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.

Recently Announced Initiatives Spark Concern

Recent initiatives announced by the White House, aimed purportedly at addressing the root causes of migration, as well as stemming the flow of migrants to the US border, are concerning. USAID, as part of these initiatives, will provide up to $7.5 million over three years and leverage at least $22.5 million from the private sector to support “entrepreneurs and innovators” working in, among other industries, renewable energy. This plan appears to be consistent with the $4 billion dollar, four-year Northern Triangle aid package Biden had announced during his campaign, which contemplates grid modernization, a transition to clean energy, and doubling the capacity of the Central American Electrical Interconnection System. While supporting renewable energy may seem a reasonable, environmentally sustainable goal, hydroelectric dams in Guatemala, as well as in Honduras, have led to repeated and deadly violence. The imposition of geothermal and solar plants in the region have also occasioned violence.

Often these large-scale projects are situated on land belonging to indigenous people. The rights of affected communities are routinely violated, including the right to prior, informed, and free consultation, mandated by Guatemalan law and Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, the right to self-determination, and the right to life. Land-grabbing on the part of private companies and the state is a pattern. Violent evictions and displacement ensue. For those driven out of their communities, either by violence, eviction, or damage to the environment resulting from these projects, migration is a logical option.

The same is true of the many hundreds who have been criminalized for opposing such land grabs. Using charges meant to be applied to organized crime, the governments of Guatemala and Honduras issue arrest warrants that terrorize community activists and leaders who are defending their land and natural resources. Such charges usually require pretrial detention. As a result, before ever being tried on spurious charges, many environmental defenders spend years behind bars. 

A development model that favors the elite while disrupting, displacing, and violating the rights of many long-established and often indigenous communities, will not address the root causes of migration but will continue to exacerbate the suffering of Guatemala’s most vulnerable communities. As UN Rapporteur for indigenous rights Victoria Tauli-Corpuz points out in a report on Guatemala, “In addition to the question of territorial rights and consultation, projects that are imposed on indigenous peoples disregard their rights to their own development models and have a serious impact on other human rights. It has been pointed out that the areas in which foreign investment is most highly concentrated are also the areas with the worst human development indicators, which indicates that the indigenous communities affected do not benefit from such projects. It is telling that, in Alta Verapaz, in areas with a high number of hydroelectric power plants, the communities have no electricity. In San Pablo, in San Marcos department, there are serious problems with electricity costs and supplies. Departments where agro-industry is particularly active, such as Alta Verapaz, exhibit the highest levels of acute malnutrition.”

The US should reject an economic approach based on the extraction of resources and low-wage employment. The Biden administration has taken a false step in planning to invest in expanding the land of a banana plantation in Guatemala in order to create jobs, an initiative that will be carried out through the Development Finance Corporation. Although the particular plantation in question has not been revealed, banana plantations have long been a part of Guatemala’s economy and social fabric and have not improved the quality of life for Guatemala’s most vulnerable sectors.

Instead of natural resource extraction in the areas of large out-migration—areas which are primarily indigenous—the US government should encourage the Guatemalan government to implement the indigenous rights agenda it committed to in the 1996 Peace Accords. Rapporteur Tauli-Corpuz notes the lack of guarantees in Guatemala for the rights of indigenous peoples to self-determination, the recognition of their own systems of self-government, their rights to lands, territories, and natural resources, the exercise of indigenous jurisdiction, and access to basic health, education and food that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.  “The implementation rate of the 1996 Peace Accords regarding the Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” she pointed out after a 2018 trip to Guatemala, “is only 19 percent. Failure to comply with these commitments has undermined the progress of adopting measures in many areas, including land reform, recognition of indigenous authorities and justice, political participation and bilingual intercultural education. . . .The full implementation of the Peace Accords must be a priority on the State’s agenda to overcome existing problems that impede the enjoyment of the rights of indigenous peoples.” 

The US must encourage the recognition of indigenous peoples’ land ownership. The ownership by the indigenous of land they have historically lived on must be recognized whether or not they have formal title, and indigenous titles must be recognized where they do exist.[1] It is also important that land tenure include the concept of communal land, which is essential for indigenous peoples. The Peace Accords mandated compensation for lost land. An integral strategy for rural development was also outlined in the accords and now not only have these not been fulfilled, but the very institutional framework for implementing the accords has been dismantled, in spite of the objections of Guatemalan civil society. The US must push the Guatemalan government to create institutions to carry out the work of those institutitions which were closed and to continue making progress with justice for crimes of the past, reparations, and land reform committed to under the accords.

A potentially more effective initiative than the economic measures announced is the “Anti-Corruption Task Force.” The Task Force will entail “Resident Legal Advisors to provide capacity-building, training, and case-based mentoring to the Guatemalan Public Ministry.” This Anti-Corruption Task Force, to be truly effective, should address corruption in all its forms, and the rights of the indigenous—as the most dispossessed sector of Guatemalan society, who already suffered a genocide provoked by US interests[2]–must be paramount. The Task Force should investigate the malicious prosecution of human rights defenders, uncovering the factors that lead to such misuse of the criminal justice system and encouraging punishment of those involved. The US should also encourage the adoption of measures to penalize false prosecution.

