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.

Dear Colleague Letter on Guatemala Calls for Additional US Action

The situation in Guatemala has deteriorated, marked by strategic steps made by President Giammettei and Attorney General Consuelo Porras to protect corruption and impunity and silence their opponents. Recent attacks against independent judges and prosecutors and more broadly the rule of law in Guatemala have created a crisis for human rights. Thirteen environmental defenders were killed in 2020, according to Global Witness; and, according to  mid-year data from UDEFEGUA, 2021 is on track to be this century’s worst year on record for attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala. 

A Dear Colleague Letter (text below) circulating in the House addresses the “rapid decline of human rights, democratic institutions, and rule of law in Guatemala” and asks Secretary of State Blinken to take decisive action against proponents of corruption and impunity in Guatemala. 

You can help!

Take action now to support human rights and the rule of law in Guatemala! 

Call or email your representative in the House.

Dear Secretary Blinken,

We write to express our grave concern about the rapid decline of human rights, democratic institutions, and rule of law in Guatemala. Below, you will see a list of recent events highlighting the urgent need to counter democratic backsliding and support the brave actors upholding the rule of law. We ask that you consider immediate strong actions, as well as engaging with diplomatic allies and partners in the region. Please allow us to detail our concerns below:

Human Rights Violations:

On June 8, the Guatemalan Congress introduced an amnesty law that would prevent justice for crimes against humanity carried out during the internal armed conflict. 

Further, on June 21, a law went into effect that will allow the Guatemalan executive branch to shut down nongovernmental organizations that “alter the public order.” In a July 1 joint statement, experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights said the changes introduced by this law “risk choking the vital work of civil society” and expressed alarm at provisions that give the government wide scope to control NGOs. Further, these provisions could be used to criminalize human rights defenders and civil society.

Democratic Institutions and Rule of Law:

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, which plays a critical role in protecting and promoting human rights, has been denied funds by the Guatemalan government and as a result is in danger of closing. In addition, the Ombudsman has suffered repeated harassment and threats of removal, even though he was granted precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. 

Judges and witnesses have reported being followed by armed men and by individuals in vehicles without license plates who photographed and videotaped them. Four High Risk Court judges with precautionary measures are also being intimidated. Judges are being subjected to countless baseless legal complaints intended to stymie their work. Many of these complaints are brought by the same groups and people, some of whom have been publicly named as corrupt by the U.S. government.

Mid-year figures provided by the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala suggest the number of attacks on human rights defenders in 2021 will be the highest since the signing of the Peace Accords. The case of indigenous defender Bernardo Caal Xol is emblematic of the persecution against indigenous and environmental defenders, which UN experts have characterized as an apparent attempt to silence and intimidate activists. Despite the Constitutional Court ruling that the indigenous communities’ rights had in fact been violated, Caal is serving a seven year prison sentence as a result of baseless criminal charges. 

On July 23, Guatemala’s Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras arbitrarily fired Juan Francisco Sandoval as the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI). His firing came as FECI investigators appeared to be inching closer to exposing corruption in the current administration of President Alejandro Giammattei. Sandoval’s replacement as head of FECI was also quickly removed and replaced with another prosecutor who is currently facing an internal affairs investigation for his alleged mishandling of a corruption investigation and recently targeted a tax reformer and a former CICIG investigator. Prior to his removal, Sandoval and FECI had faced numerous legal challenges aimed at obstructing his work and seeking to declare its mandate unconstitutional. After he was fired, the Attorney General, with the support of President Giammattei, as well as the new head of FECI, have opened investigations into Sandoval and on September 3 obtained a warrant for Sandoval’s arrest. 

On September 2, the Constitutional Court also recently ruled that certain individuals with corruption charges can have their charges commuted and leave prison. The law could also commute prison sentences for crimes related to corruption, such as bribery and illicit enrichment. The Court made clear that corruption is not a priority, and the commutations open the door for additional acts of impunity. It is a further insult to target these crimes, while continuing to deny justice for those targeted for political reasons. This ruling will be another set back in the fight against corruption.

