GHRC NEWS OCTOBER-NOVEMBER 2019 Updates from GHRC staff working in Guatemala, Honduras & Washington, DC

TWO MONTHS OF STATE OF SIEGE ENDS

For two months the constitutional rights of the inhabitants of 6 of 22 departments that make up Guatemala were suspended following the declaration of a state of siege. The state of siege decree, which was initially implemented on September 7 and renewed on October 10 before ending on November 4, resulted in a series of human rights violations in communities, mainly indigenous, deeply affected by crimes against humanity against the civilian population that occurred during the Internal Armed Conflict (1962-1996), as well as centuries of structural violence. As an organization committed to human rights in Guatemala and the region, we condemned the use of a state of siege to harass communities while their constitutional rights were suspended.

At the end of October, GHRC joined a delegation organized by Guatemalan Indigenous Authorities to monitor and verify the situation of communities affected by the state of siege, which was originally implemented by the Morales Administration on September 7. Due to the increased militarization in the area, it was impossible for the delegation to travel to some of the most impacted areas. Instead, they met with members of the Sepur Zarco, San Pablo and Semuy II communities in other towns in the Polochic Valley. Much of the conversation was centered on the constant threat of eviction.

“We have been fighting for years for the legal certainty of our lands, and we don’t have an answer. The state has totally abandoned us. Government after government has passed, we ‘ve had more than 35 meetings with the Secretary of Agrarian Affairs and we haven’t had an answer. The state has abandoned the area. The governor never comes here.”

The communities urged that a thorough investigation be undertaken into the events that led to the state of siege being implemented and for the facts to the clarified.

“There should be a good report of what’s been observed, but also a report about the total  abandonment of our people and the needs of my community.”

In line with our work, GHRC will continue to monitor and report on the situation of indigenous communities in the Polochic Valley.

PUBLIC LETTER QUESTIONS INTENTION OF STATE OF SIEGE

Since the implementation of the state of siege in early September, GHRC worked with colleagues at the Guatemala Solidarity Project, the Latin America Working Group and Peace Brigades International to express concerns about the implementation of the State of Siege to US representatives monitoring Guatemala. We also joined members of the Observatory on Guatemala to urge the international community to investigate conditions in northeastern Guatemala, and to communicate emphatically to the Guatemalan government high concern for the wellbeing of the affected indigenous population.

LAGUNA LARGA IN GUATEMALA

On June 2 , 2017 , 450 people were evicted by 1800 military and police agents from Laguna Larga, a community in the municipality of San Andres, Peten, within the Laguna del Tigre Nature Reserve. The eviction happened at the request of the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP), even though the mostly indigenous Maya Chuj and Q’ eqchi’ community had lived there before the protected area was created. Though the community was granted precautionary measures by the IACHR, the humanitarian crisis persists. The 111 families live in an accutely precarious situation on the Mexico-

Guatemala border and suffers chronic malnutrition, squalid health conditions and a deplorable sanitation situation. This has led to 9 deaths. On November 6 , GHRC accompanied communities and their lawyers from the Indigenous Peoples Law Firm and the Human Rights Law Firm to a hearing at the Constitutional Court regarding a provisional return to their homeland until the state finds an adequate long-term solution for the community. Thirty- seven indigenous communities within the Laguna del Tigre and Sierra de Lacandon Nature Reserves have been evicted or are at risk of being so.

MINING VS. WATER IN HONDURAS

In Honduras, the core zone – and protected area – of the Carlos Escaleres National Park in the Bajo Aguan region was changed through a constitutional decree in 2017 to accommodate a concession for iron mining to be granted to EMCO (now Inversiones Los Pinares) mining company. In light of wide-spread community opposition to the project, a criminalization campaign promoted by the company started a year ago. In September 2019, 9 people were indicted (including a man who died 4 years ago) for illegal detention and aggravated arson charges; Judge Lisseth Vallecillo, who doesn’ t have jurisdiction to hear the case, illegally sent them to pretrial jail without giving any reasons. As a result, the National Penitentiary Institute sent them to La Tolva maximum security prison. In October and November, GHRC worked with international human rights organizations to advocate for a transfer out of La Tolva to the Olanchito Penal Center, closer to their home, after the request was made by their lawyers. Read it here. GHRC visited Guapinol in November a part of an international delegation.

