April Human Rights Update

CALAS Legal Director Threatened – A leading environmental attorney was threatened by gunfire on April 26.

Rios Montt to be Tried for Dos Erres Genocide – On March 31, the Guatemalan court ruled that the 90 year-old former dictator is not required to attend the trial, arguing dementia.

Kaibil Deported for Dos Erres Prosecution – After six years in immigration detention in the US, the sixth man out of 17 wanted for participation in the massacre of more than 250 men, women, and children was ordered to stand trial on April 10.

Life Sentence of Police Chief Sperisen Sustained – Swiss courts ruled on April 3 against an appeal by Sperisen after his boss, Carlos Vielmann, was absolved in Spanish courts.

Judge Subject to Judicial Harassment – Norwegian jurists expressed concern on April 3 about the harassment of Guatemalan Supreme Court justice Maria Eugenia Morales Aceña.

Police Absolved in Mack Investigator’s Murder – Four officers were acquitted on April 4 of the 1991 murder of the officer charged with investigating anthropologist Myrna Mack’s 1990 murder.

Officials Charged in Shelter Fire – Government officials were charged on April 4 with abuse of minors and culpable homicide stemming from a March 8 fire that killed 41 girls in State protection.

HudBay Mine Security Chief Acquitted of Murder – A retired colonel acting as security chief whom eye witnesses claim shot a local teacher opposed to the mine was acquitted on April 6.

SouthCom Supports Buildup on Guatemala-Mexico Border – While Defense Ministry officials in April promised to remove 4,500 soldiers from civilian policing, they are being moved to patrol the Mexico-Guatemala border with SouthCom.

Residents Protest Dam in Retalhuleu – Dam neighbors blocked a road in Asintal on April 6, protesting contamination of their river.

Guatemalan Wins Goldman Prize  — On April 24 award organizers announced Rodrigo Tot was being recognized for leading his community in recovering a land title a CGN nickel mine had claimed.

Protesting Students Run Over – Eleven high school students demanding the removal of a teacher accused of sexual abuse and administrators who covered it up, were run over. One was killed.  Protesters claimed legal complaints were ignored because of corruption.

 

CALAS Legal Director Threatened

On April 3, men on a motorcycle fired eight to twelve shots at a car parked across the street from the house of Pedro Rafael Maldonado Flores, who works for the Center of Legal, Environmental, and Social Action (CALAS). The organization promotes the participation of communities and the respect for the collective rights of indigenous peoples in relation to environmental concerns. Maldonado Flores is the legal, political, and environmental coordinator of the center. Among other cases, CALAS has been working on a case presented by seven men against Tahoe Resources, Inc., a Canadian mining company that has been implicated in serious abuses against Guatemalans resisting the imposition of mining.

A Court of Appeals in British Columbia ruled in February that the men’s complaint could proceed through the Canadian court system. The  seven Guatemalan men filed a lawsuit in Canada against Tahoe Resources seeking damages for injuries suffered during a shooting outside the company’s Escobal silver mine in April 2013. They allege that they were injured when Tahoe’s security personnel opened fire on them during a peaceful protest against the mine over concerns about its potential impact on their water supply and the lack of meaningful consultation with the community about the project. Maldonado Flores has faced intimidation, attacks, smear campaigns, threats and judicial harassment in the past. CALAS staff member Jeremy Abraham Barrios Lima was shot and killed last November by two assailants on a motorcycle.

In January 2016, Maldonado Flores was targeted by Fundación Contra el Terrorismo (Foundation Against Terrorism), an organization comprised of former army personnel, multinational companies, and other groups. The organization filed charges against him for crimes such as discrimination, threats, aggravated theft, coercion, incitement to crime, and conspiracy, and the case was accepted. In November 2015, he received death threats via his Twitter account. The threats were followed by an attack on the headquarters of CALAS in July 2015, when a gunman riding a motorcycle fired a number of shots outside the offices of the organization. In response to the recent act of intimation, in late April Rafael Maldonado asked magistrates of the Court of  Constitutionality to order the court to take up his case again regarding death threats made against him. An interview of Maldonado Flores, conducted by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, can be found  here. Full information on intimidations suffered by CALAS staff is here.

 

Rios Montt to be Tried for Dos Erres Genocide

On March 31, a Guatemalan court ruled that former military dictator of Guatemala (1982-83), retired General Efrian Rios Montt, will again stand trial for the charge of genocide, this time in relation to a massacre in early December 1982 in the town of Dos Erres, La Libertad, Peten.  While forensic anthropologists identified the remains of 162 victims in a 1994 exhumation, the Inter American Court in a November 2009 ruling identified the minimum number of killed to be 216 named individuals.

Rios Montt’s lawyers argued that the ninety-year-old defendant was incapable of standing trial because he suffers from dementia.  The judge ruled the trial will occur with the special accommodations that he is not required to attend the trial and, if found guilty, will serve the sentence from his home or a hospital.

