2020 Breaks Record for Attacks on Human Rights Defenders

According to the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), a record-breaking number of human rights defenders were attacked in 2020. In total, UDEFEGUA documented 1,004 cases, which include 15 murders and 22 attempted murders.  Women defenders were the targets of nearly 34 percent of the attacks. Four women defenders were killed, according to UDEFEGUA’s statistics chart, making women 28 percent of the total number of defenders murdered. This figure represents a marked increase over previous years; in 2019, 11 percent of the defenders killed were female.

The number of attacks on defenders exceeds any annual tally since UDEFEGUA began documenting abuses against human rights defenders in 2000. UDEFEGUA in a December 17 communique noted that in an administration’s first year, attacks on defenders usually diminish, but the opposite occurred in 2020, in spite of the shutdown mandated to control the spread of COVID-19. In fact, the shutdown appears to have been taken advantage of; according to UDEFEGUA’s analysis, President Alejandro Giammattei has sparked a consolidation of authoritarianism and a closure of democratic spaces. UDEFEGUA has called on the international community to denounce the attacks and pressure the Guatemalan government to prosecute crimes against human rights defenders. 

    
Will the Biden Administration’s Plans Help?

President Joseph Biden’s plan for Central America emphasizes improving respect for the rule of law; but efforts to improve the situation, at least in respect to human rights, could be undercut by Biden’s economic plans for Central America. The Biden administration has promised a $4 billion aid package for Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to address root causes of migration. In a bid to increase economic competitiveness and create jobs, the Biden administration will work with multilateral development banks, such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, to develop infrastructure and promote foreign investment. Promoting transitions to clean energy is another goal mentioned in the plan. 

Biden’s economic plan follows a disruptive pattern of neoliberal policies that financially benefit large corporations and exploit vulnerable communities in Central America. This plan to encourage private sector investment in a region where the rights of rural and indigenous communities are routinely ignored risks deepening poverty for those communities and creating more conflict and displacement. In short, more attacks on environmental and land defenders could result.

A Biden presidency has the potential to advance holistic and humane policies towards Central America and aid those in desperate situations. But GHRC and other human rights organizations, some of whom have recently made policy recommendations to the Biden administration, have to remain diligent and promote US policies that advocate first and foremost for full observance of basic human rights.

 

This Giving Tuesday, Please Help Us Continue our Critical Work for Human Rights

In a year filled with hardships and protests, the Guatemalan government has increasingly turned to repression. Last week as protests erupted across the country police arbitrarily arrested scores of protesters. Most were beaten before being booked on false charges. Two men lost their left eyes when police fired teargas canisters into the crowd.

Just weeks before, two hurricanes had swept across Guatemala, destroying homes and crops and killing dozens. The shutdown to contain COVID-19 from March to September already had created severe food insecurity. Targeted killings, however, continued. Eight environmental and land defenders were killed between June and August. Between January 1 and November 20, a total of 14 defenders were murdered, 4 of whom were women. 

On the ground in Guatemala, GHRC accompanies defenders and communities under threat. We need your help to continue accompanying defenders in Guatemala and providing emergency support.

President Alejandro Giammattei spent his first year in office taking apart the institutions that were set up to implement the terms of the 1996 Peace Accords. In areas with controversial megaprojects, such as Izabal, and in communities with historic land conflicts, he declared states of siege, suspending basic rights and putting the military in control. 

We continue to document the increasing repression. Help us press the incoming administration in Washington to prioritize justice in Guatemala in all its forms and stand strong for human rights.

Partner with us! Donate today.

All gifts up to $35,000 will be matched.

Thank you for helping us defend Guatemala’s most vulnerable defenders!

Police Repress Protests

Only Half of the Story

Guatemala has once again made international headlines. Photos published by major US media showed an angry mob setting fire to the National Congress building in Guatemala City.

The New York Times, in an article entitled “Protesters in Guatemala Set Fire to Congress Building Over Spending Cuts,” wrote, “Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Guatemala’s capital on Saturday, setting fire to the nation’s congressional building in a show of anger over a budget bill passed this week that cut funding for health care and education.”