Of extreme concern is the “Human Smuggling and Trafficking Task Force.” Law enforcement agencies headed by the Department of Justice will partner with security forces in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador to “track migrant smuggling, identify, disrupt, and prevent smuggling, and plan coordinated enforcement actions.” “Migrant smuggling,” we fear, may simply refer to the process by which many migrants find their way to the US-Mexico border: with the help of a coyote and/or with the assistance of civil society aid organizations that provide resources such as shelter and advice. Migration is an internationally recognized right, and seeking asylum is a right. The use of the term smuggling appears to be an effort to criminalize the movement of people exercising that right. The promise to engage in “coordinated enforcement actions” with notoriously brutal and unaccountable security forces suggests, not a new strategy by the Biden White House, but a reversion to the disastrous tactics of the past.

It is urgent that the US government rethink the use of force to deter migrants and redirect its “economic aid” and development plans. Development cannot continue to be implemented through extraction, violence, repression, looting, and corruption. Instead of stopping the flow of migration, these will increase migration. Any policies implemented by the US must be highly humane, centering on and supporting the rights of the Guatemalan people, including and especially the most dispossessed.


[1] The March 2019 report of the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded that no progress had been made in the adoption of legislation regarding access to land by indigenous peoples and the creation of an effective mechanism for claiming ancestral lands. Additionally, no progress had been made on any measures adopted to prevent indigenous peoples from being forcibly evicted from their traditional territories and to mitigate the impact of such evictions. Nor had any progress been made in legislating to comply with the constitutional mandate to respect and ensure traditional possession and ancestral ownership of indigenous lands. Article 70 of the Constitution of Guatemala, in force since 1985, establishes the obligation to issue a specific law for indigenous peoples, but this obligation has not been met. Additionally, judicial evictions continue to be carried out without due process for the indigenous people involved. Furthermore, the State has not guaranteed a responsible property registry to identify the ancestral lands of the indigenous peoples, as well as to harmonize national legislation with international standards, the Ombudsman’s report noted.

[2] In banana plantations, no less.

Vice President Harris’ Visit Heralds No Real Change

Vice President Kamala Harris’ trip to Guatemala June 7 could have drawn attention to the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, but instead it trod familiar diplomatic and policy paths.  The United States intends to stress economic, not political, responses to what it considers the “root causes” of migration and is poised to support militarized responses to stopping the flow of migration.

As President Alejandro Giammattei discussed new aid agreements while sharing the stage with Harris, the message communicated was one of broad US support for his administration, without the rebuke that rights defenders hoped to see. Harris and Giammettei held three hours of closed talks which may have included discussion of new restrictions on NGOs, the undermining of anti-corruption institutions, and suspect appointments to the Constitutional Court, but the press conference that followed gave that little attention. Instead, it highlighted plans to fund entrepreneurship, housing construction, and agri-business in an apparent job-creation initiative aimed at deterring migration. This free-market approach fits in with Harris’ earlier initiative to recruit businesses, including Chobani, Microsoft, and Mastercard, to commit to projects in Guatemala. Catch phrases like “think beyond government” (as the source for solutions), “clean energy,” “broadband access” and “workforce development” abound in related press releases, giving the impression that only investment and training is needed to halt migration.

Harris put a progressive-sounding spin on her visit by touring a lab with female engineering students, offering funding to empower women, and hosting a meeting with eighteen representatives of community organizations, including groups supporting HIV/AIDS-positive Garifuna women and LGBQT rights, but overall she received low marks from international and Guatemalan groups defending civil society. Erica Guevara Harris, Americas director for Amnesty International, faulted Harris for ignoring the role of poor governance as a driver of migration. “People continue to experience massive human rights violations that have been fed by impunity, corruption, by the climate crisis and the lack of response from the governments,” she noted. Without protection of community lands and labor rights, investment will only worsen inequality and displacement.   

The Unity for the Protection of Defenders of Human Rights in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) issued a public statement on June 7 describing the deteriorating situation in the country and calling for the US to partner with community groups in Guatemala to protect human rights. Earlier in the week UDEFEGUA released a report documenting the highest level of attacks on human rights defenders in Guatemala in 20 years. If the US considers strengthening governance and supporting anti-corruption efforts to be a priority, UDEFEGUA stated, it is crucial that the US collaborates closely with people, organizations, and communities that are committed to promoting human rights. UDEFEGUA pointed out that defenders are working in a situation that is ever risker, in large part due to the measures that State has taken to limit their independence and criminalize those who are critical and act with independence. In supporting these local, community, departmental, and national actors, UDEFEGUA said, the US will be required to make a conscious effort to detain the criminalization of human rights defenders and independent members of the judiciary. “If the people who promote equality, democracy, and peace are punished for their work—with violence, harassment, imprisonment, and even assassination—irregular migration will not end.”

