A 15 años de la presentación del Informe de la CEH: Un mensaje de solidaridad

Dia de VictimasA 15 años de la presentación del informe y de que se constituyera ese día como el Día Nacional de la Dignidad de las Víctimas, enviamos un mensaje de solidaridad y de respeto hacia todas las víctimas y sobrevivientes del conflicto. Así también, un reconocimiento a las organizaciones e instituciones que les han acompañado y que de una u otra manera han contribuido en los procesos de búsqueda de la verdad, memoria histórica, justicia y reparación digna.

El 25 de febrero de 1999, la Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH) presentó su informe, “Guatemala Memoria del Silencio,” en la ciudad de Guatemala. Asistieron el entonces presidente Álvaro Arzú, el alto mando del ejército, la URNG y una presencia masiva de la sociedad civil.

En 12 tomos, la CEH recopiló los resultados de la investigación realizada sobre los saldos de horror sufridos por la población durante los 36 años del conflicto armado interno. De los datos registrados, fue posible estimar el impacto de la violencia: 200 mil personas muertas, la desaparición de 45 mil y el desplazamiento de un millón de habitantes. El informe registró que las víctimas eran el 83% de origen maya y que al menos el 93% de las atrocidades cometidas durante ese periodo, fueron responsabilidad de las fuerzas armadas del Estado y grupos paramilitares afines.

Así también, que “una de cada cuatro víctimas directas de las violaciones de los derechos humanos y hechos de violencia fueron mujeres. Murieron, fueron desaparecidas, torturadas y violadas sexualmente, a veces por sus ideales y su participación política y social; otras fueron víctimas de masacres y otras acciones indiscriminadas”.

“La CEH concluye que fenómenos coincidentes con la injusticia estructural, el cierre de los espacios políticos, el racismo, la profundización de una institucionalidad excluyente y antidemocrática, así como la renuencia a impulsar reformas sustantivas que pudieran haber reducido los conflictos estructurales, constituyen los factores que determinaron en un sentido profundo el origen y ulterior estallido del conflicto armado.”

El informe de la CEH no solo fue una mirada hacia un pasado oscuro, es también una advertencia para los gobiernos posteriores. Quien ignora su pasado está condenado a repetirlo, señalaba el filósofo Jorge Santayana.

Por lo tanto, hemos observado con mucha preocupación la falta de voluntad política por resolver las raíces del conflicto en el país y el cierre de espacios creados para contribuir a la reconciliación nacional. Hemos visto también que las prácticas de represión del pasado siguen siendo utilizadas, incluyendo amenazas e intimidación. La persecución política y legal sigue en contra de mujeres y hombres líderes de comunidades que levantan su voz por la defensa de sus derechos. El sistema de justicia ha tenido avances importantes, sin embargo, en muchos casos aun responde a intereses de sectores de poder político y económico; las instituciones públicas continúan siendo débiles con altos niveles de corrupción y la militarización de la seguridad pública sigue obstruyendo reformas democráticas y transparentes.

Los retos siguen para las instituciones del estado, hoy hacemos un llamado para que el gobierno retome su compromiso de principios democráticos, fortalezca los mecanismos de justicia transicional y demuestre la voluntad política para buscar una resolución justa y pacífica a los conflictos.

Por las 200 mil víctimas del conflicto armado en Guatemala, por los 45 mil desaparecidos, por las comunidades desplazadas, por las arrasadas y por todas y todos los familiares que continúan firmes en su búsqueda por la verdad y la justicia, expresamos hoy nuestro más sentido compromiso de seguir estando con ustedes!

Organizations Protest Constitutional Court Decision to Remove Attorney General Paz y Paz

Protesters gather in support of Claudia Paz y Paz

Protest outside of the Guatemalan Congress in Support of Paz y Paz

Yesterday, hundreds of representatives from civil society, human rights organizations, campesino and indigenous movements, pro-justice groups, and others gathered in front of the Guatemalan Congress to protest a recent Constitutional Court (CC) decision to limit the term of Guatemala’s respected Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz.

The decision, made on February 6, 2014, called for Paz y Paz to step down in May 2014 — seven months before her four-year term was scheduled to end. The ruling was based on an argument that the Attorney General’s term technically began in May 2010, when the official she replaced was appointed, instead of December 2010, when she first took office.

Paz y Paz appealed the ruling, which was dismissed by the CC last week. This week, Congress formed a commission to begin the search for a replacement.

Protesters gathered to demand that Congress “not comply with the illegal resolution of the Constitutional Court.” They further stated that the decision constitutes the crime of malfeasance, typified in the Penal Code:

“Article 462. Malfeasance. The judge, knowingly dictating resolutions contrary to the law or based on false facts, will be sentenced to prison for two to six years.”