The real story, however, is far more complex and much more alarming.

The Billion-Dollar Question

With the arrival of Coronavirus in Guatemala, the administration of President Alejandro Giammattei declared a “state of calamity,” which eased restrictions on the government’s ability to seek millions of dollars in emergency loans and donations to fight COVID-19.As the months passed, however, the country did not see a significant improvement in medical attention, equipment, or infrastructure. Instead, hospitals were overrun by COVID-19 patients, testing became irregular, and medical workers complained of a lack of personal protection equipment, unsanitary conditions, and nonpayment of salaries. Doctors and nurses were among the mortal victims of COVID-19. Although 1.9 billion dollars were earmarked for social programs designed to provide a safety net for families during the coronavirus crisis, these programs came up short. An additional Q200 million (roughly $27 million) was designated by the Giammattei administration “for people of limited resources,” yet many poor families were forced to wave white flags, a symbol of need, begging for food by roadsides throughout Guatemala.

Criticism grew against the government for misuse of funds and outright corruption. On social media a growing wave of voices asked, “Where is the money?” and the hashtag #DondeEstaElDinero began to trend.

Recently the government’s deficient response to the suffering and tragedy caused by the back-to-back hurricanes Eta and Iota once again had Guatemalans asking, “Where is the money?”

The outcry was such that Guatemala’s Vice-president, Guillermo Castillo, offered to resign and publicly suggested that the president to quit along with him.

The Budget

On November 18, in the wee hours of the morning, the Guatemalan Congress approved a stunningly bloated budget for 2021. The Q99,000,000,000 budget (roughly $13.2 billion) was the largest in Guatemala’s history. In addition, the Congress approved a loan of $428 million, an amount that would sink the country deeper into debt.

The new budget severely underfunded essential services such as health, education, the environment, and human rights. It also slashed Q200 million—about $27 million—in funding allocated to fight malnutrition in Guatemala; this, in a country where half of the children suffer from chronic malnutrition. Earlier this month local newspapers reported the death of a 9-year-old boy in Jocotán, Guatemala due to chronic malnutrition.

At the same time, members of Congress approved $65,000 for their own meal plans. Guatemalan civil society immediately called for peaceful protests, demanding that the president veto the 2021 budget.

The Protests and the Violence

On the afternoon of November 21 thousands of men, women, and children gathered in front of the National Palace. The police presence was sizeable, but the protestors waved flags, carried banners denouncing the unjust budget, and cried out against corruption. The civil gathering was peaceful, full of creative energy and righteous indignation. It was also an act of protest fully protected by the Guatemalan Constitution and backed by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office (PDH).

Six blocks away from the organized protest, a group of people gathered in front of the National Congress. Oddly, there was absolutely no police presence to safeguard the installation. At 2:30 PM vandals broke the windows of the building, entered the building, and set fire to the interior. The police did not arrive until much later.

At 3:00 PM President Giammattei tweeted, “I reiterate that one has the right to demonstrate in accordance with the law. But we also cannot allow vandalism of public or private property. Anyone found to have participated in these crimes will be punished with the full force of the law.”

At approximately 5:00 PM riot police arrived at the National Palace. With absolutely no provocation, and no previous warning, they began to shoot canisters of tear gas into the peaceful demonstration. Men and women, children and the elderly, were forced to flee.

The riot police began lashing out indiscriminately at anyone they encountered in the city streets. Photographers, journalists, demonstrators, street vendors, parents and children, church workers, and others were caught in a tide of police brutality: gassed, beaten, and bloodied. A photojournalist had his camera knocked to the ground before receiving repeated baton blows to his head. Women were kicked, thrown, and dragged through the streets by their hair. Two young men lost their left eyes when police fired teargas canisters at head level into the crowd. In total, 31 innocent people were arrested.

Injustice and Justice

Isabel Solis, GHRC’s Guatemala City Office Director, observed the hearings of several of the accused. She reports that one of the charges against many of the 31 of the arrested was “destruction of cultural patrimony,” a charge that falls outside of the jurisdiction of the Justice of the Peace, who otherwise could have released the protesters.

