GHRC, LAWG, and 16 Other Organizations Urge US Development Finance Corporation to Reconsider Investments in Guatemala

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Today a group of human rights, foreign policy, immigrant rights, faith-based and refugee organizations joined a letter to the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) to express concern about the rapid deterioration of the rule of law in Guatemala and urging the … Continue reading

GHRC Congratulates the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya

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Protest outside of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (GHRC, 2016)

Ten years ago today, the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya was born in defense of community water, life, and health and against an illegal mine. On March 2, 2012, the communities of San José de Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc united and established a protest camp outside of the entrance of the mine, which had been imposed without their free, prior, and informed consent. For ten long years, the resistance has struggled in the face of threats, intimidation, an attempted assassination, and a violent eviction. Due to the tenacity and determination of the Peace Resistance of La Puya, which included taking the case to the highest court, the mining license of the project was provisionally suspended in 2016, when the Supreme Court ruled that the affected communities were never consulted on the project and directly violated their rights, as established in the International Labor Organization Treaty’s Convention 169.  Guatemala’s Constitutional Court confirmed this ruling in 2017 and ordered a consultation..

Police and mining security violently evict and repress protesters (photo by GHRC, 2014)

The Progreso VII Derivada project–also known as the El Tambor Mine–is a gold and silver mine owned by US mining company Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA). After illegally obtaining the mining permits, with the knowledge that the mine was contaminating community water sources with arsenic, KCA fought against the community resistance, using violence and criminalization in an effort to silence opponents of the mine. Now, under the terms of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, KCA is suing the government of Guatemala for $400 million dollars before the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

GHRC is honored to have accompanied La Puya since its inception, awarding the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya the 2012 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award. GHRC’s Guatemala staff observed the 2014 violent eviction of resistance members and helped negotiate and support the safety of members of La Puya. 

In a letter of solidarity we signed, together with more than 50 organizations, we commend today the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya for its valiant, persistent defense of fundamental rights.

We congratulate the resistance for 10 years of commitment to defending their territories and we stand in solidarity with their nonviolent struggle. 

Our accompaniment of movements like La Puya has been made possible by generous contributions from supporters like you. Your donations allow us to continue on-the-ground support of defenders and provide key advocacy in Washington, DC.  Will you make a gift here to help us continue our work?

¡Que viva La Puya!

Second anniversary celebration of La Puya

Judicial Persecution of Anti-Corruption Prosecutors Increases

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Six Prosecutors Investigating High-Level Corruption Arrested

Since February 10, the Guatemalan Public Ministry has issued seven arrests warrants for attorneys  connected to the former International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) who work or have worked with the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI). Six such prosecutors have been arrested and await trial. Attorney Leyli Indira Santizo Rodas, former President of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), and Eva Xiomara Sosa, former prosecutor with FECI, were arrested on February 10; Willy Roberto Racanac Lopez, an assistant prosecutor with FECI, was  arrested on February 16, along with Paola Escobar, also an assistant prosecutor with FECI. Aliss Moran, a former assistant prosecutor with FECI who resigned in January, had her house raided on February 16 and was arrested, after presenting herself voluntarily, on February 17; and Rudy Manolo Herrera Lemus, a former FECI prosecutor, has an arrest warrant pending but is no longer in Guatemala. The female prosecutors/former prosecutors are awaiting their trials in prison, where they fear for their safety. Racanac Lopez, due to medical concerns, is awaiting trial under house arrest. 

The latter four persecuted prosecutors mentioned above are linked to the 2020 Parallel Commissions case, in which prosecutors uncovered a corruption plot between lawyers, politicians, and businessmen to elect judges.

On February 23, Virginia Laparra, the head of FECI’s Quetzaltenango office, was arrested on charges of providing false testimony, abuse of authority, and encroachment of functions. She apparently fainted as she was informed of the arrest and was taken to a health clinic before being turned over to the court.

Five prosecutors working on corruption cases have resigned due to pressure during the month of February. Carlos Antonio Videz Nava, who as a prosecutor with FECI oversaw important cases involving money laundering and wrongdoing by government officials, announced on February 20 that he is now in exile. He stated that he feared for his life and feared unjust persecution. He had participated in the questioning of Witness A, who has accused Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei of receiving bribes (see more about this case below). Three additional prosecutors with FECI resigned on February 21, and the resignation of one more assistant prosecutor became public on February 23. On February 25, former FECI prosecutor Lorenzo Alberto Bolaños Sanchez announced that he had gone into exile, as he feared for his life and his freedom.

The UN Rapporteur on judicial independence in a February 13 statement denounced the acts of persecution against judges, prosecutors, and lawyers, as did the European Union in a February 11 statement, expressing “its utmost concern over the ongoing deteriorating of the rule of law in Guatemala, where the Supreme Court of Justice and the Prosecutor-General have initiated legal action against independent judges, lawyers and prosecutors, resulting in arrests and loss of judicial immunity.” The US Department of State in a February 16 statement expressed deep concern about “the Guatemalan Public Ministry’s unacceptable mistreatment and persistent abuse of current and former independent prosecutors” and said “the Public Ministry used searches and arrests based on sealed indictments and selectively leaked case information with the apparent intent to single out and punish Guatemalans who are combatting impunity and promoting transparency and accountability.”  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on February 22 called for the “cessation of any interference against the independence of the Judiciary in order to guarantee independent and impartial justice” and expressed concern that these incidents were occurring “in a context of severe setbacks in the fight against impunity and corruption in Guatemala.” The IACHR reminded the Guatemalan government of its “obligation to protect justice operators from attacks, acts of intimidation, threats, and harassment, and to investigate and effectively punish those who commit violations of their rights.” National and international nongovernmental organizations also condemned these recent acts of criminalization. According to the Unit for Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, the persecution of the prosecutors “puts at risk the freedom to practice law and the right to defend human rights.” 

Witness Testimony Indicates Giammattei Financed Campaign through Bribes

Evidence has surfaced implicating Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei in illegal campaign financing. According to the testimony of a protected witness, Giammattei agreed to receive $2.6 million in bribes from construction companies to finance his 2019 presidential campaign. Reports first published in the Salvadoran daily El Faro indicate that the witness said a deal was struck between Giammattei and close associates Giorgio Bruni, then the Secretary General of former President Morales’ political party, Vamos, and José Luis Benito, the Minister of Communication, Infrastructure, and Housing under Morales administration. According to the testimony of the witness, who says he was present at a July 2019 meeting where the deal was discussed, Benito–in exchange for being allowed to retain his position as minister of communications in the new administration–arranged $2.6 million in contributions to the Giammattei campaign from construction companies, who in turn benefitted by receiving additional contracts and advance payments. A second source within the Giammattei administration reportedly confirmed to El Faro the existence of this deal. Although Benito was not kept on as minister in Giammattei’s administration, a number of these construction projects that allegedly formed part of the corruption scheme are in progress. Twelve highway construction projects worth more than $191 million are allegedly linked to this pact. According to El Faro, official documents show that eleven of them are underway and the last is accepting proposals.

Potential corruption in infrastructure projects of this sort is particularly relevant in light of international investment in infrastructure projects in Guatemala. In February 2019, the Inter-American Development Bank provided the Guatemalan government a $150 million loan for the building of roads.

