On Giving Tuesday, Help GHRC Work for Human Rights

GHRC is monitoring and reporting on conditions in Guatemala and Honduras and advocating for policies that protect the rights of the most vulnerable. Please help us support human rights.

In January, as Guatemala’s new president took office, GHRC successfully pressed for a Senate  letter to the Secretary of State Pompeo, urging Guatemala’s incoming president to respect human rights and the rule of law. An analysis of the incoming administration and the human rights concerns cabinet appointments raised helped members of Congress understand the situation on the ground and the stakes for the rule of law in Guatemala.

Our work in the context of COVID-19 is especially essential

The COVID-19 pandemic endangers those detained, prompting a call from the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights for the release of all political prisoners and others who pose no risk. This spring GHRC has worked intensively to pressure for the release from pretrial detention of seven environmental defenders from the community of Guapinol, in Honduras, unjustly imprisoned in response to their opposition to an illegal hydroelectric dam.  Guatemalan political prisoner Bernardo Caal has also received support from GHRC. GHRC is also advocating in the US Congress for release of immigration detainees, many of whom may soon be deported to Central America.

GHRC’s Guatemala staff  remain in place, and GHRC is monitoring the governments’ responses to COVID and the toll the pandemic, together with those responses, is taking on the most vulnerable populations, particularly human rights defenders and women. The impact of curfews and transportation restrictions on vulnerable populations and the impact of loss of work and reduced access to food is outlined in this GHRC analysis. Facilitating this information to journalists, sister organizations, and the US Congress helps build a knowledge base that in turn will inform US policy. GHRC is also reporting on deportations from the United States to Central America in the context of COVID-19, ensuring the information reaches US-based immigrant rights organizations, as well as congressional staff.

Promoting dialogue among international and national human rights organizations about multilateral development bank and international assistance in response to the COVID-19 is another GHRC activity related to the pandemic. GHRC is helping to determine if measures being promoted—for example, increased investment in the financial sector in Central America— could have negative human rights impacts. Working in coalition, GHRC is also fostering an analysis of the degree to which international assistance is strengthening the capacity of national health systems to respond to the pandemic and the long-term capacities of the health systems.

To continue this work, we need your help. Please chip in whatever you can; every bit helps us support and protect human rights. Thank you!


2019 ALICE ZACHMANN HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD      Monday December 16

Deeply touched by her experience in Guatemala, Sister Alice Zachmann, SSND, worked with former missionaries and with Guatemalan refugees to found the Guatemala Human Rights Commission in 1982, with the mission of documenting and denouncing human rights violations in Guatemala and working for positive change.

Every year, GHRC recognizes and honors this vision with the presentation of an award to an outstanding organization working to promote and protect human rights in Guatemala. This year’s awardee is the Rabinal Community Legal Clinic, and the award will be received tomorrow by the clinic’s representative, Paulina Ixtapa.

Celebrate with us! 

Monday, December 16


St. Stephen & the Incarnation Episcopal Church
1525 Newton St. NW
Washington, DC

GHRC NEWS OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 2019 Updates from GHRC staff working in Guatemala, Honduras & Washington, DC


For two months the constitutional rights of the inhabitants of 6 of 22 departments that make up Guatemala were suspended following the declaration of a state of siege. The state of siege decree, which was initially implemented on September 7 and renewed on October 10 before ending on November 4, resulted in a series of human rights violations in communities, mainly indigenous, deeply affected by crimes against humanity against the civilian population that occurred during the Internal Armed Conflict (1962-1996), as well as centuries of structural violence. As an organization committed to human rights in Guatemala and the region, we condemned the use of a state of siege to harass communities while their constitutional rights were suspended.

At the end of October, GHRC joined a delegation organized by Guatemalan Indigenous Authorities to monitor and verify the situation of communities affected by the state of siege, which was originally implemented by the Morales Administration on September 7. Due to the increased militarization in the area, it was impossible for the delegation to travel to some of the most impacted areas. Instead, they met with members of the Sepur Zarco, San Pablo and Semuy II communities in other towns in the Polochic Valley. Much of the conversation was centered on the constant threat of eviction.

