International Organizations Reiterate Concerns About Reduction of Attorney General’s Term; Violations of the Rule of Law in Guatemala

On February 11, GHRC and other international organizations criticized the recent ruling that cut short the Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s term by seven months, and raised serious concerns about the state of rule of law in Guatemala. These concerns were reiterated today at a press conference in Guatemala City, and the organizations’ press release can be read (in Spanish) here.

The questionable ruling came from the Guatemalan Constitutional Court, Guatemala’s highest court, saying Paz y Paz should leave office in May instead of December 2014. The decision, which contradicts existing law, has been called a “coup d’etat” against one of Guatemala’s most important institutions.

Representatives from international organizations (including GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones, second from right) express concerns about the reduction of Attorney General Paz y Paz's term at a press conference in Guatemala City.

Representatives from international organizations (including GHRC Executive Director Kelsey Alford-Jones, second from right) express concerns about the reduction of Attorney General Paz y Paz’s term at a press conference in Guatemala City.

Many in Guatemalan civil society, along with international organizations, the US Embassy, and others, were quick to denounce the arbitrary ruling by the Court. Nevertheless, just a few days later, the Guatemalan Congress voted unanimously to implement the ruling and officially appoint the selection committee that will choose the next Attorney General. And while the entire process was wrought with irregularities, responding to political rather than legal considerations, there is now little recourse to challenge the ruling.

Claudia Paz y Paz was named Attorney General for a four year term in December 2010, and since taking office has achieved a series of impressive reforms within the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP), tackling corruption, organized crime, human rights violations from the past, femicide and human trafficking. In 2013, among other important cases, Paz y Paz oversaw the prosecution of General Rios Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez, charged with genocide and war crimes. It was the first time a former head of state was charged with genocide in domestic courts. Rios Montt was found guilty on both counts, but the verdict was overturned just 10 days later in another arbitrary decision by the same Constitutional Court.

Despite challenges at every turn, in just three years, the MP has been able to improve their investigative capacity, prosecute high level officials and notorious drug lords, and decrease overall levels impunity by almost 30 percent. While other institutions like the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) have contributed greatly to these reforms, much credit goes to Paz y Paz herself for heading up a Prosecutor’s Office that was open to collaboration, focused on getting results, and, above all, committed to upholding the rule of law. For her work, Claudia Paz y Paz has been recognized and lauded by foreign governments and universities, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This battle over the Public Prosecutor’s office is a reflection of a larger power struggle unfolding in Guatemala; it is a battle over control of the State. The oligarchy, the business sector and the military have formed a (perhaps tenuous) alliance in order to co-opt institutions, maintain impunity for crimes of the past, and ensure a carte blanche for controversial industries like mining.

The break-down of rule of law in the case of the Attorney General is a bad sign of things to come: this year all of Guatemala’s Supreme Court and Appellate court judges leave office, and a new set of judges will be selected through special postulation commissions. As GHRC and partners have criticized, these commissions are not sufficiently transparent, and there is concern that they will respond to special interests rather than criteria based each candidate’s merits.

Each of these processes — the selection of a new Attorney General and judges — will have tremendous implications for human rights activists and community leaders, who are already vulnerable to threats and attacks.

Press release: La Puya in Nevada

June 26, 2013

Virginia City, NV— This Thursday, groups from Nevada and Guatemala will come together to highlight the damage that mining threatens to cause in both places.

The Comstock Residents Association, in partnership with the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, Great Basin Resource Watch, and the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, will host Alvaro Sandoval Palencia, a representative from “La Puya” Guatemala. Together they will picket the annual shareholder’s meetings of Comstock Mining Incorporated (CMI) to highlight unethical mining practices carried out by CMI and related companies.

La Puya is a group of community activists from San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala, who have peacefully blocked the road which passes through their communities leading to the site of the proposed “El Tambor” mine. El Tambor is owned by a subsidiary of the Nevada based company, Kappes, Cassiday and Associates.

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Civil Society Organizations Call for New Security Model, Demilitarization, Human Rights

(Antigua, June 6) More than 160 civil society organizations representing hundreds of thousands of citizens in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the United States, sent an open letter to the OAS General Assembly today calling for alternatives to the war on drugs that guarantee respect for human rights.

Our organizations have documented an alarming increase in violence and human rights violations. While we recognize that transnational crime and drug-trafficking play a role in this violence, we call on our governments to acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region,” the letter states.

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Guatemala Scholars Network statement about genocide trial

The Guatemala Scholars Network at the XXXI International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association voted to express our solidarity and concern regarding the current judicial processes around Generals Efraín Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sánchez. Founded in 1983, the GSN is a network of over 400 people representing over 100 academic, faith-based, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

On May 10, 2013, the Guatemalan tribunals found General Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. We urge that this verdict be honored and upheld. Reopening the process will only re-victimize witnesses. We express our concern for the safety of the witnesses, lawyers, and judges. As people who have worked for many years in Guatemala, including researching the histories of racism and exploitation, we affirm that these are the causes of the violence—not the recovery of truth.