We commend the Department of State’s decision to pause assistance to the Attorney General’s office and to publicly denounce their actions.  We have similarly lost confidence in Attorney General Porras’ ability to perform her job impartially. However, we also believe that further steps are necessary to protect democracy and the rule of law in Guatemala.  Towards that end, we urge you to take the following actions:

  • Cease all coordination with Attorney General Porras’ office until we are confident in its commitment to the rule of law, rather than its demonstrated loyalty to corrupt interests.
  • Immediately ensure protection for Sandoval’s family and for others who are also at physical and legal risk for their work at FECI, and other prominent legal positions. 
  • Strongly oppose laws that endanger the work of civil society and the right to justice. 
  • Ensure the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala is robustly engaging with individuals and groups at risk, including indigenous and environmental defenders and those who are working for justice and are increasingly under threat, including lawyers, judges, and witnesses in corruption and transitional justice cases. 
  • Leverage all our diplomatic tools, including additional visa restrictions, targeted economic sanctions, ensuring accountability through international lending, and withholding assistance and economic support for those who are undermining democracy in Guatemala.

Corruption, impunity, and repression threaten Guatemalan society to an extent not seen in decades. The United States must make clear that our partnership with Guatemala depends on protecting human rights and democracy and upholding the rule of law for the people of Guatemala. We appreciate your leadership in this challenging environment and look forward to continued engagement to advance democracy and rule of law in the region. 

Sincerely,

Raúl M. Grijalva                                 Norma J. Torres
Member of Congress                          Member of Congress

September 3 Human Rights Update

2021 on Track to Be Worst Year for Human Rights Defenders in 20 Years

According to the Unit for Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), in the first half of 2021, human rights defenders have been attacked at a rate suggesting this year may surpass 2020 to become the most violent year for human rights defenders in this century. From January to June, 551 attacks on human rights defenders were documented by UDEFEGUA. In 2020, the year with the most attacks against defenders since UDEFEGUA began documenting such attacks in 2000, the total number of attacks on defenders was 1,055. 

The attacks documented in the first half of 2021 include five murders of defenders and three attempted murders. The majority of attacks, 137, were carried out against defenders working in the justice sector, followed by those attempting to secure their right to justice (104); journalists (87); and campesinos (49). In an alarming trend, women human rights defenders suffered 42 percent of the attacks. UDEFEGUA cited as concerns the systematic dismantling of public institutions set up to guarantee implementation of the Peace Accords and respect for human rights; the capture of fundamental state institutions; and the guarantee of impunity for actors who engage in corrupt and violent acts. 

UN Special Rapporteurs Ask Government for Answers in Case of  Bernardo Caal

Four UN Special Rapporteurs in a letter to the Guatemalan government demanded answers to questions involving due process and concerns related to the health of political prisoner Bernardo Caal Xol. The letter–from the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, the President-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers–was sent on June 21, 2021 and made public this week. The UN Rapporteurs in the nine-page letter called the government’s “urgent concern” to Caal’s case. The UN experts expressed “serious concern over the allegations of the violations of the guarantees to due process in the legal proceedings of indigneous defender Mr. Bernardo Caal Xól,” and well as “the state of health of Mr. Caal Xól that has deteriorated in a concerning manner.” They requested information from the Guatemalan government on nine specific aspects of  Caal’s case. In closing, they urged the government to “adopt all necessary measures to to protect the rights and freedoms” of Caal and to “investigate, try, and adequately punish any person responsible for the alleged violations.”

The Guatemalan Government responded on August 19, failing to fully answer the concerns expressed. Regarding concerns expressed by the Rapporteurs about overcrowding in the prison and the risk of COVID-19, for example, the Guatemalan government was silent. The government did attempt to explain the multiple legal delays in Caal’s case; yet days after the government sent UN experts its letter, another such delay occurred. Rather than closing the case as Caal’s lawyers had asked, given that there is no evidence against him, the court on August 24 suspended proceedings for another six months. Caal’s imprisonment continues.   