The evidence gathered from the sealed testimony of Witness A was recorded in May 2021 as part of an ongoing investigation opened by FECI in response to the discovery in October 2020 of suitcases full of cash amounting to nearly $16 million, stashed in a house in Antigua, Guatemala rented by Benito. Benito, after a period on the run, was arrested on January 21, 2022, in connection with the case, pursuant to an arrest warrant issued in October 2020 for money laundering after the suitcases were discovered.

The testimony of the witness is in the care of Judge Erika Aifán, of High Risk Court “D.” Aifán has been subjected to intense pressure from the Attorney General’s Office but has refused to turn over the testimony or reveal the identity of the witness. In a written response to the Attorney General’s Office, Aifán explained her refusal to turn over the information, noting that the testimony is already part of a judicial process beyond the attorney general’s control, and the recording and the identity of the witness are now evidence in the court’s custody. 

As the El Faro article points out, the New York Times referenced the existence of Witness A last October in an article that revealed that another witness told FECI in July that he had delivered to Giammattei’s house a rug rolled with cash inside. The cash was allegedly part of a bribe by a Russian-backed mining company for the rights to operate part of a Guatemalan port in Izabal. When former leading anti-corruption prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval left Guatemala to go into exile in July 2021, he told El Faroin an exclusive interview that one of the reasons for his removal was that the investigation of the money found in a house in Antigua led back to Giammattei and to “payments from contractors” to finance a political campaign.

As the El Faro article points out, the New York Times referenced the existence of Witness A last October in an article that revealed that another witness told FECI in July that he had delivered to Giammattei’s house a rug rolled with cash inside. The cash was allegedly part of a bribe by a Russian-backed mining company for the rights to operate part of a Guatemalan port in Izabal. When former leading anti-corruption prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval left Guatemala to go into exile in July 2021, he told El Faro in an exclusive interview that one of the reasons for his removal was that the investigation of the money found in a house in Antigua led back to Giammattei and to “payments from contractors” to finance a political campaign.

According to El Faro, both the US State Department and the FBI have had a copy of Witness A’s testimony for months, as international transactions between the individuals or companies involved may have passed through US banking institutions. According to reports, one construction magnate implicated has been cooperating with US authorities. 

Attorney General Consuelo Porras Seeks Re-Election.

The call for applications for the upcoming Attorney General election closed on February 21. From this list, the Nominating Commission will choose six candidates to present to President Alejandro Giammattei, who will select the new Attorney General in mid-May. This week, the commission released a preliminary list of  26 candidates for consideration, including current Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras.  

As the current head of the Public Ministry, Consuelo Porras has been criticized in recent weeks both nationally and internationally for her persecution of anti-corruption prosecutors. The United States removed her visa and placed her on the Engel List in September 2021 for her “obstruction of justice” in cases of high-level corruption in Guatemala. Former Attorney General Thelma Aldana tweeted, “The candidates for attorney general of Guatemala included on the Engel List for corrupt and anti-democratic actions and linked to organized crime should not receive votes from the Commission,” arguing that they are “unfit at the national and international level.” Porras’ candidacy was accepted by the Nominating Commission on February 23. The outcome of this election holds significant implications in the fight against corruption and US-Guatemala relations.    

A number of potentially strong candidates, such as independent judges, were excluded from the Nominating Commission’s list after a decision was made by the Constitutional Court not to count the years a judge has spent in service of the law in the tally of requisite years as a lawyer stipulated for eligibility for the attorney general position. International organizations, including GHRC, issued a statement of concern about a number of circumstances affecting the conditions of impartiality and transparency that must be guaranteed in the process.

Judge Pablo Xitumul at Risk for Arrest after CSJ Removes his Immunity

On February 9, the Guatemalan Supreme Court ruled to remove the judicial immunity of Judge Pablo Xitumul.  The International Observatory for Human Rights in Guatemala denounced the decision by the Supreme Court, condemning it as a “grave attack on his independence and an unacceptable action that seeks to frighten and intimidate justice operators in the country.” Judge Xitumul told the Associated Press that those he has sentenced are seeking revenge. The High Risk Court “C” judge–known for his decisions in favor of victims in transitional justice cases–can now be removed from his position and forced to face charges related to a 2019 incident in which a National Police officer demanded to search Xitumul’s car. Xitumul’s vehicle was not moving at the time; Xitumul was sitting in the car with his family. Judge Xitumul asked the reason for the search and the officer refused to give a reason. An altercation ensued, and the officer, José Cuxaj, grabbed the judge by the neck. Judge Xitumul filed charges against the officer, who answered with a lawsuit against the judge for “abuse of authority.”

Judge Xitumul is one of several high-court judges who has faced consistent harassment and suffered surveillance and other forms of intimidation. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted Xitumul precautionary measures in 2013 after he began recieving threats related to his work overseeing the Rios Montt genocide trial. In September of 2021, the IACHR expressed concern over the weakening of the  judicial system, reminding the state of Guatemala “of its duty to protect those who work in the field of justice from attacks, intimidation, threats, and harassment.” The removal of Judge Xitumul’s immunity, according to international NGOs, forms “part of a systematic pattern that has been worsening and that has as a common denominator the use of the criminal justice and disciplinary systems to undermine the independence of judges and prosecutors.”

CODECA Leader Murdered in Jalapa .

Human rights defender Álvaro Marco Román was fatally shot while returning home to Tierra Blanca, Santa María Xalapán, Jalapa early in the morning on February 6th. Román–who dedicated his life to the struggle for community land rights–served as the president of his community board and a leader within the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA). In a public statement CODECA demanded that “the Public Ministry and national and international human rights organizations seriously investigate this repression against CODECA leaders.” The Human Rights Ombudsman also called for a prompt investigation to identify and prosecute all parties responsible for Román’s murder. Earlier this year, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts released a joint letter sent to the Guatemala government denouncing the harassment, death threats, armed attacks, and assassinations of CODECA leaders and demanding the government address the “systemic repression against members of CODECA.” His death marks the 23rd assasination of a CODECA member since 2018. 

Remembering Dianna Ortiz

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A year ago today Dianna Ortiz parted ways with her body. The gifts she has left remain: a center for torture survivors that she founded and ran, TASSC International; the contributions she made to the last place she worked, Pax Christi, where she was Deputy Director; the memories and legacy she left with us here at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, where for many years she was a staff and later a board member; and, of course, the painful witness she gave to the atrocities of the Guatemalan army, carried out in collaboration with the US government.

By way of giving a window into that collaboration: the US Ambassador in a 1991 cable referred blithely to “numerous contacts we have made over the past few years, including with members of a death squad.” He outlined in the cable how the Guatemalan death squads operated. In all likelihood, using this knowledge, he sent someone to rescue Dianna twenty-four hours into her torture. Dianna asked the American sent to take her out of the clandestine torture center, which she later identified as the Escuela Politecnica, what would happen to the others who remained there under torture, the others she saw, the others she heard screaming? The man said, “Don’t concern yourself with them.”

For decades, not concerning themselves was the modus operandi of the US government, which at best turned a blind eye to the atrocities occurring in Guatemala and at worst actively assisted the most brutal army in the hemisphere as it carried out acts amounting to genocide.

Dianna was fierce. She spoke the truth. She blazed a trail that we do our best to follow.