“We have been fighting for years for the legal certainty of our lands, and we don’t have an answer. The state has totally abandoned us. Government after government has passed, we ‘ve had more than 35 meetings with the Secretary of Agrarian Affairs and we haven’t had an answer. The state has abandoned the area. The governor never comes here.”

The communities urged that a thorough investigation be undertaken into the events that led to the state of siege being implemented and for the facts to the clarified.

“There should be a good report of what’s been observed, but also a report about the total  abandonment of our people and the needs of my community.”

In line with our work, GHRC will continue to monitor and report on the situation of indigenous communities in the Polochic Valley.


Since the implementation of the state of siege in early September, GHRC worked with colleagues at the Guatemala Solidarity Project, the Latin America Working Group and Peace Brigades International to express concerns about the implementation of the State of Siege to US representatives monitoring Guatemala. We also joined members of the Observatory on Guatemala to urge the international community to investigate conditions in northeastern Guatemala, and to communicate emphatically to the Guatemalan government high concern for the wellbeing of the affected indigenous population.


On June 2 , 2017 , 450 people were evicted by 1800 military and police agents from Laguna Larga, a community in the municipality of San Andres, Peten, within the Laguna del Tigre Nature Reserve. The eviction happened at the request of the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP), even though the mostly indigenous Maya Chuj and Q’ eqchi’ community had lived there before the protected area was created. Though the community was granted precautionary measures by the IACHR, the humanitarian crisis persists. The 111 families live in an accutely precarious situation on the Mexico-

Guatemala border and suffers chronic malnutrition, squalid health conditions and a deplorable sanitation situation. This has led to 9 deaths. On November 6 , GHRC accompanied communities and their lawyers from the Indigenous Peoples Law Firm and the Human Rights Law Firm to a hearing at the Constitutional Court regarding a provisional return to their homeland until the state finds an adequate long-term solution for the community. Thirty- seven indigenous communities within the Laguna del Tigre and Sierra de Lacandon Nature Reserves have been evicted or are at risk of being so.


In Honduras, the core zone – and protected area – of the Carlos Escaleres National Park in the Bajo Aguan region was changed through a constitutional decree in 2017 to accommodate a concession for iron mining to be granted to EMCO (now Inversiones Los Pinares) mining company. In light of wide-spread community opposition to the project, a criminalization campaign promoted by the company started a year ago. In September 2019, 9 people were indicted (including a man who died 4 years ago) for illegal detention and aggravated arson charges; Judge Lisseth Vallecillo, who doesn’ t have jurisdiction to hear the case, illegally sent them to pretrial jail without giving any reasons. As a result, the National Penitentiary Institute sent them to La Tolva maximum security prison. In October and November, GHRC worked with international human rights organizations to advocate for a transfer out of La Tolva to the Olanchito Penal Center, closer to their home, after the request was made by their lawyers. Read it here. GHRC visited Guapinol in November a part of an international delegation.


The Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) continues its struggle for justice for genocide. GHRC staff was present to observe part of the initial hearing of 3 former members of the military high command accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and forced disappearance against the Maya Ixil population during the dictatorship of Roman Lucas Garcia (1978 – 1982) .

On November 25 , High Risk Court ” B” Judge, Miguel Angel Galvez, indicted the men, Benedicto Lucas Garcia, Manuel Callejas y Callejas and César Octavio Noguera Argueta who will now face a preliminary hearing after a phase of further investigation.

At the same time, the initial hearing of Luis Enrique Mendoza, military head of operations during the dictatorship of Efrain Rios Montt (1982 – 1983 ) began on November 27 . He is also accused of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Maya Ixil population.

Meanwhile, a group of 36 Maya Achi survivors of sexual violence and crimes against humanity continue to wait for an Appellate Court to decide whether or not the case against 6 former Civil Defense Patrollers will continue after Judge Claudette Dominguez ruled to dismiss charges against 3 and provisionally close the case of 3 others. On December 20 , Francisco Cuxum, a former military officer accused for his role in the case, will be sentenced in a Boston court after pleading guilty in September 2019 to i l legal re- entry into the US. After he serves his sentence, the Rabinal Legal Clinic, which is prosecuting the case in Guatemala, hopes he will be extradited to face trial there. Read more here.


