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. 

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