She was also gentle, and as well as leaving a testimony of pain, she left a witness of love. She calls us to heal ourselves, reach out to one another, and fight for the rights of the most defenseless. That call to (the gentle) arms of courage, community, and action is essential today. Guatemala is weltering in a maelstrom of injustice. In the past week, five prosecutors and former prosecutors investigating high-level corruption were arrested on baseless charges and await trial. Four of those detained are women. Like Dianna, in spite of suffering intimidation, threats, and harassment, they are not backing off of the truths they’ve discovered, no matter who those truths implicate and what the truths cost.

In the years after escaping from the American who brought her out of the torture center—only to threaten her when she said she would not remain silent—Dianna felt she had to speak for the people she saw dying in that basement prison; for the people she saw already dead and thrown into a pit. She spoke in spite of the pain it caused her, in spite of the flashbacks, in spite of allegations from US embassy personnel that she must have sneaked out for a lesbian love affair and the 111 cigarette burns on her back were the result of a lesbian love tryst.As Dianna spoke for those who could not speak, we who were her friends and colleagues and walked with her on part of her journey will attempt to guess what she would say, were she here, in response to the intensifying crisis in Guatemala. Dianna would ask–What kind of aid is going from the US government to the Guatemalan military? To the police? What kind of nonhumanitarian aid is going to the government? Cut it off until human rights are respected.

Otherwise, she would say gently—otherwise we are complicit.

Visit our memorial page to see photos and leave a memory or comment. 

Thank you for standing with us as we remember Dianna, and thank you for working for justice for the Guatemalan people.

The Ongoing Criminalization of Human Rights Defender Abelino Chub Caal

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The Guatemalan government, through the Public Prosecutor’s Office, insists on continuing to criminalize Abelino Chub Caal, in the context of land dispossession suffered by the Q’eqchi community of Plan Grande in El Estor, Izabal.

Abelino Chub, an indigenous land rights advocate, spent 813 days unjustly imprisoned previous to his trial, falsely accused of aggravated usurpation, arson, and illicit association. He was finally released on April 22, 2019 after the High-Risk Court A issued an exculpatory sentence, finding him innocent of all charges.

However, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has—inconceivably—decided to file an appeal against the sentence. On February 24, 2021, the Criminal Court of Appeals held a special appeal hearing. Defense attorney Jovita Tzul presented her arguments and Abelino Chub voiced his dismay at the appeal, asking the Court to uphold the sentence in his favor.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office did not even appear at the hearing, opting instead to send its allegations via written form. The court’s resolution of this appeal will be issued on March 10 at 3:00 pm. 

The actions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office appear to be part of a strategy to criminalize human rights defenders and community leaders in Guatemala. Keeping Abelino Chub embroiled in a criminal process literally handcuffs his ability to carry out his work in defense of the Q’eqchi people. This despite the high court’s finding Abelino to be completely innocent.

According to Abelino Chub’s defense, “The sentence issued on April 22, 2019 by the High-Risk Court A, is clear and logically reasoned. It is therefore incomprehensible that the Public Ministry alleges in its appeal that the sentence (2016-00328) is not well founded because it didn’t give sufficient evidentiary value to two of the prosecution’s witnesses—the foreman and the manager of the Murciélago farm, allegedly owned by Cobra Investments and CXI, Inc. (companies with a vested interest in the area and plaintiffs in the case). For this reason, it is clear that this continues to be a case of criminalization and a strategy for dispossession of the Q’eqchi lands.”

It is troubling that the Guatemalan State, via the Public Prosecutor’s Office, continues to criminalize and persecute human rights defenders, while promoting and endorsing the dispossession of indigenous lands. Furthermore, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has clearly disregarded its duty to investigate the serious irregularities that were evidenced during the trial. The High-Risk Court A, in its sentence, ordered “the Public Prosecutor’s Office to conduct an investigation into the irregularities detected in the public land titles that form part of the documentary evidence.” No such investigation has been conducted, however, to our knowledge, and no results announced.

Abelino was captured by the Guatemalan National Civil Police on February 4, 2017, in the department of Alta Verapaz.  The arrest took place in a context of pronounced social conflict provoked by business interests that have systematically stripped the Q’eqchi people of their lands. These companies have produced violence and serious environmental impacts while imposing their economic projects: monoculture plantations, the construction of massive hydroelectric plants, and nickel mining.

These projects have contributed to the increase in poverty and extreme poverty in the region. The Q’eqchi communities that have historically resided in the territory have repeatedly denounced the violence, repression, criminalization and evictions they suffer. However, the Guatemalan justice system has not responded to these complaints. In fact, megaprojects continue to be imposed on community lands, in violation of rights protected by the Constitution of the Republic and international conventions, such as ILO Convention 169, which establishes respect for indigenous lands and the right to prior, free, and informed consultations concerning the use of those lands. 

We, the undersigned organizations, denounce the criminalization of defenders and the dispossession of indigenous lands through the improper application of the law against those defending their legitimate and legal rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has expressed its concern regarding the criminalization of human rights defenders and the malicious use of criminal law to limit the exercise of the defense of human rights.   

We urgently call on the Guatemalan State to guarantee the rights of the Q’eqchi indigenous communities, including the right to defend human rights and the right to defend their territory. 

We urgently call on the Public Prosecutor’s Office to desist from continuing to pursue criminal proceedings which criminalize human rights defenders such as Abelino Chub Caal and violate the rights of indigenous communities, such as Plan Grande de El Estor, Izabal. In addition, we call on you to comply with your obligation to investigate objectively and impartially to stop the forced dispossession of Q’eqchi lands.

Signed:

Institutions

Abogado Liberal
ActionAid Guatemala
ALIANZAS, Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington
Asociación Chomija
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional-CEJIL
Chomija
CoDevelopment Canada
Colectivo de Mujeres Ix Bahlam
Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL)
Denver Justice and Peace Committee
Foro de ONGs Internacionales de Guatemala
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Guatemala Solidarity Project
Hamalali Garinagu
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
MiningWatch Canada
Montreal Elders for Environmental Justice
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
New Hampshire-Vermont Guatemala Accompaniment Project
Nicaragua Center for Community Action
Northern Virginians for Peace and Justice
Older Women Live OWL collective – Ckut 90.3 FM
Plataforma Guatemaltecos y Guatemaltecas Exiliados por Terrorismo de Estado
Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala (PAQG)
Todos por Guatemala/All for Guatemala
TROCAIRE

Individuals

Jo-Marie Burt, Senior Fellow WOLA

Suzan Chastain

Roger Soles, Jade Enterprises

Wes Callender

Laila Hamdan

William Mair Russell

Gaillmarie M Goldrick

Bruce D. Rieder

Constance Freeman

Marilyn Baker

Jonathan Moller

John Ellig

William Walls

Sigue la Criminalización en Contra del Defensor Abelino Chub Caal

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El gobierno de Guatemala, a través del Ministerio Público, insiste en seguir criminalizando a Abelino Chub Caal que subyace el despojo de tierras a la comunidad q’eqchi Plan Grande, de El Estor, Izabal. 

Abelino Chub, defensor de la tierra y los derechos de los pueblos indígenas, pasó 813 días injustamente encarcelado, acusado falsamente de usurpación agravada, incendio y asociación ilícita. 

Abelino finalmente fue puesto en libertad el 22 de abril de 2019 después de que el Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo “A” dictó una sentencia exculpatoria, evidenciando su inocencia. 