Those accused of this charge, therefore, had to spend at least two nights in prison. After a physically and emotionally exhausting wait, every single person arrested had the charges against them dropped by the presiding judges for “falta de mérito” (a lack of evidence).

Some Doubts that Remain

·         The governing board of the Guatemalan Congress has agreed to temporarily “shelve” the 2021 Budget. Yet this unilateral act in itself might be illegal since it doesn’t have the support of the entire Congress.

·         National Civil Police officers stated that those arrested had been caught in flagranti, while committing the arson, yet all of the arrests occurred in different locations and hours after the fact.       

·         Leaked images published on social media showed fire extinguishers and large barrels of water had been set up inside the building previous to the fire.

·        The former head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Ivan Velazquez, tweeted a question about where the guards were who were supposed to be in front of Congress as it was being burned. “It’s very strange, if not suspicious, that infiltrators could get into and set fire so easily to a building that should have the greatest levels of security,” he wrote.

·        Human rights monitors in Guatemala suggest the fire may have been set by government-affiliated elements to create a pretext for repression.

In Conclusion

GHRC is concerned about the mental and physical wellbeing of those who were brutally attacked and falsely arrested by the police. We are also concerned by the increasing use of criminalization by the government to dissuade and discredit legitimate social protest and the defense of human rights. Finally, GHRC joins with those who are calling for a thorough and impartial investigation into the arbitrary arrests and the use of excessive force by agents of the National Civilian Police (PNC) and those in the chain of command who ordered the repression.

Giving Tuesday is next week. All donations will be matched!

Hurricanes Devastate Communities

Double Dose of Destruction

With media in the United States focused on the struggle to contain a surge of Coronavirus cases and navigate the complicated transition between presidential administrations, shocking news from Central America scarcely got its due: Guatemala and neighboring countries were devastated by back-to-back hurricanes. Hurricanes Eta and Iota struck the isthmus within days of each other, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction: floods, landslides, loss of crops, homes and lives. In Guatemala alone, over 150 people are either missing or dead. Even those who sought safety in overcrowded temporary shelters are now at greater risk for falling ill to COVID-19.
 
GHRC’s office director in Guatemala, Isabel Solis, mobilized immediately to connect affected communities with the individuals and organizations providing life-saving aid. 

The Polochic region of Guatemala, where GHRC has worked with communities defending the environment from illegal extractive industries, was hard hit. Families in El Estor, Izabal, lost their entire harvest. In the Verapaces, homes were destroyed by flooding, and a landslide caused by the rains buried half of the residents of the village of Queja, a Poqomchi’ community near Coban. 

A Community in Resistance, a Community in Need 

One of the communities that reached out to GHRC for help is Chicoyoguito. Three decades ago, these Mayan q’eqchi families were forced from their lands by the army. Their homes and fields were razed to build the Zone 21 Military Base, a notorious facility where men, women and children were disappeared, tortured, and buried in mass graves during the armed conflict.
 
Last January some 50 families returned to reclaim their lands. They resettled in an area that had been a garbage dump, cleaning the area up and making it habitable. Nevertheless, they once again faced eviction, this time in order to accommodate the operations of a munitions factory. 

GHRC has been accompanying the community in their struggle to recover and return to their rightful lands. Many of the Chicoyoguito families were left homeless by the hurricanes and were in dire need of food. GHRC helped spread the word about the community’s dire situation and—working with the human rights organization Just Associates and others—provided much-needed corn to the community. 

A Political Prisoner Speaks Out

Bernardo Caal, a political prisoner GHRC has been accompanying, affirms that the catastrophic flooding caused by the storms has been exacerbated by the damming of rivers for massive hydroelectric projects. Bernardo, a father, teacher, and community organizer, is serving a seven-year prison sentence based on false charges as a result of his opposition to such projects on the Cahabon River. 

Caal writes, “In the granting of 50-year concessions to hydroelectric and mining companies, which kidnap our rivers and destroy the environment, there the government is present, signing the license. But when nature reacts to these harms caused, the government and its officials are largely absent.”

Whether they are seeking to address historic wrongs, defend the environment, or simply survive natural disasters, human rights defenders need our support, and GHRC is steadfast in offering it. Thank you for standing with us!