Others joined in the criticism of the US focus. The Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), representing more than 150 Maya Q’eqchi’ communities, joined nine other groups in holding a protest outside the US embassy during Harris’ visit. Signs proclaimed, “Kamala, they lie to you. There are political prisoners because of the fight against corruption.”  Jordán Rodas Andrade, Ombudsman for Human Rights, shared an open letter to Harris in which he asked her to persistently pressure the Guatemalan government to comply with its international human rights commitments and to fight against corruption and organized crime. He stated that since 2019 Guatemala has experienced accelerating setbacks in human rights and “a climate of persecution against human rights defenders, social and political leaders, journalists, and independent judges and prosecutors reminiscent of the military dictatorships that we believed had been eradicated at the end of the twentieth century.” He mentioned that funding was being withheld from his own office and that within two months resources for the office would be depleted. The concentration of power and canceling of democratic freedoms, he said, were caused by permanent networks of corruption and crime and the members of a certain predatory elite.

Harris and Giammattei did not completely ignore the issues of corruption and impunity. The White House announced the creation of a joint Justice, Treasury, and State Departments task force to deal with corruption in the region but phrased it as an opportunity to provide training to investigators and prosecutors. The issue is not lack of training, however, but that trained and competent anti-corruption staff have been undermined by government opposition, including disparagement from the office of the Presidency. Harris noted concerns with recent trends, but did not publicly counter Giammattei’s claims that his actions were “misunderstood” by his critics.

Compared to the still vague mandate of the anti-corruption task force, the proposals for addressing migration from a national security perspective were disturbingly concrete. A new US task force, operating under the Department of Justice, will share intelligence and conduct joint operations with security forces of the region to combat “human smuggling.” US Attorney General Merrick Garland released a statement detailing this new task force—dubbed Joint Task Force Alpha—which will include the FBI, the DEA, and Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol, and ICE.  The US made an agreement with Guatemala on June 4, between the Department of Homeland Security and Guatemala’s Ministry of Interior, to establish a new police tactical unit in Guatemala that will be deployed to the country’s border. United States agencies, including US Customs and Border Protection, will provide training, equipment, and technical assistance to this unit.

These initiatives built on an April agreement with Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala to temporarily surge security forces to their borders in an effort to reduce migration to the US border. Guatemala subsequently increased security on the border with Honduras by 1,500 troops and augmented internal checkpoints on common migration routes. Several US-based human rights organizations, including the Center for Justice and International Law, issued a joint statement ahead of Harris’ visit expressing concern with the turn to securitization within the context of increasingly violent intimidation against rights workers and journalists. “In the midst of these concerning human rights trends,” it noted, the US has praised the Guatemalan government for instituting “militarized crackdowns on migrants—actions that provoke further human rights violations.” In the end, Harris’ visit pleased few. Some US press outlets portrayed it as a visit that failed to take into account the United States’ responsibility for the conditions that lead people to flee. Others reported the visit as a failure to solve a migration emergency. But those who work with migrants saw instead an unaddressed rule-of-law and human rights emergency. Harris could have linked aid to the Escazú Agreement, which Guatemala has signed but not ratified. She could have visited La Puya to see for herself why communities struggle for years to protect themselves from mining projects, or visited with anti-corruption prosecutors and rights defenders recently arrested in a politically motivated roundup or with criminalized defender Bernardo Caal.  She could have pushed Giammattei on restoring the independence of the Constitutional Court, central to the protection of legal process and increasingly hostile to anti-corruption and land defense work. There may have been stern discussions in closed meetings, but in public the impression Harris left was of undivided US support for Giammattei and criminalization of migrants. The US-Guatemalan agreements resulting from the meeting are focused on disrupting migration through militarization and the promotion of investment, tactics and goals espoused by the Trump administration, too, that have no chance of leading to justice, equity, stability, or peace.

Guatemala Draws Net Tighter Around Opponents of Impunity

Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling to Guatemala on June 6 to meet with President Alejandro Giammattei. Harris and others in the Biden administration have repeatedly stressed the need to improve governance in the region, but Guatemala’s May crackdown on anti-corruption prosecutors and threatened restrictions on NGOs in the country bode ill for reform.

As the government of Guatemala prepares to welcome Harris and to discuss new agreements related to migration, US investment, and aid, rather than addressing corruption, the Guatemalan government is attacking those who have been central to the fight against it.

On May 19, Juan Francisco Solórzano Foppa, who as a prosecutor was part of the team that built the corruption and money-laundering case against former President Otto Pérez Molina, was arrested by police traveling in unmarked cars without license plates, a chilling reminder of abuses during the internal armed conflict. Lawyer Anibel Arguello, who carried out an analysis of the corruption case known as Linea and who had been proposed as a witness in a trial scheduled for next year against the former president, also was arrested. Twelve others were arrested as well, charged, like Foppa and Arguello, with falsification of documents related to their creation last year of the Guatemalan Environmentalist Political Party. “Ideological falsehood,” illicit association, and conspiracy were other charges leveled against the group. Solórzano and Arguello were initially confined in the same prison that held members of the Barrio 18 organization, many of whose cases Solórzano had worked on as a prosecutor.