Pero el Ministerio Público -incomprensiblemente- presentó una apelación contra la sentencia. Por ello, el 24 de febrero de 2021, la Sala de la Corte de Apelaciones del Ramo Penal de Proceso de Mayor Riesgo y Extinción de Dominio llevó a cabo la audiencia de Apelación Especial. La abogada defensora Jovita Tzul presentó sus alegatos y Abelino Chub expuso su desacuerdo a la apelación y pidieron al Corte confirmar la sentencia a su favor. 

El Ministerio Público ni se presentó por haber enviado sus alegatos por escrito. La resolución de esta audiencia será dictada el día 10 de marzo a las 3.00 pm. 

La actuación del Ministerio Público se enmarca dentro de la estrategia de criminalización contra las y los líderes y defensores de los derechos humanos en Guatemala. Seguir manteniendo a Abelino Chub ligado a un proceso penal, es seguir criminalizándole. Ya fue declarado inocente. 

Según la defensa de Abelino Chub, “la sentencia dictada el 22 de abril del 2019 por el Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo A, es clara, con razonamiento lógico, por lo que es incomprensible que el Ministerio Público alegue en su apelación especial que la sentencia 2016-00328 que no se fundamenta al no dar valor probatorio a dos testigos de la empresa acusadora, siendo ellos caporal y gerente de la finca Murciélago, supuesta propiedad de las mismas empresas familiares de COBRA S.A. Y CXI S.A. Por tal motivo se analiza que sigue siendo un caso de criminalización y estrategia de despojos de las tierras q’eqchi.“ 

Es preocupante que el Estado, a través del Ministerio Público, siga persiguiendo y criminalizando a los defensores de los derechos humanos, siga promoviendo y avalando el despojo de las tierras indígenas, descartando su deber de investigar graves irregularidades que se evidenciaron en el proceso. 

Incluso el Tribunal de Mayor Riesgo A, en su sentencia, “ordena al Ministerio Público que realice investigación en relación a las irregularidades detectadas en las escrituras públicas que forma parte de la prueba documental.”

Abelino fue capturado el 4 de febrero de 2017 por la Policía Nacional Civil de Guatemala, en el departamento de Alta Verapaz. La captura se dio en un contexto de alta conflictividad generada por intereses empresariales, que han despojado de forma sistemática la tierra en manos de comunidades q’eqchis. Estas empresas han generado violencia e graves impactos ambientales en imponer sus proyectos económicos: plantaciones de monocultivos, la construcción de hidroeléctricas masivas, y la explotación minera de níquel. 

Dichos proyectos han contribuido al aumento de la pobreza y la extrema pobreza en la región. Las comunidades q’eqchies que ocupan históricamente el territorio han denunciado de manera reiterada la violencia, represión, criminalización y ataques que sufren. Sin embargo, el sistema de justicia guatemalteco no ha dado respuesta alguna a las denuncias. Al contrario, los megaproyectos se imponen por encima de tierras de comunidades violentando derechos amparados en la Constitución Política de la República y en convenios internacionales como el convenio 169 de la OIT que establece el respeto a las tierras indígenas y la consulta de buena fe: previa, libre e informada. 

Las organizaciones que suscribimos el presente pronunciamiento, denunciamos las intenciones de promover la criminalización y la promoción de los despojos, haciendo uso indebido del derecho penal contra defensores de los derechos humanos y comunidades indígenas que defienden sus derechos legítimos y legales. Es de resaltar que La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) ha expresado su preocupación respecto a la criminalización de personas defensoras y el uso malicioso del derecho penal para limitar el ejercicio de defensa de derechos humanos. 

Exhortamos al Estado Guatemalteco, de manera urgente, a garantizar los derechos de las comunidades indígenas q’eqchi, así como el derecho a defender los derechos humanos y la defensa de su territorio. 

Solicitamos al Ministerio Público desistir de seguir impulsando recursos penales que tienen como objetivo la criminalización de defensores de los derechos humanos, como Abelino Chub Caal, y la represión contra comunidades indígenas, como la comunidad Plan Grande del Estor, Izabal. Además, pedimos que se cumpla su obligación de investigar de manera objetiva e imparcial para detener el despojo de las tierras q’eqhi.

Firmado: 

Instituciones:

Abogado Liberal
ActionAid Guatemala
ALIANZAS, Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington
Asociación Chomija
Center for Gender & Refugee Studies
Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional-CEJIL
Chomija
CoDevelopment Canada
Colectivo de Mujeres Ix Bahlam
Committee for Human Rights in Latin America (CDHAL)
Denver Justice and Peace Committee
Foro de ONGs Internacionales de Guatemala
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Guatemala Solidarity Project
Hamalali Garinagu
Latin America Working Group (LAWG)
Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network
MiningWatch Canada
Montreal Elders for Environmental Justice
Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA)
New Hampshire-Vermont Guatemala Accompaniment Project
Nicaragua Center for Community Action
Northern Virginians for Peace and Justice
Older Women Live OWL collective – Ckut 90.3 FM
Plataforma Guatemaltecos y Guatemaltecas Exiliados por Terrorismo de Estado
Projet Accompagnement Québec-Guatemala (PAQG)
Todos por Guatemala/All for Guatemala
TROCAIRE

Individuals

Jo-Marie Burt, Senior Fellow WOLA

Suzan Chastain

Roger Soles, Jade Enterprises

Wes Callender

Laila Hamdan

William Mair Russell

Gaillmarie M Goldrick

Bruce D. Rieder

Constance Freeman

Marilyn Baker

Jonathan Moller

John Ellig

William Walls

Dianna Ortiz, Presente!

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With heavy hearts yet mindful that her work continues in the world we mark the passing today of Sister Dianna Ortiz, OSU. Dianna worked at the Guatemala Human Rights Commission from 1994 to 2002.  A survivor of torture in Guatemala, Dianna bravely pursued her case through the Guatemalan court system in the early 90s, to no avail, and bravely continued fighting for the rights of survivors of torture, founding the Torture Abolition and Survivor’s Support Coalition in 1998, as a project of GHRC. TASSC operated as a project of GHRC until it received its own 501(c)(3) status in 2002. In 1996 Dianna conducted a highly publicized vigil and hunger strike in front of the White House to request the declassification of all US government documents related to cases of human rights abuse in Guatemala since 1954. The State Department made a voluntary release of thousands of pages of documents that illustrated US complicity with the Guatemalan government in its brutal and genocidal campaign against the Mayan indigenous and against armed insurgents, human rights defenders, and others working for change.

Dianna first came to Washington to participate in GHRC’s 1992 conference against torture in Guatemala, giving the keynote speech. GHRC’s founding director, Sister Alice Zachmann, had fought for Dianna’s release when she was abducted in Guatemala in 1989 and was instrumental in connecting her with a torture treatment center in Chicago, the Marjorie Kovler Center. A couple of years later Dianna would join GHRC’s staff of three and play a pivotal role in supporting Jennifer Harbury’s efforts to learn the fate of her husband, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, efforts that resulted in the disclosure of continued and close US collaboration with and funding of Guatemala’s military death squads.

Dianna was an example of strength, generosity of spirit, and courage. All who knew her were touched by her and all she touched was improved. We are blessed to have had her with us at GHRC and we know she will remain with us in spirit and with all who fight for human rights.

Dianna Ortiz, presente!

(Traduccion por Felipe Elgueta Frontier)

¡DIANNA ORTIZ, PRESENTE!

