May 13 Human Rights Update

Pro-Military Allies Threaten Judge After Ruling to Send Former Officers to Trial

On May 4, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ruled to send nine former soldiers and police officers to trial for charges of attempted murder, murder, forced disappearances, and crimes against humanity from the internal armed conflict. The case–known as the Death Squad Dossier–originates from the discovery of a set of military records used by Guatemalan security forces that documented crimes committed against 183 “political opponents of the state” between 1983 and 1985. Prior to the ruling, families of victims set up empty chairs in the Human Rights Plaza as a reminder of those killed. Manuel Antonio Farfan–representative of the Family Association of Disappeared Detainees in Guatemala (FAMDEGUA)–urged Judge Gálvez to order the sentencing of the defendants, stating “we [the victims’ families] have lived with this pain for more than 38 years in a tireless search for our relatives.” 

Since the ruling, Gálvez has been subjected to threatening messages and intimidations. According to Gálvez, “they send me messages, they call me on the phone, there are vehicles following; all of that is happening.” Galvez–who has worked on various high profile cases, including the Rios Montt genocide case from 2013–noted the changing nature of threats against him. “Before they threatened me, but now they even come to hearings to photograph me,” he explained. On May 11, he filed a complaint against these threats to the Public Ministry. 

In addition to anonymous threats, the leader of the Foundation Against Terrorism (FCT), Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, has repeatedly condemned Gálvez, calling for the removal of his judicial immunity. Spreading defamation against Gálvez on social media, he accused him of lying during the trial and for biased interpretation of the law. In one tweet, he referenced other judicial workers who have since fled into exile, stating, “It is Miguel Angel Galvez’s turn, the FCT will take care of it.” A complaint was filed by the FCT on Wednesday, May 11. Mendez Ruiz was also present in the hearing on Friday, May 6.  

The FCT has been behind several cases mounted against independent judges and prosecutors, filing a total of 31 cases between January 2021 and November 2021 against human rights defenders and NGOs, and judicial workers. The attacks against Gálvez are the latest in a string of attacks and threats made against independent judges who prosecute human rights abuses and corruption in Guatemala. In February, Pablo Xitumul lost his judicial immunity and shortly after in March, Erika Aifan was forced to flee to the US due to fears for her life after losing her immunity.

The Guatemalan Association of Judges for Integrity condemned the threats against Gálvez, stating that “the Supreme Court must guard the jurisdictional function and adopt measures to prevent the impairment of the independence of the justice administration.” The National Platform of Organizations of Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict also demanded that the Public Ministry investigate the attacks and called on the Supreme Court “not to keep quiet in the face of threats from groups of power that seek to maintain impunity.” Drawing the attention of the international community, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee Head Rep. Meeks tweeted that he is, “Deeply concerned by reported threats against Guatemalan Judge Miguel Angel Galvez after he ordered former police and military officers to stand trial for crimes committed during the civil war.”

Campesino Group Takes Legal Action Following Violent Eviction in Cahabon

The Campesino Committee of Altiplano (CCDA) has filed a criminal complaint following the violent eviction of Las Pilas community members on May 9  by armed forces in Cahabon, Alta Verapaz. In a press conference, representatives from CCDA disputed the legitimacy and legality of the warrants which served as the grounds for the evictions, stating, “The basis of this warrant is an extrajudicial eviction which endangers more than 150 people that live in the community.” Las Pilas residents have been disputing the legitimacy of land claims by neighboring companies, which have resulted in excessive tree felling and deforestation in their territory. This dispute has resulted in a series of violent attacks and threats over the last few months against the community. 

Video evidence and resident testimony reveals that armed groups opened fire, burned property, and forced the community to flee to the surrounding area. “They burned our houses, they burned our homes, now we are piled up like animals in a corral,” explained one survivor of the incident. The evictions are alleged to have been carried out by the neighboring Saxoym farmhouse who have been in a longstanding dispute of territorial rights with the community (who have been living there for over 25 years). Residents condemned the State’s failure to protect the community, noting that neither the national civil police nor the human rights ombudsman (PDH) were present during the eviction. However, PDH has since filed a request with the National Civil Police for urgent security forces in the area.