New restrictions on NGOs in Guatemala will further limit the civil spaces necessary for oversight of governance and rights reform. On May 12 the Constitutional Court green-lighted legal restrictions on NGOs. Only NGOs that meet vague executive branch standards for contributing to the “public good” will be licensed. The NGO law, which could soon go into effect, was originally passed in February 2020, but human rights and civil society groups had filed an injunction successfully suspending it. In overturning the injunction, the Court has confirmed the legality of a mechanism for government monitoring and control of civil society spaces. Organizations that document government corruption, monitor human rights abuses, and advocate for LGBTQ rights, indigenous rights, and other causes, including justice for crimes occurring during the internal armed conflict, are likely to be shut down. Furthermore, a staff member of any organization that is shut down must wait two years before working at another NGO and may be subject to sanctions.

The NGO Law has attracted international criticism. On May 14, USAID head Samantha Powers tweeted  “We strongly oppose actions that stifle or silence civil society organizations in Guatemala.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also denounced the law, stating that it would not only limit human rights work, but would itself violate the rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression.

The Constitutional Court’s decision on the NGO law leaves little room for hope regarding future rulings. Already seen as comprised of judges linked to corruption, the Court on June 3 welcomed to the bench Nestor Vasquez, who is accused of influence peddling and whose swearing in had been delayed because of pending charges. The Court now has the possibility of shutting down the country’s key anti-corruption institution, the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI): on May 28 a lawyer for former Congresswoman Sandra Torres (who faces campaign financing charges from FECI) filed a challenge before the Constitutional Court arguing that the law that established FECI is unconstitutional. The head of FECI, Juan Francisco Sandoval, was then singled out by President Giammattei on June 1; the president criticized Sandoval for “having let his politics color his work.” Sandoval had been awarded the US State Department’s Anti-Corruption Champion Award in February 2021, but both he and his office are under attack, despite support from Washington. On June 4, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in a call to his Guatemalan counterpart, expressed “deep concern” at the efforts to abolish FECI. Biden’s Central America policy emphasizes the importance of healthy civil society and government transparency, but as a State Department spokesperson recently stated, there is apparently a “systematic effort in Guatemala to isolate those known to be fighting against corruption.” Hopefully during her Monday visit with Giammattei, Harris will address the worsening climate in Guatemala for justice operators and others pressing for truth, transparency, the rule of law, and human rights, and—before agreements are signed—will take the side of the Guatemalan people who are struggling bravely for justice.

Guatemala Draws Net Tighter Around Opponents of Impunity

Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling to Guatemala on June 6 to meet with President Alejandro Giammattei. Harris and others in the Biden administration have repeatedly stressed the need to improve governance in the region, but Guatemala’s May crackdown on anti-corruption prosecutors and threatened restrictions on NGOs in the country bode ill for reform.

As the government of Guatemala prepares to welcome Harris and to discuss new agreements related to migration, US investment, and aid, rather than addressing corruption, the Guatemalan government is attacking those who have been central to the fight against it.

On May 19, Juan Francisco Solórzano Foppa, who as a prosecutor was part of the team that built the corruption and money-laundering case against former President Otto Pérez Molina, was arrested by police traveling in unmarked cars without license plates, a chilling reminder of abuses during the internal armed conflict. Lawyer Anibel Arguello, who carried out an analysis of the corruption case known as Linea and who had been proposed as a witness in a trial scheduled for next year against the former president, also was arrested. Twelve others were arrested as well, charged, like Foppa and Arguello, with falsification of documents related to their creation last year of the Guatemalan Environmentalist Political Party. “Ideological falsehood,” illicit association, and conspiracy were other charges leveled against the group. Solórzano and Arguello were initially confined in the same prison that held members of the Barrio 18 organization, many of whose cases Solórzano had worked on as a prosecutor.

New restrictions on NGOs in Guatemala will further limit the civil spaces necessary for oversight of governance and rights reform. On May 12 the Constitutional Court green-lighted legal restrictions on NGOs. Only NGOs that meet vague executive branch standards for contributing to the “public good” will be licensed. The NGO law, which could soon go into effect, was originally passed in February 2020, but human rights and civil society groups had filed an injunction successfully suspending it. In overturning the injunction, the Court has confirmed the legality of a mechanism for government monitoring and control of civil society spaces. Organizations that document government corruption, monitor human rights abuses, and advocate for LGBTQ rights, indigenous rights, and other causes, including justice for crimes occurring during the internal armed conflict, are likely to be shut down. Furthermore, a staff member of any organization that is shut down must wait two years before working at another NGO and may be subject to sanctions.