Con nuestros corazones apesadumbrados pero con la convicción de que su obra continúa en este mundo, hoy anunciamos el fallecimiento de la hermana Dianna Ortiz, OSU. Dianna trabajó en la Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) desde 1994 hasta 2002. Superviviente de tortura en Guatemala, Dianna llevó adelante su caso con valentía en el sistema judicial guatemalteco a principios de los años 90, sin obtener resultados, y con valentía continuó luchando por los derechos de las y los supervivientes de la tortura, fundando la Torture Abolition and Survivor’s Support Coalition (TASSC) en 1998, como un proyecto de la GHRC. La TASSC funcionó como proyecto de la GHRC hasta que recibió su propio estatus 501(c)(3) en 2002.

En 1996, Dianna llevó a cabo una vigilia y huelga de hambre muy publicitada frente a la Casa Blanca para solicitar la desclasificación de todos los documentos del gobierno estadounidense relacionados con casos de violaciones a los derechos humanos en Guatemala desde 1954. El Departamento de Estado liberó voluntariamente miles de páginas de documentos que ilustraban la complicidad de EE.UU. con el gobierno guatemalteco en su campaña brutal y genocida contra las y los indígenas mayas y contra insurgentes armados, defensores de derechos humanos y otros que trabajaban por el cambio.Dianna vino por primera vez a Washington para participar en la conferencia contra la tortura en Guatemala realizada por la GHRC en 1992, donde fue la oradora principal. La directora fundadora de la GHRC, la hermana Alice Zachmann, había luchado por la liberación de Dianna cuando fue secuestrada en Guatemala en 1989 y fue fundamental para conectarla con un centro de tratamiento de tortura en Chicago, el Centro Marjorie Kovler. Un par de años más tarde, Dianna se unió al equipo de tres personas del GHRC y tuvo un rol fundamental en el apoyo a los esfuerzos de Jennifer Harbury para conocer el destino de su esposo, Efraín Bamaca Velásquez, esfuerzos que revelaron los lazos estrechos y continuados de colaboración y financiamiento entre EE.UU. y los escuadrones militares de la muerte de Guatemala.

Dianna fue un ejemplo de generosidad de espíritu, fortaleza y valentía. Todos los que la conocieron fueron tocados por ella, y todo lo que ella tocó, mejoró. Fue una bendición de tenerla con nosotros en el GHRC y sabemos que seguirá con nosotros en espíritu y con todos los que luchan por los derechos humanos.

IACHR Classifies Guatemala with Systematic Violators of Human Rights

In its annual human rights report released last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has placed Guatemala in chapter  IV.B, reserved for countries that violate aspects of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Analyzing the human rights situation in 2021 in the Organization of American States’ thirty-five member states, the IACHR has grouped Guatemala with Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Explaining its decision to include Guatemala in this section, the IACHR cites “structural situations that seriously affect the use and enjoyment of fundamental rights recognized in the American Declaration, the American Convention or other applicable instruments,” including  “systematic noncompliance of the State with its obligation to combat impunity, attributable to a manifest lack of will.”

The IACHR report lists observations of systematic actions that have interfered with the independence of the justice system, which in turn have weakened the work of independent institutions, particularly those that continued to work to combat corruption and impunity since the departure of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). It cites “irregularities in the process to select Constitutional Court judges for the 2021-2026 term; the refusal to swear in a judge who had been selected to serve on the Constitutional Court; the delay by the Congress of the Republic in continuing with the process of selection and nomination to the High Courts; the dismissal of the head of the FECI; and the alleged abuse of motions for impeachment (antejuicio proceedings) to intimidate or eventually remove judges from office.” 

Moreover, the report notes that 2021 was a particularly dangerous year for human rights defenders” due to continuing acts of violence and proceedings to criminalize those who defend human rights in the country.” It mentions the closure of democratic spaces, which “makes it more difficult to exercise the right to defend human rights in Guatemala.” Raising the issue of violence, the IACHR notes the impact of murder of defenders in 2021, particularly of members of the Campesino Development Committee, which has suffered 24 murders in the last four years. According to the report, “When an assault is committed in reprisal for a human rights defender’s actions, it produces a chilling effect on those connected to the defense and promotion of human rights,” especially in indigenous communities where the killing of a leader has “a serious impact on [the community’s] cultural integrity and breaks down the sense of community that binds them together in their struggle to defend their human rights.”  

The report warns that “the systematic interference in the independence of the judiciary, the weakening of human rights institutions, and the increasingly evident setbacks in the fight against corruption and impunity have an impact, in turn, on democratic stability and the very exercise of human rights by the Guatemalan people.” 

CODECA Leader Assassinated in Izabal

Human rights and environmental defender Pablo Ramos was killed in Navojoa, Morales, Izabal. According to witnesses, he was shot by two individuals on a motorcycle in the afternoon of June 7, while in the general store he owned. Ramos reportedly had received multiple threats from members of the Manchame family, who live in the same community, with whom community members have had a dispute over land. According to his family members, on June 6, Ramos had attended a conciliation hearing at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Morales, Izabal, where he had been summoned by the Manchame family.

Ramos had been a member of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) for 12 years, working to recover and defend the land of his community. CODECA condemned “this systematic, lethal violence that today annihlated the life of our brother and comrade” and demanded justice.  Twenty-four members of CODECA have been murdered since 2018. 

Judge Rules that Former Special Prosecutor Must Continue to Await her Trial from Prison

The hearing for Virginia Laparra Rivas–former head of Quetzaltenango’s branch of Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI)–-took place on June 7. Laparra’s legal team filed a request for “substitutive measures” which would allow her to await her trial under house arrest. The request, however, was denied by Judge Sergio Mena, who ruled to move Laparra to the Matamoros prison, where she will stay until her trial. Her hearing has been suspended, and a new date has not been set. 

Prior to Laparra’s hearing, demonstrators gathered outside of the courthouse in solidarity with Laparra, demanding her release. She was accompanied by the Unit for Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA). Judge Mena, however, barred the media and UDEFEGUA from entering the courtroom and allowed authorities to block courtroom windows with paper. 

Laparra will now stand trial for the charge of breach of duty. The charge stems from her presentation of legal complaints related to the misconduct of former high risk judge Lesther Castellanos. National and international organizations have denounced the charges against her as criminalization, stating that the Guatemalan government has begun “the systematic persecution of those who confronted corruption, assembling spurious cases in order to carry out political vengeance.” As a direct result of arbitrary delays in the legal process, Laparra spent over 100 days in Mariscal Zavala prison in pretrial detention, under conditions that she denounced as disproportionately extreme for her charges. Clinical psychologists identified her treatment by authorities as psychological torture. 

In addition to her pretrial detention, Laparra has faced threats on social media from the Foundation Against Terrorism and its supporters. In respect to Laparra’s continuing persecution, the advocacy organization Justicia Ya condemned “the revenge of defenders of corruption” in a judicial process that is “opaque” and “full of irregularities.” 

CC Gives Human Rights Commission 48 Hours to Submit Evidence Against Human Rights Ombudsman 

On June 8, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) processed Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas’ appeal and required that the Human Rights Commission of the Guatemalan Congress supply corresponding records or a circumstantial report within 48 hours. Rodas’s request came following the Commission’s May 31 attempt to remove him from office, the seventh such removal attempt he has faced throughout his almost five years in the position.  He is accused of campaigning for the position of rector of the University of San Carlos during working hours, a charge he claims lacks legal merit. He also asserts that the legal process violates his right to defense, as his summons occurred while he was in Ecuador attending the IV Ibero-American Migration Summit. 

