Weekly News Roundup

May 18th – May 24th

  • Mass grave exhumed in Cobán, Alta Verapaz reveals dozens of murdered children. On May 18th, forensic anthropologists with the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation continued to recover the remains of at least 178 people who were murdered sometime between 1980 and 1985 during the armed internal conflict. Among the remains were those of 45 children. The anthropologists have also discovered that the articles of clothing retrieved from the grave match indigenous clothing worn in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz.
  • State of Siege in Santa Cruz Barillas lifted. On May 18th, President Pérez Molina lifted the siege sixteen days after it went into effect. Seventeen people were arrested during the sixteen-day ordeal. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has declared that the first nine arrests, made on May 2, were illegal according to international standards. The President has also decided to allow Hidro Santa Cruz to continue working in the area, but under a mandate to be environmentally and socially responsible. Alberto Brunori, representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, fears that the State of Siege in Barillas could occur in other regions throughout Guatemala. On May 19th, President Pérez Molina announced that he will be hosting a round-table discussion to analyze how to avoid imposing States of Siege like the one in Barillas.
  • US Department of Defense discusses crime in Guatemala. On May 20th, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs Frank O. Mora was interviewed about the US Department of Defense’s stance on crime in Guatemala. According to Mora, the Department of Defense respects Guatemala’s decision to use armed military force to combat illegal trafficking, but Mora also warned against the risks of corruption and human rights violations that oftentimes accompany the use of military force in these situations.
  • Ríos Montt charged with Dos Erres Massacre. On May 22nd, the judge overseeing the trial of José Efraín Ríos Montt, suspected mind behind the 1982 massacre of 201 people in Dos Erres, decided that the case will go to trial. Ríos Montt will still be required to stay under house arrest until the trial date and to pay a fine of Q500 million, and will not be sent to prison The charges brought against Ríos Montt are genocide and crimes against humanity. Throughout the trial, Ríos Montt has maintained that he should not be held responsible for the autonomous actions of individuals under his command at the time of the massacre.
  • Campesinos left unsatisfied after meeting with Executive. On May 22nd, the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) met with the executive branch, but the meeting left CUC representatives with a bad taste in their mouth. The organization urged the government to assume responsibility for 100% of the agrarian debt in all eighty ongoing agrarian conflicts in question, but the Executive instead decided that they would assume responsibility and give out subsidies only on a case-by-case basis, a proposition that the organization rejected. Additionally, the President maintained throughout the meeting that Guatemala is not being militarized, despite the representatives’ complaints about the President’s plans to build military outposts across the country, including in San Juan Sacatepéquez. CUC members also rejected President Pérez Molina’s offer to have another meeting in June.
  • Guatemalan Congress to elect a new Human Rights Ombudsman. On May 23th, Congress set the elections for the next Human Rights Ombudsman for the following day, May 24th. There has been considerable backlash to the appearance of Jorge De León Duque, a candidate with suspected ties to the President and to several political parties, on the shortlist.
  • Judge allowed to continue overseeing trial of ex-military leaders. On May 23rd, the Criminal Appeals Court decided to allow Judge Miguel Gálvez, the judge trying the cases of ex-military leaders José Efraín Ríos Montt, Héctor Mario López Fuentes, and Mauricio Rodrigo Sánchez to stay on the case. The defense laywers tried to have judge Gálvez recused for not being impartial while overseeing the trial, but the Criminal Appeals Court ruled that Judge Gálvez’s judgment is still sound. Citizen organizations showed their support for Judge Gálvez outside of the courthouse.
  • INACIF reports 227 cases of femicide in the first quarter of 2012. On May 24th, Guatemala’s National Institute of Forensic Science (INACIF) reported that they have documented 227 cases of femicide in Guatemala between January and April of this year, 16.74% fewer cases than the 265 cases documented in the first quarter of 2011.
  • Annual Amnesty International report discusses human rights violations in Guatemala. On May 24th, Amnesty International released their annual report on the global state of human rights. The report found that the rights of Guatemala’s indigenous communities are still being violated, most often during agrarian conflicts or during the implementation of government development programs. Furthermore, the report found that Guatemala’s new Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women did not significantly lower the number of women violently murdered in 2011. However, the report did applaud the trial of the ex-military leaders involved in the 1982 massacre at Dos Erres.

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