The NGO Law has attracted international criticism. On May 14, USAID head Samantha Powers tweeted  “We strongly oppose actions that stifle or silence civil society organizations in Guatemala.” The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also denounced the law, stating that it would not only limit human rights work, but would itself violate the rights of freedom of association and freedom of expression.

The Constitutional Court’s decision on the NGO law leaves little room for hope regarding future rulings. Already seen as comprised of judges linked to corruption, the Court on June 3 welcomed to the bench Nestor Vasquez, who is accused of influence peddling and whose swearing in had been delayed because of pending charges. The Court now has the possibility of shutting down the country’s key anti-corruption institution, the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI): on May 28 a lawyer for former Congresswoman Sandra Torres (who faces campaign financing charges from FECI) filed a challenge before the Constitutional Court arguing that the law that established FECI is unconstitutional. The head of FECI, Juan Francisco Sandoval, was then singled out by President Giammattei on June 1; the president criticized Sandoval for “having let his politics color his work.” Sandoval had been awarded the US State Department’s Anti-Corruption Champion Award in February 2021, but both he and his office are under attack, despite support from Washington. On June 4, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, in a call to his Guatemalan counterpart, expressed “deep concern” at the efforts to abolish FECI.

Biden’s Central America policy emphasizes the importance of healthy civil society and government transparency, but as a State Department spokesperson recently stated, there is apparently a “systematic effort in Guatemala to isolate those known to be fighting against corruption.” Hopefully during her Monday visit with Giammattei, Harris will address the worsening climate in Guatemala for justice operators and others pressing for truth, transparency, the rule of law, and human rights, and—before agreements are signed—will take the side of the Guatemalan people who are struggling bravely for justice.

Human Rights Update: 4/26 – 5/7

1. Community leaders attend public hearing to halt unlawful eviction order

2. The US will support border security forces in Guatemala

3. Pattern of judicial harassment continues against human rights defender and Q’eqchi’ indigenous leader, María Cuc Choc

4. GHRC and civil society organizations denounce the removal of supreme court justices in El Salvador

5. US will Increase Humanitarian Aid and Food Assistance to Central America


1. Community leaders attend public hearing to halt unlawful eviction order

On May 5th, the Second Chamber of the Court of Appeals held a public hearing with Plan Grande community representatives and their attorney from the Bufete para Pueblos Indígenas to discuss an eviction order issued against 42 families in the village of Plan Grande in El Estor, Izabal. The eviction order was delivered in 2016 when locals were accused of invading land owned by CXI and Inversiones Cobra. Community members deny these accusations and insist that the indigenous Q’eqchi people have resided on this land since 1831. Attorney Wendy Geraldina López, director of the Bufete para Pueblos Indígenas, pointed out at the hearing that the eviction order violates the community’s rights to due process. 

Environmental and land rights defender Abelino Chub Caal was present at the hearing and requested that the judges repeal the eviction order. Abelino expressed his serious concern over the attempts to dispossess indigenous peoples of their land and protect the interests of big companies. He predicts that the judges will follow through with the eviction order because indigenous people in Guatemala are continuously treated as “inferior” by the justice system. 

In a 2018 report by the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Francisco Cali Tzay expressed a similar concern.

“In many cases, court rulings disregard the rights of the indigenous peoples and indigenous claims are not heard as promptly as those of other parties. Previous rights are being ignored, including in situations in which a community has a recognized ownership title.” 

2. The US will support border security forces in Guatemala

On April 26th, Vice President Harris spoke with Guatemala’s president Giammattei. The two leaders announced an agreement to train members of a Guatemalan task force responsible for securing the country’s borders. Security forces and military personnel in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras have been repeatedly reported to endanger the lives of migrants heading north. In March nearly 172,000 migrants attempted to cross the border into the US, a 71 percent increase from the previous month.

Harris attributes the acute causes of migration to recent hurricanes that have devastated the region, food insecurity, and the COVID pandemic. “Root causes” have been defined by the administration as government corruption, poverty, and lack of economic opportunity. 

This joint task force was announced two weeks after the Biden administration struck a deal with Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to increase the number of military personnel at their borders. Mexico is set to deploy 10,000 troops to its southern border, Guatemala agreed to send 1,500 police and military members, and Honduras is expected to send 7,000 troops to its borders. Additionally, Guatemala will install 12 military checkpoints along known migratory routes in the country. 

Special assistant to President Biden on immigration policy Tyler Moran stated that the increase in troops at the border, “not only is going to prevent the traffickers and the smugglers, and cartels that take advantage of the kids on their way here, but also to protect those children.”

Security forces and military personnel in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras have been repeatedly reported to endanger the lives of migrants heading north.


Harris will travel to Mexico and Guatemala in June.

