Supreme Electoral Tribunal Blocks Registration of Progressive Presidential Ticket 

On January 28, in a resolution, the Registry of Citizens of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) rejected the Presidential Ticket of Thelma Cabrera and Jordan Rodas for the People’s Liberation Movement Party (MLP). Claiming that the registration of former Ombudsman and Vice Presidential hopeful Jordan Rodas was not valid, the TSE argued that Rodas cannot run for Vice President because he currently faces legal complaints and charges. The party was given three days to challenge the resolution.

MLP party leadership filed an appeal to annul the resolution on January 30, rejecting the decision to block its presidential nomination. The legal team was joined by a crowd carrying signs and who chanted in protest of the decision as the team delivered the appeal to the TSE headquarters. Rodas responded on  twitter, stating, “Democracy in Guatemala has taken another step backwards; they fear the people and their sovereign decisions.” “With that decision that they made, they are demonstrating electoral fraud. The decision  is not against him [Rodas] but against the participation of the people,” Cabrera said.

Meanwhile, presidential tickets from ten other parties were authorized, including the nomination of Zury Ríos for the VALOR-Unionista party. Ríos is the daughter of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled from 1982 to 1983 and was convicted of genocide in 2013. 

Judges Rules to Close Case Against Criminalizing Chicoyoguito Defenders

The trial against the Chicoyogüito defenders began on January 24 at the Second Sentencing Court of Cobán, Alta Verapaz. Criminalized for defending their ancestral territory, 21 Indigenous Q’eqchi community members faced charges of “usurpation related to a demonstration” in which they demanded the restitution of land that was stolen from their community in the 1960s to create a military encampment. Judge Walter Chen, after listening to the arguments from both parties, ruled to close the case in favor of the defenders with the requirement that they adhere to 

the “Opportunity Criterion” presented by the Public Ministry (MP).

“Opportunity Criterion”–as defined in Guatemalan Law–is a power held by the MP that allows it to refrain from initiating new criminal procedures or to close ongoing proceedings. In it, the parties agree that in order not to go to trial or prison, the accused persons must carry out some form of restitution to society for their alleged crimes. As recommended by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food, the 21 defenders must carry out four days of community service and release a public communication.  

One Year Post-Victory, Achi Women Press State to Carry Out Reparations 

On the one-year anniversary of their victory over their abusers, survivors from the Mujeres Achí, or “Achi Women,” case demanded compliance with the last year’s sentence. On January 24, 2022, High Risk Court “A” ruled in favor of the Achi Women, sentencing the five former Civil Defense Patrolers (PAC) to 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence. The sentence–delivered by Judge Yasmin Barrios–also included a list of reparation measures to benefit the survivors, their communities, and Guatemala more broadly. Represented by the Rabinal Legal Clinic (ABJPR), the women filed a request to resolve pending appeals and carry out the reparation measures.

Organized into the four categories of economic compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantee of non-repetition, the reparations include provisions to not only assist the direct victims, but future generations. In addition to compensation, the reparations measures call for the installation of health centers in the communities of the survivors, training programs on human rights and violence and women, and training for state security forces. According to survivor and leader Maxima Valey, however, the reparations “have not been realized in our communities.” In March, the Attorney General’s Office denied responsibility for carrying  them out, claiming that many of the measures are already addressed in the 1996 Peace Accords. The women rejected its decision, urging that “the public institutions that were identified as responsible for fulfilling the reparation measures assume an active role and initiate the necessary actions to implement each measure.” 

Last September, the women shared their demands with policymakers and government officials in Washington, DC. After accepting one of the Washington Office on Latin America’s (WOLA) 2022 Human Rights Awards, Valey exposed the lack of compliance by the Guatemalan government in a series of meetings arranged by GHRC. She told our team that while she feels an immeasurable pride in having won the case, “That was just the beginning.” She continued, “We will keep fighting until the last reparation is carried out.”  