Named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2020, Caal is imprisoned for his role as leader in the peaceful resistance to two hydroelectric projects on the Cahabón River in northern Guatemala. In 2018, the court sentenced him to more than seven years in prison on spurious charges. Caal’s defense team filed an appeal, but multiple delays have plagued the process.  No evidence links Caal to any supposed crimes occurring at a demonstration in 2015.  As the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples noted in 2018, the kinds of irregularities that characterize his case “are consistent with the patterns of criminalization directed at those that defend their land and the environment.” 

Mexican Authorities Use Excessive Force Against Migrants Traveling North

This week, agents from the Mexican National Migration Institute (INM) attempted to forcibly stop a migrant caravan from traveling north; one video surfaced showing an agent kicking an already immobilized migrant in the face. In response, the Human Rights Observation and Monitoring Collective in the Mexican SE released a joint statement and demanded the “immediate halt to violence against migrants by Mexican state security forces.”  

Migrants made the decision to travel north after waiting over a year without access to legal refugee status in Tapachula nor the ability to work. Support for migrants at Mexico’s Southern border is severely lacking, and the migration system is now stressed by Title 42 expulsions of Central American migrants who in recent weeks have been flown from the US to Mexico’s southern border, where Mexico then buses migrants into Guatemalan border towns.   

US Agrees to Fly Migrants Directly to Guatemala City 

This week–after a visit from Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo Villa to the White House–the US agreed to suspend the program whereby migrants are being bussed to the remote border town of El Ceibo. This comes after Brolo met with Mexico authorities and expressed deep concern, asking that returns of migrants be facilitated through “established reception centers … because they have the necessary conditions to receive these populations in a safe and dignified manner.” After a series of meetings with US officials, Brolo announced that the US will send deportees by air to Guatemala City. He stated, “The most important thing is that they committed to send return flights to the [migrant return] center,” and “that they no longer enter through El Ceibo.” 

This past weekend, over 600 migrants who had been expelled from the US and flown to southern Mexico were placed on 17 buses and were left in Guatemala. Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas expressed concerns on an official visit to El Ceibo, noting the clear lack of capacity of the state to assist migrants in these remote towns.  

Update from Cases GHRC is Accompanying 

Judge Rules to Close Case Against Criminalized Women Human Rights Defenders in Joyabaj 

GHRC has been accompanying the case of Anastasia Mejía and other criminalized defenders from Joyabaj. Mejía is a Maya K’iche’ journalist and human rights defender. Charges against the women were filed by Joyabaj mayor Florencio Carrascoza, who has been named as a corrupt politician on the Engel List. The women suspect the baseless charges against them owe to their work exposing corruption in the municipality. 

Today, Mejía as well as Petrona Siy had their intermediate hearing in Nebaj, Quiché. After the prosecution and defense presented their arguments, the case was dismissed. The judge found no evidence to link them to the alleged crimes; the case against Anastasia Mejía and Patrona Siy Castro is closed. Mejía spent more than a month in jail last year and nearly a year under house arrest as she awaiting today’s ruling.

Guatemalan Soldiers to Stand Trial for Alaska Massacre

On October 4, 2012, eight officers under the command of Juan Chiroy opened fire on peaceful protesters from the 48 catones of Totonicapan; six people were killed and one was disappeared. GHRC has monitored the case since 2012 and accompanied the 25 widows, orphans, and victims today at the High Risk Court A in Guatemala City as they continue to seek justice after nine years. 

In today’s hearing, Judge Claudia Dominguez ruled that the members of the Guatemalan military arrested for the 2012 Massacre in La Cumbre de Alaska must stand trial for the charge of extrajudicial killing. Both the prosecution–consisting of the Public Prosecutor as well as the legal team representing the victims–and the defense presented evidence to Judge Dominguez. She admitted technical expert opinions, testimonies, and audiovisual evidence from the prosecution. She rejected various forms of evidence from the defense. 

Unrest Grows in Guatemala as Crisis Intensifies

Plurinational Strike Continues 

Widespread protests continued this week, calling for the resignation of President Giammettei and Attorney General Consuelo Porras. The Plurinational Strike began in July and has gained momentum in the last few weeks. On August 13, protesters marched to the Presidential Palace, giving the president and attorney general five days to step down. As the deadline passed and their  demands were not met, indigenous authorities and popular social movements released a joint statement announcing plans to continue the strike on August 19 and 20 and calling others to “join the demonstrations of protest and pacific resistance enshrined in Article 45 of the Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala.”    