JUSTICE FOR GENOCIDE & CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

The Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) continues its struggle for justice for genocide. GHRC staff was present to observe part of the initial hearing of 3 former members of the military high command accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and forced disappearance against the Maya Ixil population during the dictatorship of Roman Lucas Garcia (1978 – 1982) .

On November 25 , High Risk Court ” B” Judge, Miguel Angel Galvez, indicted the men, Benedicto Lucas Garcia, Manuel Callejas y Callejas and César Octavio Noguera Argueta who will now face a preliminary hearing after a phase of further investigation.

At the same time, the initial hearing of Luis Enrique Mendoza, military head of operations during the dictatorship of Efrain Rios Montt (1982 – 1983 ) began on November 27 . He is also accused of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Maya Ixil population.

Meanwhile, a group of 36 Maya Achi survivors of sexual violence and crimes against humanity continue to wait for an Appellate Court to decide whether or not the case against 6 former Civil Defense Patrollers will continue after Judge Claudette Dominguez ruled to dismiss charges against 3 and provisionally close the case of 3 others. On December 20 , Francisco Cuxum, a former military officer accused for his role in the case, will be sentenced in a Boston court after pleading guilty in September 2019 to i l legal re- entry into the US. After he serves his sentence, the Rabinal Legal Clinic, which is prosecuting the case in Guatemala, hopes he will be extradited to face trial there. Read more here.

OBSERVATORY ON GUATEMALA

On October 28 , the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) granted precautionary measures to 5 high level Guatemalan judges who were deemed to be “in a situation of serious and urgent risk of irreparable damage to their rights.” On November 1 , GHRC joined members of the Observatory for Human Rights in Guatemala to demand the Guatemalan state immediately comply with protection measures. Read the letter here.

In October, as a response to ongoing threats against the Human Rights
Ombudsperson’ s  Office ( PDH), including institutional funds being witheld and a campaign to have Jordan Rodas Andrade removed from his position as head, members of the Observatory wrote and published a statement expressing deep concern.
Read it here.

FUEGO VOLCANO VICTIMS PLAN THEIR FUTURE

When the Fuego Volcano erupted on June 3, 2018, hundreds of people died–many were buried alive by boiling ash and rocks that rushed down into communities living on the slopes of the volcano–including communities like El Rodeo, that had returned to Guatemala after being exiled during the genocide. Thanks to generous GHRC contributors, donations were made to folks in need of emergency medical and special burn care. We continue to accompany these communities and during a visit in November, GHRC staff were told that more than half of the families of El Rodeo are getting ready to move to a new farm where they will be resettled while the others haveaccepted humble government housing.

OBSTACLES TO JUSTICE FOR INDIGENOUS COMMUNITIES IN HONDURAS

BERTA’S ASSASSINS STILL AT LARGE

On October 10 , the preliminary hearing of Roberto David Castillo Mejia,accused of the murder of COPINH co-founder Berta Caceres, resumed in the National Jurisdiction Court presided by Judge Lisseth Vallecillo in Tegucigalpa. Castillo, President of the DESA hydroelectric corporation at the time he was arrested on March 2, 2018, has been in pretrial jail ever since. His preliminary hearing began in April 2019, but due to a series of appeals, including one presented by the defense on October 10, the hearing has yet to
finish and there is still no date for a trial. David Castillo is the only alleged “ intellectual author” who has been arrested for Berta’ s murder, although the State Prosecutor’ s Office has repeatedly announced that further investigations are ongoing. GHRC was present at the hearing and has been coordinating the International Observer Mission for the Berta Caceres Case since July 2018 . In August, we co-published “Violence, Corruption & Impunity in the Honduran Energy Sector: A Profile of David Castillo.” Read it here. A sentencing hearing for 7 men convicted of Berta’ s murder took place on December 2.

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