3. Pattern of judicial harassment continues against human rights defender and Q’eqchi’ indigenous leader, María Cuc Choc

María Cuc Choc and her lawyer from the Bufete para Pueblos Indígenas, Wendy López, were supposed to appear at Puerto Barrios Criminal Court in Izabal on May 6th, 2021 for Choc’s hearing. María is a human rights defender and Q’eqchi’ indigenous leader from El Estor, Izabal.  In 2018, she was arbitrarily detained on unsubstantiated crimes of aggravated trespassing, threats, and illegal detention. Since 2018, the court has repeatedly postponed Choc’s hearing while mandating that she stay in the Department of Izabal. Her lawyer from the Bufete para Pueblos Indígenas confirmed on Thursday that the court has once again suspended the hearing, continuing a pattern of judicial harassment of human rights defenders.

María Cuc Choc has actively defended the environmental and land rights of the Q’eqchi’ people since 2004. She works closely with the Lote 8 community in eastern Guatemala which was illegally evicted from their land in 2007. The evictions were issued to clear land for Hudbay Minerals, a Canadaian mining company. During the evictions, scorched-earth tactics were used and 11 women were assaulted by company security guards. Choc accompanied some of these women to file lawsuits against the company. As a result of her efforts to document and report the human rights violations by several canadian mining companies, Cuc Choc has been criminalized by the state.

The accusing party has failed to appear in court or present any evidence for the crimes issued against Cuc Choc.

4. GHRC and civil society organizations denounce the removal of supreme court justices in El Salvador

GHRC and other civil society organizations denounced the May 1 decision by El Salvador’s Congress to dismiss the Attorney General, as well as five Supreme Court justices. This is contrary to the law and constitutionally mandated separation of powers.

5. US will Increase Humanitarian Aid and Food Assistance to Central America

On April 26th, Vice President Harris announced an additional $310 million in U.S. government support for humanitarian relief and to address food insecurity in the Northern Triangle. 

The funds will come from USAID, along with the Departments of State, Defense, and Agriculture. USAID will provide $125M to deliver emergency food assistance and mitigate the impacts of drought and the COVID-19 pandemic. The Department of State will provide $104M to protect refugees, asylum seekers and displaced persons. The Department of Defense will provide $26M to increase its partnership activities in the region, education, health, and disaster relief. 

Along with this $255M in humanitarian funds, $55M will be distributed to address the immediate food shortage needs of marginalized groups. The Department of Agriculture will provide $25M to strengthen the agricultural sector and finance impoverished Guatemalan farmers, and $30M to expand meals and literacy programs for children in Guatemala and Honduras.

GHRC Accompanies Environmental Human Rights Defender, Julio Gómez

Human Rights Defender Julio Gómez Will Face Trial 


On April 23, the GHRC team was with human rights defender Julio Gómez Lucas as appeared in court in Huehuetenango for a hearing on unsubstantiated charges related to a protest in 2017. Gómez, an indigenous Maya Chuj leader, faces several charges filed by Generadora San Mateo, the company behind two hydroelectric projects in the region and a subsidiary of Energía y Renovacion, S. A. His criminalization is one more incident of intimidation against him. Since 2014, he has suffered threats and violence, and in 2019 he was detained and tortured by members of a neighboring community who are reported to be supporters of the hydroelectric projects and employees of the company. The company is financed by the private arm of the Inter-American Development Bank, IDB Invest, as well as the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and a Canadian financial intermediary. The charges against Gómez form part of a pattern of intimidation of leaders defending land and the environment noted by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights in its 2020 report.

Gómez, who was a delegate representing thousands of community members in negotiations with the government, was arrested in January of last year, a day after President Alejandro Giammattei visited Gomez’ home community of San Mateo Ixtatán. Accompanied by hundreds of police and military, the president announced “the return of the State to the north of Huehuetenango,” which he said would support the Acuerdo por la Paz y el Desarrollo de San Mateo Ixtatán (Plan for Peace and Security for San Mateo Ixtatán). Arrested and detained, Gómez was charged with illegal demonstration and incitement to commit a crime, as well as other supposed crimes later dropped by the prosecution. The acts allegedly took place during a protest against the two hydroelectric plants on November 13, 2017. During the demonstration, a National Civil Police station was attacked and patrol cars were reportedly damaged. Although there are witness testimonies presented by the Public Prosecutor’s Office, in which they mention that the same company had called for an alleged meeting on November 13, as well as photographs and videos of the demonstration exist, Gómez is not pictured in them and no reliable evidence links him to any crime.

An arrest warrant was issued for the defender in June 2018, though he was not informed of the warrant or his alleged crimes, and the warrant was not carried out until eighteen months later, in January 2020. Demands by more than forty-five groups, including GHRC, for the immediate dismissal of the unsubstantiated charges, the safety of Gómez while in custody, and an investigation into the arbitrary nature of Gómez’ detention were ignored; Gómez was detained in January and placed under house arrest soon after in February 2020. 

Peaceful Resistance of the Microregion of Ixquisis

The Resistencia Pacifica constantly “face threats, violence and sexiual harrassment, intimidation, surveillance, physical attacks, constant campaigns of defamation, stigmatization, and slander in local and national media.”

In 2017, more than 75 attacks, killings and accounts of harassment against Peaceful Resistance members were recorded.