Giammettei responded by going on the defensive, blaming protesters for the most recent surge in COVID. Having declared a state of prevention on July 13 for fifteen days, limiting freedom of movement and banning unauthorized protests, President Giammattei in August announced a state of calamity, to last from August 14 to September 11. Apparently aimed at preventing the spread of COVID, one of the measures imposed prevents protests without prior notification. By law the state of calamity should have been approved by Congress within three days of its declaration but was not, leading many to consider the state of calamity illegal and not in effect.   On August 19, National Police fired teargas at protesters in Jupilingo, Camotán, Chiquimula, and apparent counter-protesters armed with sticks threatened demonstrators in Guatemala City. Despite these threats, protesters continued the strike into Friday.           

Constitutional Court Blocks Swearing in of Gloria Porras

In the continuing attack on the independence of the judiciary, the Consitutional Court unanimously ruled to grant an injunction filed by the Foundation Against Terrorism and lawyer Juan José Sandoval Saucedo. The injunction orders Congress to abstain from swearing in Constitutional Court Judge Gloria Porras as Titular Magistrate. Porras has been on the Constitutional Court for ten years and had served as president since 2020. She is known for taking anti-corruption and pro-human rights positions. In March of this past year she was elected by the Higher University Council, but her confirmation was blocked by Congress on April 13. Porras was forced to flee Guatemala and has joined other exiled prosecutors and jurists in the US as challenges to this decision continue.  

Human rights organizations condemned the Court’s decision, viewing it as the latest step in a series of attacks to remove independent judges from their posts. The Convergence for Human Rights in a statement expressed fear for the future of rule of law in Guatemala: “The institutions are under the control of mafia networks with the political, economic, and criminal power to decide in a whimsical and convenient fashion to preserve the current system.” This week’s decision by the Constitutional Court effectively blocks the swearing in of Porras and deals yet another blow to the campaign against impunity and corruption in Guatemala.  

Ombudsman’s Office Protests Outside of Congress

On August 18, the Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, led a protest outside of the Guatemalan Congress to demand that the budget for the Ombudsman’s Office be delivered.  Congress has refused to hand over the Q20 million allotted in the budget to the office. Now, after six months, the office has run out of the funding it needs to be able to perform its vital human rights work. As Rodas has pointed out, Congress is required to release the funds and was ordered to do so by the Constitutional Court last February. 

Migrants  Forced Back to Guatemalan Border   

Meanwhile, Guatemalan and other Central American migrants expelled by the US and flown to the south of Mexico have been forced back into Guatemala by the Mexican government. Citing new threats from the delta variant and record numbers of migrants at the southern border, the US resumed expulsion flights to Mexico under Public Health Authority: Title 42. Upon arrival in Mexico, Central American migrants are being loaded onto buses by Mexican authorities and dropped across the Guatemalan border into the remote towns of El Caibo and El Carmen. Guatemalan Migration Authorities have admitted to working with Mexico to accept expelled migrants, but migrants are receiving little to no assistance once they arrive.  

Migrants report that they were never given credible fear interviews at the US border nor the chance to apply for asylum in Mexico before being transported back to Guatemala; both are violations of international refugee law, according to UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Matthew Reynolds. In a statement he explained, “Individuals or families aboard those flights who may have urgent protection needs risk being sent back to the very dangers they have fled in their countries of origin in Central America without any opportunity to have those needs assessed and addressed.” Natalia Lorenzo, of the Ombudsman Office in Petén expressed concern, explaining the pre-existing capacity issues in the region.  Dumping migrants into a country facing its own corruption tailspin is more than a violation of international law, she notes.  As she puts it, “It’s abusive.”    

Criminalizing Human Rights: August 17th hearing continues the campaign to discredit journalist Anastasia Mejía and other women defenders from Joyabaj, Quiché.