Expanded Attacks on Anti-Corruption Advocates Expose Judicial Crisis in Guatemala, Spark International Condemnation  

Public Ministry Releases New Warrants and Opens Investigation into Colombia’s Defense Minister  
On January 16, Rafael Curruchiche–current head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI)–announced via the social media pages of the Public Ministry (MP) the release of new arrest warrants of former attorney general Thelma Aldana, the former secretary of the MP Mayra Véliz, former investigator at the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and current member of Transparency International Guatemala David Gaitán, and private attorney Juan Pablo Carrasco for the crimes of obstruction of justice, conspiracy and abuse of authority in relation to their work on the Odebrecht case. In 2018, the CICIG opened an investigation into bribes accepted by Guatemalan officials from Odebrecht–a Brazilian construction company that admitted to distributing nearly $800 million in bribes across Latin America.  

The MP also announced that it “will undertake corresponding legal actions” against Iván Velásquez, a Colombian national who led the CICIG between 2013 and 2018. Last year he was appointed as Colombia’s Minister of Defense and has served in the position since August. In his tenure with CICIG, Velásquez prosecuted many high-profile Guatemalans for corruption, including former president Otto Pérez Molina, who was convicted last December of fraud and racketeering and sentenced to 16 years in prison. Velásquez also worked on cases against the heads of Guatemala’s central bank, customs and tax officials, legislators and political party leaders, making himself an enemy of those seeking to preserve impunity in Guatemala. In 2019, the Guatemalan government dismantled the CICIG, claiming that it abused its authority and violated the constitution. Former President Jimmy Morales ordered the removal of all CICIG staff from the country, including Velásquez. 

In the wake of the announcement from the MP, tensions have run high between Guatemala and Colombia. Colombian President Gustavo Petro responded, stating “I will never accept an arrest warrant for our minister.” According to President Giammattei, however, no charges have been filed against Velásquez, the MP has just opened investigations. On Monday, Colombia’s Foreign Ministry recalled its ambassador to Guatemala with Guatemala following suit soon after. 

Beyond Colombia, the reaction from the international community has also been strong. Deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch Juan Pappier reacted to the news, stating, “it is not about Iván Velásquez. It’s about Guatemala, where corruption is sweeping away human rights.” Echoing Pappier, Assistant secretary for the Western Hemisphere at the State Department Brian Nichols tweeted, “I am disturbed by the arrest warrants for individuals who worked to ensure accountability for corruption in the Odebrecht case in Guatemala. These actions undermine the rule of law and trust in the Guatemalan judicial system.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk expressed his concern over “the attacks against those trying to combat one of the worst viruses to afflict any society: corruption.” He added, ““It is dramatic, given Guatemala’s history, that those fighting for accountability for gross human rights violations are the ones now being persecuted.”

Virginia Laparra Faces Even More Charges

Less than a month after her conviction for “abuse of authority,” former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) in Quetzaltenango Virginia Laparra will face a second case against her. On January 3, Laparra was transferred from the Matamoros prison–where she is currently being held–to the Criminal Court of First Instance in Quetzaltenango and was forced to sit through a 15-hour initial hearing for new charges made against her. Judge Carmen Lucía Acú ruled to open the case for which Laparra is accused of “revealing confidential information,” and ordered that she be kept in pretrial detention pending the intermediate phase hearing, scheduled for April 21, 2023. Laparra has been detained since February 2022. 

Given the lack of notice, Laparra requested to suspend the hearing to allow her defense time to prepare. Her request, however, was denied. In fact, her defense was expelled from the courtroom along with the press and human rights observers with the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA). UDEFEGUA and the World Organization Against Torture, in a joint statement, identified the events as “a groteque exercise of judicial bias,” stating, “the judicial system is merciless against Virginia Laparra.”

On January 18, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a statement condemning criminalization of judicial workers in Guatemala, stating that, “There has been a steady increase in the number of cases of harassment and criminal charges against its [Guatemala’s] former officials, and prosecutors.” Between 2021 and 2022, the OHCHR recorded more than 70 percent increase in the number of justice officials facing intimidation and criminal charges for their work on corruption or human rights violations.  

GHRC Travels to Colombia to Participate in International Conference Addressing Regional Human Rights Issues 

In the midst of authoritarian backsliding across Latin America, a conference shone a ray of hope, connecting hundreds of human rights advocates to develop a regional strategy to common challenges. From November 29-30, the Inaugural RegionaR Conference took place in Bogota, Colombia where human rights representatives from across the region, shared their experiences and strategies for defending human rights. This “invitation only” event brought together many human rights workers, including: Indigenous land defenders, LGBT+ organizations, feminist activists, Afro-Latino movement leaders, disability rights advocates, and more. GHRC Advocacy Director Corie Welch was also in attendance. 