The Company Asks for Change of Date and Location

Gómez’ intermediate stage hearing–the stage of the criminal process in which evidence is admitted or rejected–was scheduled for January 26, 2021, a year after his arrest, and was held in Santa Eulalia, Huehuetengo. The hearing was suspended before being completed, however, and the companies’ attorneys asked to have the hearing moved to the capital of the Huehuetenango department, claiming that they felt intimidated by “members of communities against development of the northern region of Huehuetenango” and that there were “young men strategically located on corners outside the courthouse with cell phones ready for immediate communication.”

This tactic, explains one of Gómez’ lawyers, Robel Toledo, is part of the company’s commitment to malicious litigation against Gómez. An appeal by the defense to prevent the move was denied. 

The Judge Rejects Gomez’ Defense Arguments

Along with representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), and ACOGUATE, the GHRC team in Guatemala was in Huehuetenango on April 23 to observe the hearing. GHRC also submitted a letter of recommendation in support of Gómez, highlighting our history with him and his extensive work peacefully leading his community. Police and security forces heavily guarded the entrance and the hallways of the courthouse. 

At the top of the hearing, Gómez’ lawyer, Natalio Rivera, raised several procedural issues, including the question of whether the Generadora San Mateo company should be the plaintiff in the case. Rivera argued that the crimes that Gómez allegedly committed are described as damage to the civil police, not the company. He claimed that if the charges against Gómez were to be pursued, the state should file them, not a private company. The judge ultimately rejected the argument, allowing the company to remain the plaintiff. 

The Public Prosecutor’s Office presented the charges against Gómez, claiming that witnesses identified Gómez at the protest; though all those who carried out the violence were hooded and faces couldn’t be seen, these witnesses, according to the prosecution, identified Gómez by his height and voice. The supposed witnesses, according to the prosecutor, allege he was carrying a loudspeaker, a gun, a rock, and a stick. Witnesses reportedly claim to have seen him from a hilltop, though the hilltop in question was more than 500 meters away from the site of the violence. One of these witnesses claimed to have met Gómez in Guatemala at a time when Gómez was not in Guatemala but was living in the United States. 

The evidence presented, a photo album from the incident, does not show Gómez committing the crimes and he cannot be identified in any of the images. Furthermore, no evidence was presented to suggest he was armed. Based on the many ambiguities, contradictions, and lack of evidence, the defense requested the judge to dismiss the case and requested Julio Gómez’ immediate release.

Despite the arguments from the defense, the judge, who could be seen sleeping at various points during the defense’s argument, ruled that sufficient evidence of Gómez’ participation in the 2017 incidents existed.The judge thus declared the opening of the trial of Julio Gómez on charges of incitement to commit a crime and unlawful demonstration and assembly, removing the crime of being armed which was always a false accusation. He scheduled the trial to begin with a hearing in Huehuetenango on May 7 of this year.

GHRC is concerned about the increasing use of criminalization as a tactic to silence indigenous leaders engaged in the defense of their land, resources, and human rights. We will continue to accompany Julio Gómez and call attention to his case as one more example where repression rules, not the law.

Constitutional Court and Human Rights Update: 3/20 – 4/16

New Constitutional Court Excludes Elected Anti-Corruption Judge

The new Constitutional Court (CC) judges were sworn in on Tuesday, April 14. Missing from the group is Gloria Porras, who has served 10 years on the court and is a critical figure in the fight for justice and against corruption. Porras’ reelection for her next 5 year term was blocked by an unjust ongoing legal challenge against her. The case, one of 53 attempts to stop her work against corruption since 2015, is related to the CC’s involvement in stopping the removal of the Swedish ambassador by President Jimmy Morales in 2018.

GHRC’s Guatemala City director, Isabel Solis, signed a joint letter to the Guatemala Congress outlining the illegality of blocking the seat of an elected judge based on their rulings in a court case.

The new composition of the CC is very concerning and could lead to grave results on future human rights cases that pass through the court.

The three judges who were sworn in include: 

  • Dina Ochoa; dubbed the ‘judge of impunity’ by the former Anti-Corruption commission, CICIG.
  • Layla Lemus; the former chief of staff for President Alejandro Giammattei.
  • Roberto Molina Barreto; former vice presidential candidate for Zury Ríos, the daughter of Guatemalan dictator Ríos Montt

You can find a more comprehensive background on the elected judges from Peace Brigades International.

Raid and Intimidation Attempt of the Indigenous Peoples’ Law Firm

The offices of the Indigenous Peoples’ Law Firm (BPI) were broken into and robbed over the weekend of March 20 – 21. BPI is well known for accompanying cases for indigenous humans rights and land defenders. GHRC awarded BPI the Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defenders Award in 2018 and continues to work closely with the firm as a key partner. 

Wendy Geraldina Lopez, lawyer and director of PBI, explained to the press that the details of the raid are evidence that the attack was a targeted assault and attempt to intimidate the organization. The doors of the office were broken down, all of the computers and security camera recordings were stolen, legal files on current cases were damaged, the sign labeling the PBI offices was destroyed.