On October 28 , the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures to 5 high level Guatemalan judges who were deemed to be “in a situation of serious and urgent risk of irreparable damage to their rights.” On November 1 , GHRC joined members of the Observatory for Human Rights in Guatemala to demand the Guatemalan state immediately comply with protection measures. Read the letter here.

In October, as a response to ongoing threats against the Human Rights
Ombudsperson’ s  Office ( PDH), including institutional funds being witheld and a campaign to have Jordan Rodas Andrade removed from his position as head, members of the Observatory wrote and published a statement expressing deep concern.
Read it here.


When the Fuego Volcano erupted on June 3, 2018, hundreds of people died–many were buried alive by boiling ash and rocks that rushed down into communities living on the slopes of the volcano–including communities like El Rodeo, that had returned to Guatemala after being exiled during the genocide. Thanks to generous GHRC contributors, donations were made to folks in need of emergency medical and special burn care. We continue to accompany these communities and during a visit in November, GHRC staff were told that more than half of the families of El Rodeo are getting ready to move to a new farm where they will be resettled while the others haveaccepted humble government housing.



On October 10 , the preliminary hearing of Roberto David Castillo Mejia,accused of the murder of COPINH co-founder Berta Caceres, resumed in the National Jurisdiction Court presided by Judge Lisseth Vallecillo in Tegucigalpa. Castillo, President of the DESA hydroelectric corporation at the time he was arrested on March 2, 2018, has been in pretrial jail ever since. His preliminary hearing began in April 2019, but due to a series of appeals, including one presented by the defense on October 10, the hearing has yet to
finish and there is still no date for a trial. David Castillo is the only alleged “ intellectual author” who has been arrested for Berta’ s murder, although the State Prosecutor’ s Office has repeatedly announced that further investigations are ongoing. GHRC was present at the hearing and has been coordinating the International Observer Mission for the Berta Caceres Case since July 2018 . In August, we co-published “Violence, Corruption & Impunity in the Honduran Energy Sector: A Profile of David Castillo.” Read it here. A sentencing hearing for 7 men convicted of Berta’ s murder took place on December 2.

Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award December 16!

Join us for the 2019 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defenders Award Ceremony  December 16
6:00 PM-8:30 PM
St. Stephen Church, 1525 Newton St NW, Washington, DC 20010
The 2019 recipient of the Alica Zachman Human Rights Defender’s Award is the Rabinal Community Legal Clinic. The clinic’s legal representative, Paulina Ixpata, will join us on December 16 to accept the award and to celebrate the long struggle for justice courageously undertaken by so many in Guatemala. 

The Rabinal Legal Clinic is led by a group of women who have bravely pursued justice for rapes carried out during the Achi genocide. Civil Patrollers arrested for these heinous crimes were released earlier this year as the Guatemalan Congress was attempting to push through an impunity law. The victims, Paulina among them, are under threat.The Rabinal Community Law Firm (Asociacion Bufete Juridico Popular de Rabinal) was created more than 15 years ago to provide legal accompaniment to survivors and family members of victims of the Achi genocide perpetrated in the late 1970s and early 1980s against the indigenous civilian population. The Community Law Firm has been part of an extraordinary grassroots effort to ensure justice for crimes of the past, from unearthing some of the first clandestine graves to being some of the first litigators to prosecute military officers and civil defense patrollers for crimes against humanity. These actions helped lead to the genocide trial against Rios Montt and other high profile transitional justice cases against the former military high command.

Since 2012, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission has presented the annual Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award to human rights defenders in Guatemala. The Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award acknowledges recipients’ deep commitment to promoting respect for human rights, even when confronted threats and violence. This award aims to help protect human rights defenders at risk and honors the legacy of Sister Alice Zachmann, who founded GHRC in 1982 and directed the organization for over 20 years.