Defenders of Land and Environment Further Stigmatized



A highly publicized arrest has created the occasion for further accusations to be leveled against land and environmental defenders in Guatemala.

César Montes, once a famed guerrilla commandant whose legal name is Julio César Macías López Mayorga, was arrested in Mexico on October 10 and is charged with ordering the murder of three soldiers on September 2, 2019 in the village of Semuy II, in El Estor, Izabal. While a number of human rights groups accuse Montes himself of working on behalf of companies and large landowners rather than in favor of the indigenous communities—allegations that documents presented in a Canadian court seem to support—his arrest is being used to further sully land rights activists and environmental defenders.

The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF), congratulating the Public Ministry on Montes’ arrest, urged the government “to continue with these efforts to eradicate parallel groups that, with high-powered weapons, promote property invasions, carry out illegal activities, and defy the authorities.”

CACIF’s statement is especially concerning given the intensification of criminalization campaigns targeting human rights defenders. Between January and June of this year, as attacks on defenders nearly tripled compared to the same period in previous years, 481 new cases of criminalization were reported.

Conflating defenders with criminals, former President Jimmy Morales in 2019 imposed a two-month state of siege that extended over hundreds of miles, including Semuy II, where the soldiers were killed, but also encompassing six departments and twenty-two municipalities. Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Paulo Abrao called the measure disproportional.

A state of siege is the second highest state of exception that the Guatemalan government can impose, topped only by a state of war. It severely limits various constitutional rights and freedoms, including the right to hold meetings, transit freely, and protest. In his press conference calling for a state of siege, Morales referred to “pseudo-human rights defenders” and “pseudo-campesinos” and said “the Government of Guatemala repudiates the actions carried out by people who shield themselves in flags of pseudo-defense of human rights.”

On July 19 of this year, the government of President Alejandro Giammattei imposed another state of siege in five municipalities, including El Estor. The decree made all meetings of two or more people illegal.

The states of siege have been implemented at critical moments for those resisting the Guatemalan Nickel Company’s (CGN) illegal Fenix mine in El Estor. Finding that the Fenix mine had carried out an incomplete environmental study and had not consulted populations affected by the mine, the Constitutional Court on June 19 of this year ordered an immediate halt to the mine’s operations. The ruling limits the area covered by the license to 6.29 square kilometers, the land that the environmental study did apply to; suspends all operations until a consultation is carried out with the affected populations; and mandates a period of 18 months during which the consultation must be conducted.

Limits on the right to assembly imposed by the government have restricted the ability of the communities affected by the mine to begin planning the consultation ordered by the court. Furthermore, the states of siege have been used harass indigenous communities working to defend their land and resources, as GHRC’s staff in Guatemala confirmed repeatedly in meetings with defenders.

As United Nations Rapporteur Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, stated after finishing an investigation in Guatemala, “The initiation of criminal proceedings against indigenous authorities and leaders who defend their rights to their lands are often preceded by smear campaigns, including on social networks, which label them as violent criminals seeking conflict, campaigns that are carried out with the aim of discrediting the legitimate exercise of their rights.”
GHRC is greatly concerned that the current context may lead to further smear campaigns, criminalization, and attacks against indigenous leaders and others who defend their rights to land and a healthy environment in Guatemala.

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!

CELEBRATE AND HONOR THIS YEAR’S RECIPIENT OF THE ALICE ZACHMANN AWARD

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

6:00-9:00

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

TWO MONTHS OF STATE OF SIEGE ENDS

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.

PUBLIC LETTER QUESTIONS INTENTION OF STATE OF SIEGE

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.

LAGUNA LARGA IN GUATEMALA

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.

MINING VS. WATER IN HONDURAS

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.

JUSTICE FOR GENOCIDE & CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

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.

OBSERVATORY ON GUATEMALA

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.

FUEGO VOLCANO VICTIMS PLAN THEIR FUTURE

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.

OBSTACLES TO JUSTICE FOR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES IN HONDURAS

BERTA’S ASSASSINS STILL AT LARGE

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-krf

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.