The RegionaR 2022 Regional Conference on Human Rights served as the inaugural event of the RegionaR Regional Forum on Human Rights Initiatives. The conference united representatives from civil society organizations all dedicated to the defense of human rights in Latin America with the purpose of providing space to analyze the common factors that threaten human rights, rule of law, and democracy in the region. For two packed days, over 150 human rights advocates participated in a series of lectures, panels, dialogue, and plenary sessions with the purpose of learning from each others’ experiences and developing regional strategies to combat threats against human rights more broadly. 

Prior to the conference, participants were asked to submit questionnaires, which were compiled into the context analysis. Drawing from their responses, the major challenges facing the region were identified as: pillars of inequality–corporate capture of the State; weakening of the rule of law; aggravation of risks and negative impacts for the rural population and indigenous peoples; closure of civic space and political violence; gender based violence; and more. (Read the full list and analysis here.) Culminating in a call to action, the participants released a statement, inviting, “civil society to join efforts in the defense of human, collective and natural rights and fundamental freedoms from an intersectional, inclusive, full, effective and multicultural perspective.” It also called on governments, corporations, and international financing mechanisms to respect human rights and the environment. 

Reflecting on her experience, Advocacy Director Corie Welch shared that she came away from the conference feeling uplifted and hopeful for the future of human rights work. “It’s been a tough year to work on human rights in Guatemala, but learning about the commonalities between the struggles of other countries and communities was energizing.” She continued, “Being able to hear the experiences from other defenders and share space with them was helpful in thinking about GHRC’s advocacy strategy. I felt inspired knowing that even in the face of major challenges across the region, we are united in the fight to protect human rights.” In the face of a regional trend backwards in human rights, the coalition was formed, “convinced that there are opportunities to build a new reality.”

State Security Forces Open Fire on Q’eqchi’ Community in El Estor and Other Updates

In the early morning of December 6, hundreds of Guatemalan police and military forces attacked the Q’eqchi’ community of Chapín Abajo in El Estor, Izabal. The group arrived via boat, working alongside what witnesses have reported as local paramilitary groups, and entered the community by force. These State security forces were acting on behalf of the major land holder and African palm oil company, Naturaceites that filed an eviction notice, accusing the community of “usurpation of land.” 

Video evidence reveals excessive force was used against the community. The forces opened fire, launched teargas, and beat community members. So far, two have been reported injured, including one minor who has been hospitalized from gunshot wounds and remains in critical condition. Dozens of community members, including children, were exposed to unsafe levels of tear gas. Five have been detained, including two minors. Local Q’eqchi’ Ancestral Councils have asked for an official observation mission from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to visit the area to verify the situation.

Both national and international groups came forward, denouncing the attack. The Forum of International Organizations in Guatemala (FONGI) condemned the excessive use of force and called upon the State of Guatemala to “comply with its human rights obligations.” In an alert published on December 7, GHRC expressed concerns for “the safety and well-being of indigenous communities in El Estor and throughout Guatemala, as cases of violent evictions by state security forces in collaboration with paramilitary groups have increased this year.” 

Human Rights Defender Murdered in Jalapa 

The body of Tereso Carcamo Flores was found, riddled with bullets on December 5, some 600 meters from his home in Santa María Xalapán, Jalapa. Flores was returning home from a wake in El Volcán, when he was attacked by armed men and killed. According to Flores’ family, he had been receiving threats for months, related to his involvement with the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) and his work supporting Indigenous communities’ struggle for land in the area. 

He had been a member of CODECA for over nine years. According to another of the organization’s leaders, Leiria Vay, these attacks are commonplace and in line with a pattern of violence against CODECA and human rights defenders in the region. “There are groups in alliance with mafias and hitmen that want to maintain power, they always act in the same way,” he explained. Flores’ death marks the 25th murder of members of CODECA since 2018, all of which remain in impunity. 

Judge Rules to Send World-Renowned Journalist to Trial

José Rubén Zamora–president of media outlet El Periodico and investigative journalist–will stand trial on charges of blackmail, influence peddling, and money laundering. On December 8 in the Tribunal trials in Guatemala City, Judge Freddy Orellana ruled that there was sufficient evidence to send Zamora to trial. Arrested in late July, Zamora has spent the last five months in pretrial detention in the Mariscal Zavala military prison in spite of international outcry demanding his release. 