COMUNICADO DE PRENSA

31 mayo 2013

La Red de Investigadores y Estudioso/as de Guatemala (Guatemala Scholars Network) en el XXXI Congreso Internacional de la Asociación de Estudios Latinoamericanos votó para expresar su solidaridad y preocupación sobre los procesos judiciales contra los Generales Efraín Ríos Montt y Rodríguez Sánchez.  Fundada en 1983, la Red es una asociación con mas de 400 personas que representan mas de 100 organizaciones académicas, religiosas y no gubernamentales (ONGs).

En mayo 10, 2013, los tribunales de Guatemala declararon al General Ríos Montt culpable de genocidio y crímenes contra la humanidad.  Demandamos que este veredicto sea respetado y cumplido.  Reabrir el proceso solamente re victimizará a los testigos.  Expresamos nuestra preocupación por la seguridad de los testigos, abogados y jueces.  Por tratarse de personas que hemos trabajado investigaciones sobre Guatemala, incluyendo el racismo, la violencia, y la  explotación, entendemos que estas son las historias que han producido hechos deplorables, y no la recuperación de la verdad.

GHRC and NISGUA hand over 2800 signatures demanding the release of Rubén Herrera

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Since Friday, March 15, Rubén Herrera, member of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango for the Defense of Natural Resources has been imprisoned in Huehuetenango, Guatemalaemala. He is charged with crimes including kidnapping and terrorism allegedly committed in relation to resistance to the Cambalam hydroelectric dam, operated by Spanish owned Hidro Santa Cruz. Citing irregularities in his case, over 2800 people from 52 countries have signed a petition to Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and President Otto Pérez Molina calling for Herrera’s immediate release. On May 22, GHRC and NISGUA staff handed over the signatures to the Prosecutor’s Office.

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Organizations Call on US & Mesoamerican Presidents to Reevaluate Regional Security Policies

Press Release
April 30, 2013

Washington, DC – Over 150 international, regional and local organizations from 10 countries have come together to address presidents from the US and Mesoamerica on the eve of their summit.

Organizations have expressed concern about rising rates of violence and call on governments to “acknowledge that failed security policies that have militarized citizen security have only exacerbated the problem, and are directly contributing to increased human suffering in the region.” Examples from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and the United States demonstrate that militarization has weakened public institutions, led to thousands of civilian deaths, and has done nothing to decrease transnational organized crime or make citizens safer.

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In response to the new wave of attacks against human rights defenders/Frente a la nueva ola de ataques contra defensores

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While the world watches the historic case against the generals Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity, indigenous peoples and human rights defenders are suffering persecution very similar to that perpetrated in the 1980s.

During the internal armed conflict, Mayan peoples in Guatemala were persecuted, displaced and brutally massacred. At the same time, union leaders, students, catechists and peasants – those who spoke out to defend their rights – were disappeared and systematically assassinated by the state. This violence was carried out as part of a government strategy to maintain an economic system that benefited a small minority of elite families, leaving the indigenous majority marginalized and in conditions of poverty. The State tried to justify its tactics by labeling these citizens as “internal enemies” who threatened Guatemala’s stability.

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Organizaciones saludan avance en Caso Genocidio

En un pronunciamiento público del 16 de abril, decenas de organizaciones y juristas respaldaron el proceso judicial contra Ríos Montt y Rodríguez Sánchez.

La carta recuerda que “han transcurrido cuatro semanas desde que inició el histórico juicio en contra de los generales en retiro José Efraín Ríos Montt y José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez por su participación en la comisión de los delitos de genocidio y delitos contra los deberes de humanidad en perjuicio de la población maya ixil”.

Expresa que “los imputados Ríos Montt y Rodríguez Sánchez no se encuentran en ninguna situación de desigualdad jurídica que limite el ejercicio de sus derechos” y expresaron su preocupación por el uso abusivo de la figura del amparo.

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Organizations denounce approval of mining license in wake of violence / Organizaciones denuncian licencia minera

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
April 8, 2013

Mining License Approved in Wake of Violence, Investigation into Murder Pending

(Washington, D.C.) – After more than two years of delay, the Guatemalan Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM) announced on Wednesday, April 3, that it had approved the exploitation license for Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala. The announcement comes less than two weeks after four indigenous Xinca leaders were abducted while returning from a community referendum in El Volcancito, in which more than 99 percent of people voted against the Escobal project. One of those abducted was found dead the next day.

“That MEM issued the license while the investigation of our friend Exaltación Marcos Ucelo’s murder is still pending is not only an affront to Exaltación’s memory, but it is also a violation of our right to consent,” said Roberto González, President of the Xinca Parliament, who was one of the four abducted, only to be released hours later. “If there is impunity for outright murder, how can we expect the Guatemalan government to protect us from harmful contamination generated by mining operations?”

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GHRC Condemns Attack against Xinca Leaders in Santa Maria Xalapán

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The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) condemns the killing of Exaltación Marcos, who along with Roberto González, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López, was kidnapped yesterday evening, March 17, by a group of heavily armed men.

The four leaders were abducted while returning home from a good-faith consultation in the El Volcancito community, San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala.

Hours after the abduction, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López managed to escape and reach their community.  They had both been badly beaten. Today, Exaltación Marcos was found dead, with his body displaying signs of physical violence. The Santa María Xalapán community now fears for the life of Roberto González, President of the Xinca Parliament, who is still missing.

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