2017 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award Recipient

GHRC is proud to announce that the Coordination of Associations and Communities for the Integral Development of the Cho’rti People [COMUNDICH] has been chosen to receive the Alice Zachmann Award for human rights defenders. COMUNIDICH will be represented in the award ceremony by Elodia Castillo Vasquez.


Elodia Castillo Vasquez from COMUNIDICH. Foto: Laura Kleiner.

Cho’rti communities in the municipalities of Camotan and La Union in the department of Chiquimula, along the border with Honduras, are renowned for extreme levels of poverty and malnutrition.  Not only are Cho’rti lands arid but these vulnerable communities have been illegally pushed off their lands by local families using violence and corruption of the justice system.

COMUNDICH is successfully pursuing lawsuits in national courts to recover land illegally taken from Chorti communities, and promote grassroots development projects so they may better feed their families.

Large landholders in the area often maintain Cho’rti lands under the control of heavily armed bands.  In reaction to the defense of their lands, COMUNDICH communities are under constant attack.  Over the past 10 years seven COMUNDICH leaders have been murdered, and in May of 2017, seven indigenous leaders organized in COMUNDICH were arrested, and remain wrongly imprisoned. While the extreme levels of malnutrition and the area’s importance as a border region have made the Cho’rti region a focus of the Alliance for Prosperity, Cho’rti communities explain they are not a part of the development plans and fear it will only deepen poverty by reinforcing illicit landholders interest in their lands.

Since 2012, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission has presented the annual the Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award to human rights defenders in Guatemala.  The Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award recognizes commitment to promoting respect for human rights, even when confronted by threats and violence. This award aims to protect human rights defenders at risk of suffering acts of violence and other attacks, and honors the legacy of Sister Alice Zachmann who founded GHRC in 1982, and directed the organization tirelessly over 20 years.


Private security group kills 1, evicts 18 families in central Guatemala

On November 3 in the Alta Verapaz region of central Guatemala, 18 families were violently displaced from the Semuy community in the Cahabon municipality. According to a verification mission of human rights defenders from the United Committee of Campesinos (CUC) nine armed private security guards stationed just outside the community had been intimidating the community on behalf of a property manager.


Two weeks later, on November 20, the families were attacked again by armed private security guards contracted by the company Trece Aguas. At around 6 pm the guards captured 54-year-old Erwin Che and threatened him — eventually the family members were able to free him. At 11 pm a group of men returned, surrounded the community and opened fire for 30 minutes. In the attack Ricardo Maquin was severely injured and Emilio Toc was killed.

According to testimony from locals, a worker for Trece Aguas, Javier Choc, led the raid. In the days prior, Choc had apparently offered between Q60 and Q80 Quetzales to those willing to intimidate and attack the families.

The CUC has called for an immediate investigation into these actions

CUC has reported several other killings and attacks of land rights defenders in recent months. According to CUC, Eugenio López López, 72-years-old was killed on June 23, 2017 in Quetzaltenango, by the Campollo y Quintanal families, owners of the San Gregorio Piedra Parada farm.

On August 9 campesino leader José Aroldo Orozco from the La Montañita community in the Ayutla municipality of the San Marcos department was murdered. He had allegedly been trying to regain land that had been taken from families and had just won a case in his favor.

These reports are in addition to several others detailing violent attacks, threats, and illegal detentions.

Protestors killed, attacked during strike

On November 7th and 8th, the Committee for Campesino Development and the National Coordinator of Campesino Organizations held a two-day national strike to protest President Jimmy Morales, forced evictions, corrupt officials, and violations of human rights.


Their protest was met with violence and legal action — the director of the strike was killed while another member of the group was run over with a vehicle and is now in serious condition. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF) has filed a complaint against the group, amounting to a criminalization of their protest.