Rios Montt is already under house arrest as he awaits a retrial of the Ixil genocide case.  The former dictator was found guilty in that case on May 10, 2013.  Ten days later the Supreme Court sustained an internationally condemned ruling by a lower court whose jurisdiction at the time of the ruling is questioned.  That ruling annulled the 2013 trial and returned the process to an earlier moment in the procedure.  Thus, Rios Montt has been under house arrest ever since awaiting a second trial.

 

Kaibil Deported for Dos Erres Prosecution

On April 10, a Guatemalan court determined that former Kaibil Santos Lopez Alonzo will stand trial for participation in the Dos Erres massacre.  Lopez Alonzo was deported on August 10, 2016 from the United States after being detained on immigration charges in 2010.  Two other former Kaibiles, Gilberto Jordán y Jorge Sosa Orantes, are currently serving 10-year sentences in the US for immigration fraud, convicted of hiding their participation in the crimes during their citizenship applications.   Pedro Pimentel Rios was deported from the United States in July 2011.  He was convicted by a Guatemalan court for crimes during the massacre and sentenced to 6060 years in prison on March 12, 2012.  On August 2, 2011 four former soldiers, Manuel Pop Sun, Reyes Collin Gualip, Daniel Martínez Mendez and Carlos Antonio Carías López were found guilty, the first three sentenced to 6,060 years in prison and Carias Lopez to 6.066 years.

 

Life Sentence of Police Chief Sperisen Sustained

On April 3, Swiss courts rejected an appeal of the life sentence former Guatemalan police chief Erwin Sperisen received  in June 2014, after being convicted of participating in the extrajudicial killings of three escaped  inmates in 2005 and seven inmates in 2006.  Sperisen, a dual Swiss and Guatemalan citizen, fled an arrest warrant in Guatemala but was eventually arrested in Switzerland.  Swiss law prevented his extradition to Guatemala, so he stood trial in Switzerland.  The recent appeal was presented after a Spanish court acquitted  Carlos Vielmann  on March 15 of  participation  in  the same crimes.  Vielmann, who served as Minister of the Interior under president Oscar Berger, was Sperisen’s immediate superior, and as a dual Spanish and Guatemalan citizen, could not be extradited to Guatemala.  A third man, Javier Figueroa, who had been charged in the same crimes in Guatemala, fled to Austria, but was found not guilty in a 2013 trial.  On August 8, 2013 a police commander, Victor Hugo Soto Dieguez, was found guilty   of the killing of prisoners, and many more have been implicated.

  

Judge Subject to Judicial Harassment

On April 3, Norwegian judges and the International Commission of Jurists expressed support for Guatemalan Supreme Court justice Maria Eugenia Morales Aceña, who is being subject to wrongful prosecution. The prosecutions stems from  Morales Aceña’s attempt to present a complaint to the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity for illegalities in a ruling in which justices attempted to protect former president of Congress Luis Rabbe from prosecution.  Rabbe has managed to avoid arrest on corruption charges by fleeing to Nicaragua. The congressional leadership committee he provided salaries for up to 180 phantom jobs. Rabbe served as vice president of Guatemala under FRG party president Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004).

 

Police Absolved in Mack Investigator’s Murder

On April 4, 2017 judge Pablo Xitumul absolved four former police officers of involvement in the 1991 murder of the police investigator in charge of the investigation into the 1990 murder of Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack.  Police officers Julio David López Aguilar, José Miguel González Grijalva, Alberto Encarnación Barrios Rabanales, and former police commissioner Martín Alejandro Mejía were all absolved, though the sentence has been appealed.  Military Sargent Noel de Jesús Beteta was convicted as the material author of Myrna Mack’s murder in 2002.

 

Officials Charged in Shelter Fire

On April 4 prosecutors formalized charges of abuse of authority, culpable homicide, abuse of minors, and dereliction of duty against three officials for crimes related to the March 8 fire in the Hogar Seguro shelter, in which 41 girls died. The officials charged are Secretary to the President Carlos Rodas, ex-assistant secretary Anahi Keller, and Hogar Seguro Director Santos Torres.  Fifty-six girls had been locked into the facility and were thus unable to escape. Police in the shelter reportedly refused to release the girls even after the fire started. The center was renowned for abuse, rape, and murder. The Hogar Seguro shelter for girls is run by the State of Guatemala.  Thirteen girls went missing after the fire, and as of April 4 were still missing.

The fire began when one of the girls set fire to a mattress to protest the fact that they had been locked in to a school room for many hours as punishment since having tried to escape the home the previous day. Dozens of girls had reportedly participated in the escape attempt on March 7, apparently in protest over family visit schedules, the food provided, and situations involving abuse, mistreatment, and sexual violence against them. The shelter, located in San José Pinula, 15 miles south of Guatemala City, had become notorious for abuses of its residents.  Last year, according to an article in the New Yorker, a family-court judge found that the home’s practices, which included punishments that amounted to torture, violated children’s human rights. The judge ordered that improvements be made, but the order was ignored.. Nine survivors of the fire are being treated in the U.S., in Galveston, Texas, at a special center for children.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has issued precautionary measures on behalf of the remaining residents of the center. The IACHR has called on the Guatemalan government to investigate what happened and why, with all due diligence and without del   ay, and to take urgent steps to ensure that such events do not happen again. It has also asked the government to provide care to those who suffered serious burns or other physical or psychological injuries as a result of the fire, and to immediately implement all necessary actions to guarantee the rights of all the children and adolescents at the institution while the government takes effective steps to encourage their reintegration into their families, whenever possible and with any necessary support, or to identify care alternatives that provide greater protection. According to the Guatemalan daily El Periodico, Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Jorge de León Duque, had requested precautionary measures on behalf of the center’s residents last year.