Today’s hearing will determine whether the Public Prosecutor’s Office can continue the case against Maya K’iche’ journalist, Anastasia Mejía, as well as Petrona Siy Castro, Sebastiana Pablo Hernández, Micaela Solis, and Tomasa Pastor. All are facing charges related to protests that took place outside of the Joyabaj municipality building on August 24, 2020.  

Officers from the Specialized Investigative Division (DEIC) as well National Civil Police arbitrarily arrested Mejía on September 22 of last year. Without being promptly brought before a judge, as required under Guatemalan law, she was held in the women’s prison in Quetzaltenango for 36 days before posting bail and being moved to house arrest. Sebastiana Pablo remains imprisoned after ten months, in spite of a lack of evidence against her. 

Charges of sedition, aggravated assault, arson, and aggravated robbery were lodged by Joyabaj Mayor Florencio Carrascoza Gomez. Carrascoza is one of the politicians included in the “Engel List,”  which identifies government actors who are denied entry visas to the United States because they are “engaged in significant corruption and the undermining of democratic institutions.” Carrascoza, according to the US State Department, has undermined democratic processes or institutions “by intimidating and unjustly imprisoning political opponents.”

This is not the first time Mejía faces trumped-up charges from the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Joyabaj; attempts to criminalize her began in 2016. Her career as a journalist, as well as her term as a Municipal Councilor from 2015-2019, often put her at odds with the mayor, but her anti-corruption investigation of the municipality of Joyabaj made her a target. She found evidence of the embezzlement of public funds funneled through overvalued projects contracted to ghost companies–and patterns of violence against women–in the ten-year administration of Carrascoza. In return, the mayor treated her with hostility, refused to share public information with her, denied her credentials as a journalist, and openly used racial slurs against her.            

In 2016, Mejía submitted several complaints to the Public Prosecutor’s Office regarding verbal and physical attacks against her, in addition to participating with other women in the filing of 24 criminal complaints against Carrascoza for violence against women, fraud, embezzlement, and illicit enrichment. The Public Prosecutor’s Office stalled legal proceedings and five years later no ruling on any of the complaints has been made.          

Meanwhile, the charges filed by Carrascoza against Mejía and the others continue to move forward with the cooperation of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and without due process. By law, a preliminary hearing must take place within 24 hours of arrest, but Mejía did not receive a preliminary hearing for 29 days. Moreover, the Public Prosecutor’s Office failed to conduct a preliminary investigation, imprisoning these defendants without proper evidence.

When asked about her case, Mejía told our team, “Justice is very selective.  I’m indigenous and a woman, so who will listen to me?” She continued, “They’re in control of everything: the prosecution, the judges, the witnesses. They are doing this to keep me quiet, to stop me.” 

While the Biden administration temporarily shut off funding to the Public Prosecutor’s Office after the illegal removal of the head of the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), Francisco Sandoval, defenders like Mejía and the others accused continue to face persecution at the hands of a system co-opted by corruption.   

Today’s hearing will determine whether or not the Public Prosecutor’s Office can continue with the case. The GHRC team in Guatemala will accompany the defenders and continue monitoring the deteriorating situation. We at GHRC are increasingly concerned for the safety of defenders, journalists, and civil society groups in Guatemala and condemn the weaponization of the criminal justice system, as well as the recent attacks on the independence of the  judiciary.

Tensions Escalate as National Strike Continues

In response to Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ dismissal of top anti-corruption prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval, the Biden administration has taken steps intended as a rebuke. On July 27 the administration announced it had “temporarily paused programmatic cooperation” with the Guatemalan Public Ministry. “Guatemalan Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ July 23rd decision to remove Special Prosecutor Against Impunity, or FECI, Chief Juan Francisco Sandoval fits a pattern of behavior that indicates a lack of commitment to the rule of law and independent judicial and prosecutorial processes,” according to the State Department’s spokesperson. “As a result, we have lost confidence in the attorney general and their decision and intention to cooperate with the US government and fight corruption in good faith.”

Attorney General Porras, rather than backing down in the face of the aid cut, argued in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Juan Francisco Sandoval’s dismissal was legal, a claim former Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and other experts point out is false; Sandoval’s firing, in fact, was arbitrary and illegal. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission, along with eleven other international organizations, denounced the dismissal of Juan Fransisco Sandoval and called for his immediate reinstatement.