In light of the removal attempt, Rodas has faced increasing blatant threats and ridicule, especially from leaders within Foundation against Terrorism (FCT). Video footage reveals FCT lawyer Raul Falla threatening Rodas when the men crossed paths at Virginia Laparra’s hearing on June 8. However, various human rights organizations—including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—have expressed concern over the recent treatment of Rodas. Jorge Santos, director of UDEFEGUA, also expressed support for Rodas and denounced the removal process as an attempt to achieve “the absolute capture of state” so “those who hold power can commit acts of corruption and violence without receiving sanctions.”  

US State Department Reports Backsliding on Human Rights in 2021

Reporting on the human rights situation in Guatemala, the US State Department illustrated worsening conditions and highlighted the role that corruption and impunity have played in the last year. The 2021 Human Rights Report–released on April 12–summarizes and provides examples of what the State Department deems “significant human rights issues” in Guatemala, including the following: unlawful and arbitrary killings; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; restrictions on freedom of expression, including threats and violence against journalists; interference with freedom of association and organization; and significant corruption. 

The State Department emphasizes a concerted effort from corrupt actors aimed at “undermining anti-corruption institutions and the judiciary” which in turn makes “meaningful investigation and prosecution of crimes, including corruption involving public officials difficult.” The report mentions the arbitrary removal of Juan Francisco Sandoval in July of 2021 and subsequent charges filed against him for abuse of authority, as well as attempts to remove the immunity of independent judges like Erika Aifán. Both Sandoval and Aifán have since fled Guatemala in fear of their lives. 

In addition to attacks on judicial sector workers, the report mentions attacks on defenders and journalists, including defamation, surveillance, threats, criminalization, and murders. Citing UDEFEGUA, the report mentioned that ten defenders were killed between January and November 2021 and that unfounded judicial cases filed against human rights defenders have doubled since 2020. But according to the State Department, while “the government, fringe groups, and private entities used threats of legal action as a form of intimidation,” the Guatemalan government, “took little action to protect these individuals.” 

Moreover, the State Department  highlighted threats to freedom of assembly, which worsened over the last year. In particular, the NGO Law–passed last May–poses a serious threat to human rights organizations and indigenous movements. Mentioning the case of El Estor, the report illustrates the use of state security forces to silence dissent, infringing upon freedom of expression. It also mentions that the consultation that took place on the Fénix Project was conducted during a state of siege in which freedom of movement was restricted. In terms of compliance with ILO 169, the report states,“The government did not always consult with all affected parties and indigenous leaders, and activists regularly reported being harassed and threatened for their work.”

The State Department report echoes concerns from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR), which recently gave Guatemala a ‘C’ rating for its progress on human rights. Back in March, the UNHCR expressed concern over the lack of measures and political will to implement policies to protect human rights, specifically noting how the forced evictions of indigenous peoples were not in line with international standards. 

Former Prosecutor Suffers Psychological Torture in Pretrial Detention 

The former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) in Quetzaltenango, Virginia Laparra, has suffered almost two months in pretrial detention. “I see the sunlight once a day, I was torn away from my land, my beautiful, beloved and incomparable Quetzaltenango. They took me away from my home, my family, my friends, they left me without work and took away my freedom,” Laparra explained in an open letter to the people of Guatemala that was given to Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas during a visit. Rodas traveled to Mariscal Zavala prison on April 2 to verify her conditions and found that her emotional and physical wellbeing were at risk. 

Laparra–who suffers from claustrophobia–is currently being held in solitary confinement. Authorities allege this is for her protection, according to clinical psychologist Vania Morales, however, “By keeping her locked up, they are re-traumatizing her and that is psychological torture.” Her cell–which is essentially a small metal box with a door–was described by an official from Disabilities Rights International as “somewhere between Willowbrook and a Concentration Camp.” According to former Attorney General Thelma Aldana,“Her life is the responsibility of Consuelo Porras who is persecuting her.” 

According to Laparra, the case mounted against her constitutes “selective and malevolent discrimination and criminalization.” Attorney General Consuelo Porras–who was added to the US State Department’s list of corrupt actors in Central America in September–issued a warrant for Laparra’s arrest on February 24 for the alleged crimes of giving false testimony, abuse of authority, and encroachment of functions. As one of the anti-corruption attorneys detained following a string of arrests in February, Laparra is the last to remain in prison. On April 18, her intermediate hearing was suspended once again, further extending her time in pretrial detention. 

Journalist Flees Guatemala  

Juan Luis Font announced on twitter that he has left Guatemala, stating, “In this moment of tension, caused by spurious accusations, I have decided to take some distance.” Font has worked as a journalist in Guatemala for over 25 years; he founded news outlet El Periodico and currently works as a host on the political analysis show Con Criterio

Font fled Guatemala after charges were filed against him for illegal association. The Committee to Protect Journalists decried the persecution of Font and said Guatemalan authorities should immediately dismiss criminal proceedings against him and allow him to work freely without fear of reprisal.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras ruled to open investigations into Font in December of last year related to allegations brought forward by former Minister of Communications Alejandro Sinibaldi. Sinibaldi–who is now in prison awaiting trial–claims that Font accepted over $200,000 in bribes from him between 2012 and 2014. On March 22, Sinibaldi brought forward another complaint against Font, this time claiming he colluded with former High Risk Court Judge Erika Aifán. Font, however, has denied the accusations. According to former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, “It is part of the revenge process of the ‘Pact of Corruption’ to attack and criminalize independent journalists who are committed to the fight against corruption and impunity.”

Organizations Demand Transparency in Upcoming Attorney General Elections 

From April 5 through 7, protestors gathered outside the Palace of Justice in Guatemala City and in the Q’eqchi and Poqomchi region to demand a Public Ministry (MP) free of corrupt actors. Popular opposition to current Attorney General Consuelo Porras and her bid for reelection inspired a new wave of protests across the country. Several national and international organizations called on the Attorney General Nomination Committee to abstain from voting for candidates “linked to President Giammattei and the now widely known criminal structures” in Guatemala. The Social and Popular Assembly of Guatemala (ASP) denounced candidates they identified as associated with the “Pact of Corruption,” including María Consuelo Porras, current Attorney General, who is named on the US State Department’s Engel List; Jorge Luis Donado, current head of the Attorney General’s Office; José Enrique Urrutia Estrada, lawyer for the Foundation against Terrorism; Henry Alejandro Elías, magistrate for the Chamber of the Court of Appeals on Femicide and Crimes Against Women; Óscar Dávila, Director of the Presidential Commission against Corruption; and Gloria Dalila Suchité, acting High Risk Court judge.  

The process of electing a new Attorney General began on January 31, when the 15-member Nomination Committee–composed of law schools deans and other legal field professionals, and led by President of the Supreme Court Silvia Patricia Valdez–began reviewing a list of 26 applicants to select the final list of six candidates, from which President Giammattei will choose the next Attorney General. The commission plans to submit their final 6 candidates by Wednesday, April 20.

The International Observatory on Human Rights in Guatemala denounced that under Consuelo Porras, “the MP has been used to persecute agents of justice, journalists, and human rights defenders committed to the fight against corruption and the defense of human rights.” According to human rights groups, the outcome of this election is crucial for the future of rule of law in Guatemala.  