Despite the destruction of tools fundamental to their work, Lopez affirmed that “they have not taken away our desire to continue fighting… we will continue to defend the fundamental human rights of every person who requests our help.”

Court Suspends Bernardo Caal’s Hearing

Bernardo Caal Xol, a Q’eqchi Maya and human rights defender, has been imprisoned since 2018 on crimes that he did not commit. On April 5, the Supreme Court suspended his hearing, using the excuse of an unexplained recusal of judges. The court justified the hearing’s postponement on grounds of the recusal of judges without further explanation. 

Bernardo has been defending access to water for the local indigenous community in his municipality of Santa María de Cahabón since 2015. Hydroelectric projects on the rivers of Oxec and Cahabón have dried the waterway that the local Q’eqchi community depends on. Additionally, these dams generate electricity that the Q’eqchi don’t have access to. As a result, the locals are left with serious negative social and environmental impacts from the presence of these hydroelectric projects. Bernardo and the Q’eqchi people mobilized in 2015 to peacefully resist the construction of the OXEC hydroelectric project in their area. They demanded the company comply with their right to a consultation prior to the construction of the dam to address their concerns. The Supreme Court supported the Q’eqchi people’s demands. As a result, Bernardo was targeted with smear campaigns that have been used to stigmatize the efforts of human rights defenders. In 2018, Bernardo was convicted of illegal detention and theft despite the lack of evidence and subsequently sentenced to seven years and four months in prison. 

On March 22, 2021, Alianza por la Solidaridad delivered a petition with 30,000 signatures for Bernardo’s release to the Barcelona City Council, requesting their support. GHRC has signed the petition and we continue to call for the immediate release of Bernardo Caal Xol. Additionally, GHRC continues to financially assist Bernardo and his family as he makes an effort to defend the environmental and land rights of the Q’eqchi people from behind bars.

Human Rights Defender Killed in Jalapa

On Sunday April 11th, 2021, Emilio Aguilar Jiménez was fatally shot at his home in El Duraznal, Xalapán, Jalapa. Emilio was a member of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA), an indigenous-led grassroots human rights organization that aims to improve living and working conditions for farming and indigenous groups. Emilio was a member of CODECA for six years and a recognized human rights defender in his community. 

Since 2018, over 20 CODECA members and leaders have been killed. CODECA has called for the immediate investigation into the murder of Emilio Aguilar Jiménez. 

ABELINO CHUB CAAL’S ACQUITTAL HAS BEEN APPEALED—COURT HEARS APPEAL TOMORROW

ALERT

On February 24 at 10:00 AM, the High Risk Court A in Guatemala City will hear an appeal in the criminal case against Abelino Chub Caal.  Abelino was acquitted of all charges in April 2019 and was freed after serving more than two years in pretrial detention.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal against the acquittal sentence (C-18002-2016-00328) handed down on April 22, 2019 by High Risk Court A, in Guatemala City. The appeal claims that the court’s ruling was faulty because it did not grant evidentiary value to two witnesses.

This action by the Public Prosecutor’s Office is quite worrisome; Abelino’s defense lawyers have reviewed the sentence and stress that the sentence is well founded.

It is not known exactly what the motives of the Public Prosecutor’s Office are for acting without a basis in regards to the sentence.

The imprisonment of Abelino Chub Caal and the continuing judicial persecution of Chub Caal appear to be linked to efforts by business interests to acquire land in the community of Plan Grande del Estor, Izabal.

Worrisome as well is the fact that there no information from the Public Prosecutor’s Office about any progress in the investigation of the illegal appropriation of Q’eqchi lands; the same High Risk Court A has “order[ed] the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the irregularities detected in the public deeds” of the company that denounced Chub Caal. This same company insists on evicting the community of Plan Grande from the land.

In light of this situation, we fear for Abelino Chub Caal and call on the international community to monitor the hearing and denounce the undue use of the criminal justice system to harass Abelino Chub Caal.

REQUESTED ACTION 

GHRC asks that the US Embassy and the international community observe the hearing and monitor the case closely.  Convey to the Guatemalan Government that the judicial persecution of human rights defenders like Abelino Chub Caal must be brought to an end.

BACKGROUND

Abelino Chub was arrested on February 4, 2017 after the CXI Corporation and Cobra Investments, banana and palm companies, charged that he had led a group of indigenous farmers to violently occupy the Plan Grande Farm in northeastern Guatemala on August 7, 2016. They accused him of burning trees in the palm farm during the occupation.

At the time of his arrest, Abelino worked with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation accompanying communities in northeastern Guatemalan working to ascertain legal title to ancestral lands as well as rural development community work.  He is bilingual Q’eqchi and Spanish teacher who was finishing a degree at the Mariano Galvez University when he was arrested.  More information is here and here.

For more information, contact ghrc-usa@ghrc-usa.org.