Protest in support of Paz y Paz

Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala Recognizes Defenders

On December 11, the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala presented its annual award, the Orden Juan José Gerardi, to three community activists: anti-mining activist Yolanda Oquelí; the indigenous mayor of Nebaj, Ana Laynez Herrera; and Rodolfo Cardenal Quezada Toruño (posthumously).

odhag-award

The award is given out each year as part of a commemoration of Human Rights Day. It honors Juan José Gerardi, a Guatemalan Roman Catholic Bishop and human rights defender, and since 2004, has recognized individuals or organizations who have made significant contributions to Guatemalan society through work in human rights, historic memory, or justice.

Yolanda Oquelí Veliz

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Yolanda speaking at the award ceremony

Yolanda Oquelí Veliz is from the community of San Pedro Ayampuc and is the leader of the Frente Norte del Área Metropolitana (FRENAM), a peaceful movement to defend indigenous land from the expansion of mining activity. As a result of her leadership, Yolanda was a victim of an assassination attempt on June 13, 2012; the gunman was never arrested. After recovering, Yolanda expressed that she is more committed than ever to the movement.

Since March of 2012, the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc  have maintained a blockade at the entrance to the El Tambor gold mine (commonly referred to as “La Puya”).

“It has been 21 months of resistance,” said Yolanda, “And it is not easy dealing with the repression of the mining companies. But it hurts more when we are repressed by our own government, which responds with illegal evictions and armed forces.”

Yolanda expressed gratitude for the acknowledgement on behalf of all of the women in La Puya, and all those involved in the resistance effort. “We are not against development or progress,” she clarified, “provided it is on equal terms.”

GHRC has worked to support the peaceful resistance at La Puya, and honored the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc as recipients of the first Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award in September of 2012.

Ana Laynez Herrera

Since 2008, Ana  Laynez Herrera has been part of the indigenous mayor’s office, made up of 17 men and 3 women, as well as the municipality’s city council. Ana was forced to flee her home in Vitzal, Nebaj in 1980 due to the internal armed conflict, and was not able to return to Nebaj until 1999.

During recent years, Ana has had an important voice in the search for justice for past crimes, especially regarding efforts to enforce the sentence handed down on May 10, 2013 in the case of the Ixil genocide.

“I’m receiving this award on behalf of all of the Ixil women, for all of those who presented their testimonies in court,” Ana said.

Rodolfo Quezada Toruño

Rodolfo Cardenal Quezada Toruño was the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Guatemala; in 2003, he was named Cardinal by Pope Juan Pablo II, making him the second Cardinal of the Catholic Church in Guatemalan history.

Rodolfo played a large role in Guatemala’s peace negotiations, serving as President of the National Commission of reconciliation (1987-1993) and Chairman of the Assembly of the Civil society in 1994. In 1990, he was appointed as the official conciliator between the government and the guerrillas of the National Revolutionary Unit.

As Archbishop, Rodolfo also assumed a leadership role in the rejection of open-pit mining in the country, and showed strong support for the investigation of the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi.

GHRC Participates in Congressional Briefing on Drug War Policy

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Congressman O’Rourke comments on drug war policy at the briefing

This month, GHRC, as a part of the Mesoamerican Working Group (MAWG), helped organize a briefing titled: “Rethinking the Drug War in Central America and Mexico.”

The hearing was hosted by Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham (D-NM) and attended by Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who called for an end to the current drug war model as well as fact-based evaluations to inform policy changes.

Representatives at the hearing focused on three Central American countries – Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras – experiencing similar and dramatic effects of increased militarization as a result of the ongoing war on drugs.

Javier Sicilia, a well-known Mexican writer, founded the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity after his own son became a victim of the drug war when he was brutally murdered. He spoke out about the killings, disappearances and displacements taking place in his country, stating, “In Mexico, we have 400,000 deaths annually. Of those, 400 are deaths from drugs but 18,000 are deaths due to the war on drugs.”

Alex Main of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) transmitted concerns over US funding of security forces in Honduras, the safety of the country’s human rights defenders, and a homicide rate that has risen rapidly in recent years.

GHRC partner Claudia Samayoa spoke as a representative for communities in Guatemala, stating that the US push for a military response, instead of one for police or judiciary reform, is not enough to change the situation in her country:

“The army has not modernized, and it is extremely corrupt. By strengthening the military, you will in turn strengthen organized crime. You will also fund an army which commits abuses in our communities, including illegal detentions, several ‘states of siege,’ and attacks on women. What we really need is to continue to strengthen our court system.”