Chicoyogüito Defenders Sent to Trial in Cobán

On March 30th, Judge Úrsula Teyul ruled to send 21 human rights defenders from Chicoyogüito to trial for “aggravated usurpation,” a charge they supposedly incurred during a peaceful protest in June 2021. Chicoyogüito land defenders initiated the peaceful demonstration to demand that the state return their ancestral land. The National Civil Police responded to the protests with force, injuring Chicoyogüito members and arresting 21 defenders.

The decades-long struggle to recover their ancestral land began in 1968, when the Guatemalan Army forcibly evicted Chicoyogüito community members to establish an army base. In addition to human rights violations associated with the forced displacement of the community, the base was used during the internal armed conflict for torture, forced disappearences, and political assassinations. As one of Latin America’s largest clandestine cemeteries, the base contains human remains that are evidence in two transitional justice cases.

Organizations raised concerns over the transparency of the hearings. During one of the hearings, UDEFEGUA and the press were removed from the courtroom. The next hearing is scheduled for April 21. 

GHRC Accompanies Prosecution in the Death Squad Dossier Case 

The GHRC Guatemala Team accompanied the prosecution team in the intermediate stage of the Death Squad Dossier (Diario Militar) case. After previous delays, intermediate hearings for the Death Squad Dossier case began on April 5. The prosecution presented evidence against defendants, which included images from the dossier and witness testimony. The hearings were suspended and continued on April 18. Once intermediate hearings conclude, presiding Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez will determine if the defendants will stand trial for their purported crimes.

Leaked in 1999, the Death Squad Dossier is a military archive that details the crimes committed against 183 presumed enemies of the state–including children–from 1983 to 1985, during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. The 11 former soldiers implicated in the crimes face charges of numerous forced disappearances; kidnappings; illegal detentions; murders and attempted murders; acts of sexual violence; and crimes against humanity. 

Although the crimes took place nearly 40 years ago, the trial of those involved is an essential step in bringing justice to the victims and their families. GHRC continues to support the prosecution team, which has faced threats for its work, as well as the families of the victims in their search for justice.  

GHRC Supports Defenders Facing New Wave of Criminalization in El Estor

Authorities in El Estor have mounted a case against 12 people who were present at an anti-mining protest in October 2021. Community members became aware of the case against them when the son of one of the defenders active in the anti-mining resistance was arrested on March 22. Authorities mentioned a list of pending arrest warrants against defenders and local journalists, including Carlos Choc of Prensa Comunitaria. The warrants, dated January 14, are reported to have been ordered by Judge Arteaga López for the alleged charge of “incitement to commit a crime.” While video evidence reveals the excessive use of force against the protesters by police during the demonstration, no investigations of police actions are underway.


The Committee to Protect Journalists lent their support to Choc, demanding that the charges be dropped immediately. According to Natalie Southwick, CPJ’s Latin America and the Caribbean Program Coordinator, “Guatemalan authorities must immediately drop the absurd charges against Choc, stop treating community journalists like criminals for doing their job, and put an end to their campaign to intimidate and threaten the press.” The Association of Guatemala Journalists denounced the criminalization in a statement, explaining, “The spurious prosecution of this journalist corresponds directly to his work of visibilizing the problems generated by the Guatemalan Nickel Company and the resistance by population in that area.” Choc has previously faced criminal charges and persecution by local authorities and dam personnel, including in 2017 after documenting the death of a protester at the hands of police. 

This newest wave of criminalization comes on the heels of a massive data leak which revealed the mining company Solway and its local subsidiaries manipulated the consultation process on the Fénix Project that began in October 2021. Not only did company employees hand pick which communities would be allowed to participate in the consultation; company records show payments were made to local police and judges, and defenders and  journalists were closely surveilled. “Knowing that I am being photographed is very worrying,” Choc explained. “[The] mining company controls not only the population of El Estor with its actions, but also the lives of the defenders and especially mine as a journalist.” Only one person has been arrested so far, however, defenders reported to GHRC during their visit in January following and harassing them about the forthcoming warrants. The situation for these defenders will likely get even worse in the coming weeks.   

GHRC’s Commitment to the Defenders in El Estor

GHRC Advocacy Director Awards the El Estor Resistance the Alice Zachmann Human Rights Award, January 2022

In the ongoing peaceful struggle in El Estor, GHRC–along with other organizations working in the region–has played an important role. GHRC, along with the Amaq’ Institute, requested and was granted a hearing before the Inter-American Commission to talk about the effects of specific, damaging effects of the Fenix mine on women human rights defenders in El Estor. In November, GHRC helped two families at risk of persecution and violence because of their leadership in El Estor’s peaceful resistance to the mine. During the November state of siege, when thousands of police and military flooded the community and resistance members faced serious attacks and repression by security forces, GHRC not only worked to document and denounce the violence, traveling to El Estor and taking testimonies, but ensured the safety of these families.   

One family took refuge in the mountains, fleeing without clothes, shoes, or the medicine they needed. When the family tried to return to their home, they found the police had their house surrounded. GHRC worked with contacts in the region and in Guatemala City to find them shelter, renting houses for them to stay in until the state of siege was over and returning home was safe. We helped out with food for the families and ensured they got needed medical check-ups, medicine, and other essentials. 

A young man who was in poor health from inhaling tear gas that state security forces fired at the peaceful resistance in El Estor needed urgent medical attention. GHRC managed to arrange care for him. 

We’re now working to support the defenders in El Estor as they face potential arrest and spurious prosecution. We will continue to support their right to defend their resources and their land, both threatened by the illegal mine. Your contributions allow us to provide critical support to defenders at risk and advocate for human rights justice, both in Washington, DC, and in Guatemala. Will you join us? Please donate today. 

The Fight for Justice Continues: Updates on Transitional Justice Cases

Despite the recent attacks on Guatemala’s anti-corruption prosecutors and judges, the prosecution of many transitional justice cases has continued. The Rancho Bejuco case implicating eleven former Civil Defense Patrollers in the 1982 massacre continues under Judge Edwin Ramírez after Judge Erika Aífan’s recent resignation; the prosecution of Luis Enrique Mendoz García, one of the former military officials implicated in the Genocidio Ixil case, will move into the evidentiary phase in May; the intermediate hearing for former soldiers and police officers accused of forced disappearances, murder, attempted murder, and kidnappings during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict described in the Diario Militar continues; and José Manuel Castañeda Aparicio was recently sentenced to 45 years in prison for his role in the disappearance of three social leaders in 1983. 

Justice for the victims and their families of the crimes committed during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict is arriving decades too late, but serves to support truth and historic memory for Guatemala. GHRC continues to demand justice for the crimes perpetrated during the conflict and stands in solidarity with the victims and their families. 

Rancho Bejuco

The Rancho Bejuco case–originally presided over by Judge Erika Aífan in High Risk Court D– was transferred to Judge Edwin Ramírez and began its preliminary hearing on March 22. Judge Ramírez restricted press access to the hearing, claiming it would “distract” from the trial. Delegates of the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman were present to “verify respect for human rights and due process,” but the Association of Guatemalan Journalists called the restrictions on journalists “a threat to the liberty of expression.” The preliminary hearing for nine former Civil Defense Patrollers, arrested between January 22 and February 2, has been delayed multiple times, for reasons including an absent defense attorney, health concerns of a defendant, and a lack of hearing aids for another defendant. 

