten years later, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hear the case regarding the Guatemalan government’s failure to investigate the crime. This hearing will question Guatemala’s policies of discrimination and violence against women.

Guatemalan government creates Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Diversity

In response to claims that Guatemala has failed to comply with the Agreement on Indigenous Rights, Guatemala has created the Cabinet of Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Diversity, which will last for a period of 10 years. President Pérez Molina will preside over the cabinet, which was created to comply with the state’s promise to contribute to the construction of equality and unity among various ethnic groups in the country, which make up 42 percent of the population.

Guatemala News Update: March 17-21

Human Rights Ombudsman to reprimand institutions for noncompliance with Access to Information Law

The Human Rights Ombudsman, Jorge de León, announced that his office will present a report to the Public Ministry that will list institutions which have failed to comply with the Access to Information Law. 

Format of elections for Supreme Electoral Court questioned

Last week, Guatemalan parliament chose five judges and five alternate judges to comprise the Supreme Electoral Court until 2020. The judges were chosen in private meetings and some are now questioning the secretive format of the elections, fearing that the chosen judges may have to return favors to the election committee. 

Mother of jailed military officer murdered

The mother of Juan Chiroy, a military officer awaiting trial for the murder of six indigenous people in Totonicapan, was found dead after being beaten and strangled in her home. The deaths for which Chiroy is accused took place in October 2012, when indigenous people were protesting a rise in electricity rates. 

Controversy continues over end of term for Claudia Paz y Paz

The Constitutional Court established that Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s term in office will end May 17, despite having made major strides for justice in Guatemala. Paz y On her chances of being chosen by the Nominating Committee as one of the six candidates for the next term, Paz y Paz said she hopes her application and others will be examined by merits.

Prisoners held without conviction 

This article, titled “Guatemala: without freedom and without hope” outlines the tragic stories of women who are imprisoned simply for being poor. The article states that a report last August noted that up to 55 percent of those imprisoned are being held without a firm conviction. 

Former Guatemalan president pleads guilty to money laundering

Guatemala’s former president Alfonso Portillo, who held office from 2000 to 2004, pleaded guilty to a money laundering conspiracy in a New York City Federal Court on Tuesday. He confirmed that he accepted $2.5 million in bribes to recognize Taiwan diplomatically. Portillo acknowledged his wrongdoing and entered into a deal with U.S. prosecutors, agreeing not to appeal any prison term between four and six years. Now, Guatemala is requesting a report from Taiwan about the bribery.

National Civil Police adds to its forces

The PNC added 1,613 police officers to its force on Tuesday, among them 463 women. The new officers will be sent to southern regions of the country to “combat violence” and attempt to decrease the homicide rate, which stood at 6,072 in 2013. 

Another article notes that almost two-thirds of Latin America’s security forces are concentrated in seven countries — one of which is Guatemala — according to the platform Map of Citizen Security, a project by Brazilian NGO Instituto Igarapé, InSight Crime and the Inter-American Development Bank. 

Study finds greater conflicts in municipalities with high concentration of mining licenses

A study by the Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies (Icefi) and the NGO Ibis found that 78 percent of municipalities with high concentrations of mining licenses have high levels of conflict. Despite these high rates of conflict, Guatemala became the first Central American country to receive certification from the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) this week.