Panelists presented several concrete recommendations for Congress, including:

  • Demilitarizing our approach to regional security
  • Holding oversight hearings on the Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Stemming the rise in violence against women, and highlight the role of women in community-building activities
  • Prioritizing support for justice-sector strengthening
  • Effective implementation of the Leahy law
  • Maintaining current restrictions on military funding in Guatemala

The MAWG report presented at the hearing can be read in full here.

Support GHRC on Dec. 3rd for #GivingTuesday!

GivingTuesdaylogo#GivingTuesday™ is a campaign to create a national day of giving at the start of the annual holiday season. Following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, it celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support nonprofit organizations.

You can support GHRC this year by taking one of the following actions:

Share our Giving Library video on Facebook or Twitter

Each time you share our video on Facebook or Twitter, Giving Library — a new online video archive that connects donors with nonprofits – will donate $5.00 to GHRC through its “Share to Give” campaign!

How to Share:

1. Go to GHRC’s Giving Library page
2. Click the “Share Now” button.
3. Create an account if you don’t already have one.
4. Click “Share on Facebook” or “Share on Twitter.”
5. Share either the default message or a message of your choice.
6. The organization will receive $5 per share.
7. Individuals may share up to five organizations per month.

Volunteer at GHRC’s DC office on Tuesday evening

It’s time once again to send out our appeal, and GHRC needs assistance with stuffing envelopes and preparing our mailing this Tuesday, December 3rd, from 5-9pm. Whether for thirty minutes or three hours, please consider donating some of your time. Drinks (including wine) and snacks will be provided!

Please let us know if you can make it — RSVP to our Facebook event!

Our office is located at 3321 12th St., NE, Washington, DC. We are only a few blocks from the Brookland/CUA metro station on the Red line. You can find directions here.

Make a contribution to GHRC

When you make a donation this holiday season, it will be matched in full by a generous donor!

Plaintiffs in the Ríos Montt case discuss the fight against impunity in Guatemala

Photo credit: flickr user Surizar

Last week, plaintiffs in the case against Ríos Montt filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, DC against the Guatemalan government for failing to provide victims in the genocide case adequate access to justice, in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights.

At a separate event to discuss perspectives on the ongoing trial, Edgar Pérez – one of the lead Guatemalan prosecutors representing victims – sought to clarify why the case was annulled just 10 days after the guilty verdict was delivered. In his opinion, the defense’s legal strategy was to create technical glitches (such as changing lawyers at the last minute) which would disrupt and delay the trial. Simultaneously, supporters of Ríos Montt worked to shape public opinion of the case, both by disseminating the claim there was “no genocide in Guatemala” – an idea propagated by the country’s powerful business association and high level government officials – as well as through campaigns to criminalize those speaking out about historic memory.

The annulment sent the trial back to a midway point, a confusing and legally questionable scenario in which the same panel of judges cannot hear the same case, yet new judges cannot step in because they haven’t been party to the evidence already presented. The trial, therefore, would have to start again from the very beginning. “Because of one person, all of the advances we were making in the justice system in Guatemala were halted,” said Pérez. Continue reading

GHRC Partners Testify at Inter-American Commission Hearings

Last week, GHRC supported organizations participating in two Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearings.

Commission members take notes as petitioners present case on human rights in Guatemala

Commission members take notes as petitioners present their case on human rights and social protest in Guatemala

The first case presented to the IACHR focused on the criminalization of social protest in Guatemala.* A panel that included community leaders from the country’s indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) movements, as well as legal experts, detailed a slew of human rights violations that have occurred against protesters attempting to peacefully defend their territories against destructive mining and natural resource extraction projects.

Marlen Car, representing 12 indigenous communities from San Juan Sacatepéquez, denounced harassment of women and the illegal imprisonment of fellow community members who opposed a cement factory in the region. “The message to the business community is that these are our lands,” she stated. “No one is going to take them away because our ancestors left them to us.”

Top: Panel of petitioners; Bottom left: Marlen Car; Bottom right: State representatives

Top: Panel of petitioners; Bottom left: Marlen Car; Bottom right: State representatives

Continue reading

Press Release: Guatemalan Constitutional Court Ruling Could Impede Justice

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 25, 2013 – In a move that could profoundly affect justice in Guatemala, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling on October 22 asking lower courts to reconsider Rios Montt’s right to protection under a defunct 1986 amnesty law.

“Survivors in the Ixil have been seeking justice for over a decade. This ruling opens the door to a possible amnesty and represents yet another attempt to ensure impunity for high-level military officials who committed egregious violations during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict,” said GHRC Director Kelsey Alford-Jones. “The Court’s decision could represent a huge set-back to other emblematic human rights convictions.”