These evictions follow a pattern of violence used to forcibly remove Indigenous communities from their lands in Guatemala. Many of these conflicts have manifested due to land conflicts between Indigenous groups and corporate entities, further validating the United Nations Human Rights Committee’s concerns of a dearth of measures to prevent evictions. 

Rumors Circulate Over Extradition Requests for Exiled Judicial Workers 

On May 10, news broke of extradition requests against former Attorney General Thelma Aldana, former lead special prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval, and former Judge Erika Aifan. All three remain in exile in the US after being forced to flee Guatemala, faced with spurious charges and threats to their lives. Days later, however, Aldana denounced the Prensa Libre article–from which the rumors originated–as false, demanding that it be corrected in a future issue. 

Unsuccessful or false extradition requests are not new to the former Attorney General. Similar stories broke in January of this year, in 2020, and 2019–none, however, resulted in action being taken against her. According to Alejandro Rodrígues, a lawyer  from the Institute of Comparative Criminal Studies in Guatemala (ICCPG), extradition requests against Aldana, Sandoval, and Aifan are unlikely to proceed as long as they remain in the US. 

In recent months, the Ministerio Publico’s (MP) continued persecution and criminalization of justice operators has been documented and decried both nationally and internationally. As the Attorney General selection for the 2022 term draws near, international human rights organizations have warned against potential consequences of current Attorney General Consuelo Porras’s reelection, questioning the legitimacy of the election itself. Consuelo Porras’s actions have soured relations between the US and Guatemala, prompting the US to cut financing to the MP and add Porras to the State Department’s List of Corrupt and Undemocratic Actors in September of last year. In the meantime, Sandoval hopes that the US will “use all the tools at its disposal” to combat the criminalization and persecution that continues under Consuelo Porras–because, he warns, the measures that the Attorney General has taken to “squeeze the country’s institutionality” will “directly or indirectly affect the relations of both countries.” 

Constitutional Court Ruling Invalidates Consultation in El Estor  

On April 26, the Constitutional Court (CC) ruled once again that the Fenix Mine in El Estor has been operating illegally. Responding to a legal action filed by the Fishermen’s Guild and Indigenous Authorities in July 2021, the CC ruled that the Supreme Court (CSJ) had neglected to rule on the part of a complaint filed in 2019. The CSJ ruled in 2019 that a proper consultation was never carried out with the surrounding, impacted communities, but failed to respond to the second half of the request, which was to suspend all mining operations. The CC gave the CSJ 48 hours to answer why it ignored the request from the maya Q’eqchi community in El Estor.  

In October 2021, the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) began a consultation process with the impacted communities. The process, however, was fraught with irregularities. Following police repression of anti-mine protesters and the imposition of a state of siege in El Estor, the majority of the “consultation” was carried out when constitutional rights, like freedom of movement and assembly, were suspended. Moreover, a data leak of documents from the mine’s owner Solway that was published in March 2022 revealed that the company hand-picked which communities would participate in the consultation. While the MEM announced the completion of the consultation in December, this ruling from the CC puts into question the validity of the consultation and its compliance with national and international law.  

Ixil Genocide Case 

On May 4, Judge Silvia de Leon of High Risk Court “C” ruled to send Luis Enrique Mendoza to trial for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Maya Ixil people. As the chief of operations of the Guatemalan Army between 1982 and 1983, Mendoza García is alleged to have been a key architect for military operations aimed at breaking ties between Indigenous communities and guerrilla groups in the Ixil region. The tactics of these operations included civilian killings, acts of sexual violence, and destruction of villages. The trial will now proceed to High Risk Court A, presided by judge Yassmin Barrios who has been lauded for her work prosecuting high-profile cases. The intermediate hearings, however, have been scrutinized by various organizations for its exclusion of human rights prosecutors and obstruction of justice.  

During the intermediate hearings, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented forensic evidence and expert reports to Judge de Leon, who decided what evidence would move on for the public trial. However, Silvia de Leon rejected 20 witness testimonies submitted by associate plaintiff Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and barred associate plaintiff  Center For Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) from presenting any evidence at all. CALDH attorney Jovita Tzul condemned this action as a violation of the constitution and CALDH. Echoing her sentiments, CALDH tweeted, “this decision violates effective judicial protection for the victims.”

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