The embassies of Sweden, Switzerland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Canada, and the United States in a joint statement as members of the G-13 Donor Group lamented the attorney general’s firing of Sandoval. “This incident is seen as part of a pattern of instability and institutional weakening that affects the rule of law in Guatemala,” the statement said.

Indigenous-Led National Strike Continues

In response to Sandoval’s ouster, indigenous authorities on a national level convoked a national strike on July 29. Thousands protested Sandoval’s dismissal, demanding his reinstatement and calling for President Alejandro Giamatttei and Attorney General Porras to resign. According to Maya K’iche’ leader, journalist, and human rights defender Andrea Ixchíu, the indigenous-led movement for the national strike stemmed from frustration with a government administered by economic elites, the military, and drug traffickers who have blocked the possibility of a life with dignity for the indigenous peoples. “In the midst of the pandemic, the Guatemalan government is stealing the money from the vaccines and militarizing the country,” she told Democracy Now.

GHRC’s team in Guatemala observed and accompanied the protests outside of the National Palace on July 29 and has continued accompanying demonstrations as protests have continued in recent days. The national strike is continuing, as well.

NGO Law Moves Ahead

On August 2, the articles of the highly contentious NGO law were published by the Ministry of the Interior. The articles—outlining regulations such as monitoring processes, prohibitions, and registration requirements for NGOs—went into effect on August 3. Although a few modifications were made to the original law upon appeal to the Constitutional Court, the provisions of this law continue to be unconstitutional. As Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights experts in a joint statement made clear, the law’s provisions “risk choking the vital work of civil society.” These provisions, the experts said, can be used to criminalize human rights defenders and civil society in general. NGOs now have six months to register under the new law or risk being dissolved.

The enactment of the NGO law is only the latest step back in the struggle for rights. More challenges await; the National Reconciliation law, which would grant amnesty to perpetrators of grave human rights abuses, is expected to be debated in coming weeks. Guatemalan defenders of human rights need our support now more than ever. Our team in Guatemala continues providing physical accompaniment and support to defenders at risk. If you’d like to be a part of our efforts, visit our website to see how you can help..


GHRC is Hiring!

We’re looking for the other half of our co-director team. With a focus on communications and fundraising, the Director of Outreach and Development will help lead GHRC’s work for human rights in Guatemala from the Washington, DC office. This position requires patience, skill, and attention to detail, plus a true passion for human rights. See more here.

Lead Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Dismissed

Developments in recent days shed light on the intensifying battle for civic space and judicial independence.