In her dissenting opinions, Justice Gloria Porras called the ruling: “incorrect,” “ambiguous,” and evidence of an “incomplete analysis” of past decisions, leading to an “unnecessary delay in prosecution of crimes against humanity.”

The 1986 amnesty law was passed just days before the military dictatorship handed power over to a democratic government. Seeking to protect military leaders from any prosecution, the law granted amnesty for “political and related crimes.” It was replaced by the 1996 National Reconciliation Law, which expressly denied amnesty for genocide, forced disappearance, and other crimes against humanity. One year later the Guatemalan Congress repealed all amnesty laws passed prior to 1996 with the stated goal of eliminating “impunity and social polarization.”

The Inter-American Commission and Court on Human Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee, and many other legal analysts have repeatedly declared that amnesty cannot be granted in cases of genocide and other crimes against humanity. Guatemalan judges upheld these standards in previous rulings, most recently in August of 2013 when the Constitutional Court denied Ríos Montt’s first appeal for amnesty.

On May 10, 2013 Ríos Montt was found guilty of overseeing acts of genocide and war crimes against Guatemala’s Ixil Mayan population in 1982 and 1983. The landmark trial marked the first time a former head of state had been tried for genocide by his country’s own judicial system, and was considered a key step in addressing impunity for crimes of the past. The guilty verdict was annulled 10 days later by the Constitutional Court on questionable legal grounds.

“The Guatemala Human Rights Commission reiterates its solidarity with the genocide survivors from the Ixil region,” said Alford-Jones. “We call on the Guatemalan Human Right Ombudsman and the international community to closely monitor the process and take all possible steps to end impunity in Guatemala. We also call on the Guatemalan Government to uphold national and international laws, and guarantee access to justice for all Guatemalan citizens.”

Contact:
Kathryn Johnson, Assistant Director
kjohnson@ghrc-usa.org
(202) 529-6599

###

News Update: September 21-27

Ex-police chief sentenced to 40 years

Hector Bol de la Cruz, chief of police from 1983-85, was convicted in the 1984 kidnapping and disappearance of student union leader Fernando Garcia. The court also sentenced former senior police officer Jorge Gomez to 40 years for his role in the kidnapping.

Former Kabil Standing Trial in U.S. for Lying on Citizenship Application

Federal prosecutors are accusing Jorge Sosa, a former Kabile, of lying on his citizenship application by concealing his involvement in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre that left over 200 people dead. Sosa, who is married to an American, was originally denied asylum in 1985. If convicted, Sosa could be stripped of his United States citizenship and face 15 years in prison. Guatemalan authorities will seek his extradition to charge him with crimes against humanity as well.

Guatemala to Rent Drones for Video Surveillance

The Interior Ministry announced that in 2014 it will rent a fleet of drones, for video surveillance. The Ministry stated that the drones would be used in military and security capacities. They will permit the government to, among other things, monitor drug trafficking along the country’s borders, criminals and criminal activities, and protests.

Continue reading

Communities in Peaceful Resistance of “La Puya” meet with the President of the Republic

Jun 12, 2013
ImageToday, representatives of the communities of San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc participated in a reunion called by the President of the Republic, Otto Pérez Molina. The meeting was scheduled for 10:30 in the Presidential House. The Minister of Energy and Mines, Erick Archila, the Interior Minister, Mauricio López Bonilla and representatives of the American company, Kappes, Cassiday and Associates also participated. Community members asked that the mining representatives leave, as the conversation was with the government, not the company.
The meeting with successful in the sense that the communities were able to share with the President their reasons for firmly maintaining their resistance to the mine.
 
Some of the communities’ concerns include:
  1. In their municipalities, the presence of naturally occurring arsenic is eight times higher than international standards, and any mining will raise those levels further still.
  2. The Environmental Impact Study presented by the mine had many problems. It even mentioned the possible displacement of communities, which is unacceptable. In addition, it doesn’t cover all of the risks that the mining activity could present to the health of the communities.
  3. Currently, the municipalities are facing water shortages. They are on the edge of the dry corridor, and as an agricultural region, they depend on this resource.
  4. There was no prior information or consultation with the communities, even though Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization requires the consultation of indigenous peoples about projects which will affect them.
  5. The actions of the company toward the population have been disrespectful and illegal: verbal and written threats, flyers with slanderous messages, provocations, and aggression, etc. The subsidiary, Servicios Mineros de Centroamérica is facing judicial processes for threats made against journalists.
For his part, the President took into consideration the concerns put forth by the communities and proposed that a new environmental impact study be carried out. The topic has not been exhausted, and  meetings between the government and the communities will continue.

Even though this is a positive step, the communities are clear that they still say NO to the mine. As one leader, Yolanda Oquelí said “You don’t negotiate with life, you defend it.” The resistance in La Puya continues.