Here is a press release from CODECA condemning these acts:

Increased Persecution, Attacks, Defamation and Criminalization Against People that Demand Rights and Reject Corrupt Officials 

On November 8,  communities and organizations that are part of The Committee for Campesino Development (El Comité de Desarrollo Campesino — CODECA) and the National Coordinator of Campesino Organizations (Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas — CNOC) continued their second day of national strike to demand:

  • Resignation of government cabinet and deputies due to their corruption and inability to govern.
  • Investigation into mayor Capitalino Alvaro Arzú over the death of Monsignor Gerardi and the irregular deliveries by the state to corrupt private companies
  • Investigation and criminal prosecution of deputies who seek to obstruct justice using a law that protects criminals which endangers the nation and justice.
  • CICIG and Ministerio Publico investigate companies for their links to organized crime, tax evasion and persecution and criminalization of human rights defenders.
  • Stop the persecution and criminalization of human rights defenders.
  • Attention to campesino families’ land issues and stop evictions that directly threaten peoples’ lives.
The response to our requests has been:

On November 7, 65-year-old Antonio Perez de León was murdered. He was assassinated with a knife when leaving his house at 6:30 AM in the Chichop San Antonio Ilotenango Quiché community. He directed CODECA’s national strike.

On November 8, at 9:30 AM, Vicente Calderon from El Cedro was run over by Carlos Pineda Rosen, who owns the Pineda Rosel company and holds land in Izabal and other departments in Guatemala. The event occurred in Ruidosa de Izabal, where CODECA’s activities were taking place. Vicente is in serious condition and has been transferred to the hospital. It is believed that he will lose both legs because the vehicle destroyed his knees.

Aside from the physical attacks, there has also been a criminalization of protest by sectors of power. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Association (Comité de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras — CACIF) has filed a complaint against CODECA in the Ministerio Publico for several alleged crimes carried out during the national strike that took place November 7th and 8th. There is no basis for these accusations.

Currently a defamation campaign is being carried out in the media — on television, written, radio and social media —  as well as a campaign of threats against and direct intimidation of several of CODECA’s national, regional and community advocates.
Y aquí es el comunicado de CODECA en español:


Hoy 08 de noviembre, las comunidades y organizaciones articuladas en CODECA y CNOC continúan con su segundo día de paro nacional  para EXIGIR ENTRE VARIAS COSAS:

  • Renuncia de gabinete de gobierno y diputados por corrupción e incapacidad de gobernar.
  • Investigación al alcalde Capitalino Alvaro Arzú por la muerte de Monseñor Gerardi y la entrega anómala de bines del estado a manos de empresas privadas corruptas
  • Investigación y procesar penalmente a diputados que pretenden obstruir la justicia  mediante una ley para proteger a delincuentes que pone en peligro a la nación y la justicia.
  • A la CICIG y MP investigar a empresas  por su vínculo con el crimen organizado, la evasión de impuestos y la persecución y criminalización a defensores y defensoras.
  • Parar la persecución y criminalización a defensores y defensoras de ddhh.
  • Atender la demanda de la tierra de las familias campesinas y parar los desalojos que atentan de manera directa  contra la vida.


El día de ayer, fue  asesinado el compañero Antonio Perez de León de 65 años de edad, él fue asesinado con arma blanca  al salir de su casa a las 6:30 de la mañana en la comunidad  Chichop San Antonio Ilotenango Quiché, el compañero se dirigía al paro nacional convocado por CODECA

El día de hoy, a las 9:30 de la mañana  el compañero Vicente Calderon de la comunidad El Cedro fue atropellado por Carlos Pineda Rosen quien es propietario de la empresa Pineda Rosel y también  es un terrateniente de Izabal y otros departamentos de Guatemala. El hecho ocurrió en el lugar de la actividad de concentración de CODECA en el lugar conocido como la Ruidosa de Izabal. El compañero Vicente ha sido trasladado en estado grave al hospital para su atención. Se cree que perderá sus dos piernas porque el vehículo le destrozó las rodillas.

La criminalización de la protesta por parte de sectores de poder. El CACIF ha puesto una denuncia contra CODECA en el MP señalándonos sin fundamento de varios delitos por el paro nacional del día de ayer y hoy.

Hay una campaña de difamación y criminalización en los diferentes medios televisivos, escritos, radiales y en redes sociales.

Una campaña de amenaza e intimidación de manera directa a varios defensores nacionales, regionales y comunitarios de CODECA.

Guatemala, 8 de noviembre del 2017