 

HudBay Mine Security Chief Acquitted of Murder

On April 6, judge Ana Leticia Peña Ayala acquitted former Colonel Mynor Padilla of culpable homicide in the 2009 murder of Maya Kekchi community leader and teacher Adolfo Ich.  Further, Judge Peña Ayala ordered the investigation of Ich’s widow and other victims and witnesses.

Padilla had been chief of security for the CGN/ HudBay Nickel Company, whose operations Ich had opposed in the Keqchi Maya region of Panzos.  Ich was killed on September 27, 2009. Witnesses said Padilla as had intentionally shot Ich and injured eight others during a spontaneous protest in response to government harassment of the Las Nubes community.

While there are no jury trials in Guatemala, three- judge panels oversee trials of serious charges.  In this case, though witnesses described an intentional murder, the Public Prosecutor’s office charged Padilla with simple culpable homicide, a lesser offense.  The lesser charge meant that the entire decision rested with just one judge.  The independence of the proceedings had long been questioned.  On February 8, 2016 judge Peña Ayala closed the proceedings to the public.  The decision to close the proceedings came just days after a petition made by the victims to recuse the judge based on racial discrimination had been rejected.  In 2014, victims denounced that Padilla had threatened the m in court.  The United Nations-sponsored Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) has participated since 2014 in the prosecution of the case.  It is expected that CICIG and the Public Prosecutor will appeal the judge’s recent decision.

Victims of the September 27, 2009 shooting, together with indigenous women who testify they were raped by CGN/ HudBay security forces, presented a civil suit against HudBay in Canada, and on July 22, 2013, a Canadian court ruled to allow the Guatemalans to sue in Canada, a precedent-setting case.

 

SouthCom Supports Buildup on Guatemala-Mexico Border     

General Juan Manuel Perez Ramirez, Chief of the Joint Chiefs of Defense of Guatemala, announced that the US Southern Command would assist a newly created joint Mexico-Guatemala military task force in patrolling the Mexico-Guatemala border. This announcement comes as the Inter-American Development Bank is structuring a $100 million-dollar Mexico—Guatemala border integration loan , which will be coordinated by the Guatemalan Minister of Defense. Soldiers will be drawn from forces currently working in citizen security. On April 6, Guatemala’s military spokesman announced that by April 30, half of the 4,500 soldiers working in citizen security would be withdrawn, and the remaining will be withdrawn by January 1, 2018.  On April 17, the military confirmed that soldiers currently acting as public security forces in 30 municipalities would be reduced to 11 municipalities.  As Defense MinisterWilliams Mansilla made clear in a March 30 statement, the military will gradually relocate soldiers assigned to citizen security to patrolling the borders.

 

Residents Protest Dam in Retalhuleu

On April 6, residents surrounding the El Asintal dam in Retalhuleu blocked the Southwest Highway at kilometer 194.5 to protest the negative impacts they have experienced as a result of the dam construction, particularly the contamination of the river.  The community had opposed the dam during its construction.

 

Guatemalan Wins Goldman Prize

Q’eqchí indigenous leader Rodrigo Tot, of the Lote 9 community in El Estor, Izabal, has been awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for South and Central America. The award, announced April 24, recognizes his achievement and that of the Q’eqchí people in the recovery of the title to land they have been living on for many years. Their ownership of the land had been disputed for decades by the Guatemala Nickel Company. Since 1989, the Goldman Prize has been awarded to five environmental defenders each year in different parts of the world.

 

Protesting Students Run Over

Around noon on April 26, thirteen high school students protesting outside their school on the Calzada San Juan in Guatemala City were injured when a car broke through the ranks of high school students and ran over a number of them, catching them under its wheels. Eleven students were hospitalized, including nine boys and two girls. One of the girls, a fifteen-year-old Brenda Domínguez, died of heart and lung complications after undergoing surgery in which an arm and a leg were amputated. The vehicle involved was found abandoned in a public parking lot on 12th Avenue A in Zona 7 of Guatemala City. Jabes Meda Maldonado, the twenty-five-year-old driver, has been arrested. A video on a local news site shows that Meda Maldonado attempted to plow through the line of students. The students, who attended the National School of Commercial Sciences, had vowed not to move until representatives of the Ministry of Education came to the school to respond to their demands. The students were reportedly demanding the resignation of the school’s director. The Survivors Foundation (Fundación Sobrevivientes) has announced that it will seek co-plaintiff status on the case against the driver when the driver is located and arrested.  The foundation’s legal representatives, Rodolfo Díaz, said in a press conference that in the videos a clear intent to harm is evident, and the driver should be charged with homicide.

 

 

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