The Rancho Bejuco case implicates eleven former Civil Defense Patrollers, two of which remain at-large, in participating in the massacre on July 29, 1982 in Rancho Bejuco, Santa Cruz el Chol, in the department of Baja Verapaz. As a paramilitary group established during the internal armed conflict, the Civil Defense Patrollers were used by the military to control the civilian population. Patrollers have been implicated in human rights violations, five of which were convicted for crimes against humanity in the Achi Women case earlier this year. The massacre killed 25 people, 17 of which were children. The preliminary hearing will continue on April 18.

Genocidio Ixil

The case against Luis Enrique Mendoza García, the former director of military operations under Ríos Montt during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict, is set to continue. He faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity for his approval of military counterinsurgency operations against non-combatant Ixil populations during 1982. On February 15, Judge Silvia de León ruled that there was sufficient evidence against Mendoza García and sent the case to trial. The case against Mendoza García will continue in High Risk Court A, under Judge Yassmín Barrios, the 2015 recipient of the Civil Courage Prize for her work in prosecuting high-profile cases of corruption and crimes against human rights. The evidentiary hearing was set for March 14, but was delayed to May 3 & 4 due to an absent defense attorney. In response to the delays, Antonio Caba Caba, spokesman for The Association of Justice and Reconciliation, an organization that has supported the prosecution of this case, stated, “It’s unfortunate that justice is like this, we know that they only play with us to buy time.”

The Genocidio Ixil case has evidence of over 1,000 death certificates, military documents, and forensic reports corroborating 31 massacres, 23 devastated villages, and numerous cases of sexual violence and forced disapparences. Former head of General Staff of the Army, Benedicto Lucas García, and former head of the Intelligence section of the General Staff of the Army, Manuel Antonio Callejas, who are also implicated in the systematic violence carried out against the Ixil people between 1981-1983, had the evidentiary phase of their trial during the end of 2021. 

On March 22, Lucas García and Callejas filed a complaint against the prosecutor, Hilda Pineda, for investigating their purported crimes against humanity. Peneda has received numerous complaints from those she is investigating for crimes against humanity and was a prosecutor that helped lead to convictions for both the Sepur Zarco and Ríos Montt cases. In October of 2021, Attorney General Consuelo Porras transferred Pineda from her position as head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office on Human Rights to the Prosecutor’s Office for Crimes Against Tourists. Impunity Watch stated her transfer “put at risk the investigation of emblematic cases of serious human rights violations.” The actions against Pineda emphasize the ongoing trend of attacking and persecuting human rights prosecutors and judges.

Death Squad Dossier

The intermediate hearing for eleven former soldiers and police officers in the Diario Militar was held on March 28 and 29. International observers, including GHRC, were originally denied access to the courtroom by court security, but were later allowed to enter.  

Diario Militar is a case based upon a 74-page notebook, or “death squad dossier” discovered in 1999 detailing forced disappearances, torture and inhumane treatment, as well as extrajudicial executions of 183 purported enemies of the Guatemalan government between 1983-1985. The accused former soldiers face charges including forced disappearance, crimes against humanity, murder, attempted murder, and extrajudicial execution. During the intermediate hearing, the Public Ministry presented charges and evidence against the defendants for Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez to rule if each defendant will be sent to a sentencing tribunal for a public trial. 

Two defense attorneys attempted to delay the judicial process by resigning from the case after the hearing began on the 28th. Judge Gálvez delayed the hearings of the two defendants without attorneys and will report the attorneys  to the Court of Honor of the College of Lawyers and Notaries of Guatemala for defense abandonment. 

Alix Leonel Barillas Soto, former first sergeant and intelligence specialist in the Guatemalan Army from 1973-1989–also implicated in the Diario Militar case–had his preliminary hearing on March 2 and 3. Charges against Barillas Soto include crimes against the duties of humanity, as well as the forced disappearance of Rubén Amílcar Farfán in 1984. Judge Gálvez ruled that Barillas Soto will remain in pretrial detention until the intermediate hearing in four months.

The continued investigation into and prosecution of the crimes detailed in the “death squad dossier” is an important step in justice and reconciliation for the families of victims. “We’re not seeking vengeance, we’re seeking justice,” stated the wife of a victim prior to the start of the trial last year.

Caso Tactic

On February 24, former second chief of military commissioners in the Tactic municipality, José Manuel Casteñeda Aparicio, was sentenced to 45 years in prison for his role in the kidnapping and forced disappearance of Jacobo López, Francisco Guerrero López, and Rodolfo López Quej from Tampo Village, Tactic, Alta Verapaz in 1983, in the case known as Caso Tactic. The three victims were “social leaders that worked to improve living conditions.” Aparicio was part of the Civil Defense Patrollers under former General Ríos Montt’s de facto government and worked closely with the Guatemalan Army during the internal armed conflict, providing civilian surveillance and carrying out the persecution, torture, and extrajudicial executions of alleged enemies of the state. 

This is the second trial against Aparicio, after his acquittal for the forced disappearance of the three leaders in 2014. The discovery of the skeletal remains of Jacobo López Ac, along with at least 500 other peoples’ remains, in 2016 in the former Military Zone 21, Cobán Alta Verapaz, also known as CREOMPAZ, overturned his previous acquittal. This trial has been closely followed by Mutual Support Group, who called the conviction “satisfactory” but noted it arrived after 40 years of demanding justice. The court also ordered The Ministry of the Interior to provide a reward for anyone who can present information on others involved in the case. The sentencing will be translated into Achi and Poqomchi languages for dissemination.

ALERTA | Miembro de la Comunidad Q’eqchi de El Estor Fue Detenido por la Policía 

23 de marzo de 2022

Julio Toc Mucu fue capturado este 22 de marzo al mediodía por la policía cuando se dirigía a almorzar a su casa del Estor Izabal. Ahora, está bajo custodia policial en El Estor, acusado del delito de instigación del delinquir. De acuerdo a la policía, la orden de captura fue girada el 14 de febrero de 2022 desde el juzgado en Puerto Barrios. Supuestamente su captura es parte de un caso montado contra 12 defensores en conexión de la protesta que fue reprimida violentamente el 21 de octubre de 2021.. Ha sido trasladado a la prisión de Puerto Barrios sin que se haya tenido una audiencia de primera de primera declaración   y no se ha fijado una fecha . Según los informes que hemos recibido,está siendo golpeado durante su detención y le exigen una suma alta de dinero 

Toc es hijo de Julio Ancelmo Toc, que forma parte de la Gremial de Pescadores y del Consejo Indígena Ancestral de El Estor. Estamos preocupados por su seguridad, dado que los miembros del gremio y las autoridades ancestrales indígenas de El Estor han sido perseguidos por las autoridades gubernamentales desde octubre del año pasado, cuando se impuso el estado de sitio en El Estor. Según un informe de “Historias Prohibidas”, en una fuga masiva de datos relacionados con la mina Fénix, que fue analizada por una coalición de periodistas, se encontraron pruebas de la cooperación entre el Grupo Solway, sus filiales en Guatemala y las autoridades gubernamentales de El Estor y Ciudad de Guatemala. Una de las pruebas eran los pagos realizados a las autoridades locales, incluidos los regalos hechos a los jueces que desde entonces se han puesto del lado de la empresa en los casos montados contra los defensores. 


Condenamos cualquier intento de criminalizar pueblos indígenas que tienen el derecho a defender su tierra y su vida. Demandamos a la policía de El Estor y los juzgados que liberen a Toc Mucu y se detenga la persecución contra defensores y pueblos indígenas.