  • Lead Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Dismissed    The Public Prosecutor’s Office has removed Juan Francisco Sandoval as lead prosecutor for the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI). According to El Faro, this step taken by Attorney General Consuelo Porras, on July 23, represents “a major move against the most independent wing of state prosecutors tasked with investigating corruption and impunity.” Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, publicly called for Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ resignation. “The message that you are implicitly sending is that those who ensure strict compliance with the law and defend the independent action of the prosecutors’ offices will be removed from their duties, marginalized, exiled, or persecuted . . . .Given so much damage that you have caused to the rule of law, to the institutionality of the Republic and the hope of obtaining justice that you have systematically frustrated for millions of Guatemalans, Madame Attorney General, I publicly recommend that you present your irrevocable resignation from your position.”
             US Congressman Albio Sires tweeted, “The removal of Juan Francisco Sandoval from #FECI is a lethal blow to the fight against corruption in #Guatemala. Unless this decision is reversed, the US Govt should designate AG Porras under US law for obstructing anti-corruption investigations.”  Samantha Power, head of USAID, tweeted, “As I stressed in my visit last month, the independence of #FECI is an essential test of Guatemala’s commitment to the rule of law. Attorney General Porras’s firing of anti-corruption champion Juan Francisco Sandoval is an outrageous move. The Guatemalan people deserve better.”
             Julie Chung, Acting Assistant Secretary for US Department of State’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, stopped short of calling for a reversal of the decision to remove Sandoval or any consequences related to that move but denounced his firing: “The firing & removal of immunity of Juan Francisco Sandoval, Chief of Guatemala’s Prosecutor Against Corruption and Impunity (FECI), is a significant setback to rule of law. It contributes to perceptions of a systemic effort to undermine those known to be fighting corruption. As with all justice defenders, the safety of Juan Francisco Sandoval must be protected. Guatemalan authorities must ensure his safety. It is also essential that FECI remain intact and empowered to ensure the fight against corruption in Guatemala. Any politically-motivated interruption of investigations has no place in an open and strong democratic system.” National Security Council Director for the Western Hemisphere Juan Gonzalez tweeted, “I don’t know what @MPguatemala Fiscal Porras is playing at, but every day it becomes clearer it’s not the rule of law. The Guatemalan people deserve better.”
             Indigenous organizations throughout the country protested the dismissal of Sandoval, including the indigenous municipality of Solola and the indigenous organization of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapan, which demanded the restitution of Sandoval, the resignation of President Giammattei, and the resignation of Attorney General Porras. 
             In a press conference at the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, Sandoval said his dismissal was illegal and that he would challenge it. Attorney General Porras, he said, blocked and delayed investigations that affected her allies. After finishing the press conference, escorted by Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas and other human rights defenders, Sandoval left Guatemala, fearing for his safety and that of his family.
            Sandoval was replaced by Carla Isidra Valenzuela. She reportedly is the cousin of Roxana Baldetti, the former Vice President convicted of corruption, and the great niece of former president Serrano Elías. The FECI, created over a decade ago to work closely with the UN-backed anti-impunity commission known as CICIG, has continued prosecuting cases begun with the assistance of CICIG. Sandoval—an “anti-corruption champion,” as the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) deemed this past February 23, spoke to El Faro in the weeks before his dismissal. Without CICIG, the work became more complicated. “CICIG gave us great support,” Sandoval told El Faro, “from the logistic to the political. If we were accusing politicians with power, someone had to give us a sort of cover, and the CICIG did that. Now, we don’t have that.”

  • Land Rights Defender Murdered    Regilson Choc Cac, a sixteen-year-old land rights and indigenous defender and member of the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), was murdered on July 20 in San Juan Tres Rios, Alta Verapaz. Choc Cac is the third member of the CCDA murdered in this community.  On June 8, 2016, Daniel Choc was murdered, and on May 13, 2018, Mateo Chaman was murdered. Neither case was successfully prosecuted. The CCDA Committee in San Juan Tres Ríos has petitioned the Land Fund to grant them legal ownership of land disputed with the owner of the Rancho Alegre estate.  Choc Cac, although very young, was a community leader and had participated in dialogues related to the land dispute.
             Although the murders of CCDA members have not been resolved, CCDA members themselves are being criminalized for “usurpation” of land. According to the CCDA, 962 warrants for the arrests of campesino leaders have been issued, and two CCDA member have been sentenced to 35 years in prison.

  • President Declares Temporary Suspension of Certain Constitutional Rights    On July 13, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei declared a state of prevention for fifteen days, limiting freedom of movement and banning unauthorized protests.  Although many of the provisions of the decree relate to measures apparently designed to deter the spread of COVID-19, the day before he announced the state of prevention—as hundreds gathered to protest the lack of COVID vaccines and demand Giammattei’s resignation—Giammattei stated, referring to the protests, “[W]e are going to limit this type of thing. I think this is enough already.” 
             The Human Rights Convergence, a coalition of prominent human rights organizations in Guatemala, decried the state of prevention, stating that it “seeks to prevent the exercise of rights and not to protect the population from the pandemic.” The coalition stated it would “hold the government, particularly President Giammattei and his Minister of the Interior, Gendry Reyes, responsible for any aggression, violation of rights and restriction of freedoms to those who legitimately demand his resignation, due to incapacity, corruption, and dereliction of duties.” In spite of the state of prevention, demonstrations have continued.
             The Guatemalan government has instituted an unprecedented number of states of prevention since the start of Giammattei’s term. According to the OHCHR, the government declared 11 states of exception in 2020, “establishing limitations on the rights to freedoms of movement, peaceful assembly and due process rights.”