At the tribunals, President of the Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) Michael Greenspan accompanied the hearing, lending his public support for the criminalized journalist. In its latest report on press freedom in Guatemala, the IAPA documented  an “environment of hostility against the press,” denouncing that, “journalists and media outlets are being systematically attacked if they do not bow to the interests of the government.” As an investigative journalist, Zamora has worked over 30 years investigating corruption and has served as one of President Giammattei’s largest critics; human rights groups have denounced his arrest as retaliation.  According to Zamora, “My best scenario is to get out [of prison] Jan. 14, 2024, when Giammattei leaves the presidency. I have patience and the truth on my side.”

Former President’s Sentence Leaves Much to be Desired in Fight Against Impunity 

On December 7, former President Otto Pérez Molina and his vice-president Roxana Baldetti were sentenced to 16 years in prison on the charges of illicit association and customs fraud. Seven years prior, the two resigned from their positions following massive country-wide protests that erupted after the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) and the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) uncovered extensive corruption in Guatemala’s tax system. 

Former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity Juan Francisco Sandoval–one of the dozens of judges and prosecutors that has been forced into exile during the Giammattei administration–welcomed the verdict stating, “It is a vindication of the work carried out by [those who worked with] CICIG and the public prosecutor’s office.” For many, however, the sentence was not enough. The court ruled to absolve the two of “illicit enrichment,” citing a lack of evidence.  According to Edie Cux, a lawyer with the Guatemalan anti-corruption organization Acción Ciudadana,“It sends a message of institutional weakness regarding cases dealing with corruption.” 

GHRC Statement Condemning Attack in El Estor, December 2022

Yesterday morning, hundreds of Guatemalan security forces arrived to evict the Indigenous Q’eqchi community of Chapín Abajo in El Estor, Izabal. Acting on behalf of the large-scale African Palm producer, NaturAceites, the police used excessive force to remove the community which has been accused by the company of “usurping the land.” The forces opened fire, beat community members, and fired teargas at women and children. Several have been reported injured. Read our statement below. (translation underneath)

ALERT | We condemn the attack against the Q’eqchi community in Chapín Abajo, El Estor

December 7, 2022 

Yesterday morning, hundreds of Guatemalan security forces arrived to evict the community of Chapín Abajo in El Estor, Izabal. Along with what appeared to be paramilitary groups, who arrived via boats, they used force and terror to enter the community, raiding the homes of families and stealing their food and belongings. When community members resisted, the group opened fire and fired tear gas. Several people have been injured. One is hospitalized and is currently fearful for his life, as police arrived to look for him at the hospital last night. 

State forces were used to carry out the eviction in favor of the company Naturaceites, which controls extensive palm plantations throughout Izabal. The company was established on Q’eqchi’ community lands. The company has accused the community of usurping the land and has sent police to evict families four times in the last year. This latest attack is part of a pattern of State violence against Q’eqchi’ communities in the area on behalf of large corporate interests.    

A delegation made up of the four Mayan Q’eqchi’ ancestral councils and journalists from the independent press traveled that same day to verify the situation. The group confirmed that a 17-year-old was seriously wounded and is in critical condition, and that another young man is missing. Two men suffered gunshot wounds and several women were beaten and sustained injuries to both face and body. Dozens of community members, including children, were exposed to unsafe levels of tear gas.

We condemn this latest attack and the excessive use of force against community members by state forces. We are increasingly concerned for the safety and well-being of indigenous communities in El Estor and throughout Guatemala, as cases of violent evictions by state security forces in collaboration with paramilitary groups have increased this year. In El Estor in particular, communities face threats from several fronts with the expansion of African palm plantations, hydroelectric megaprojects and mining in their ancestral territories. As the rule of law continues to disappear in Guatemala, human rights defenders and indigenous communities face the brunt of the violence as human safeguards are removed and institutions openly prioritize corporate and corrupt interests.

We call on the Guatemalan State to put an immediate end to this violence. We demand that: 

  • Immediately cancel all eviction orders; 
  • Immediately release all community members detained during yesterday’s altercation and that they guarantee the physical safety of all members of the Chapín Abajo community;  
  • Allow the entry of a verification mission from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

October/November Human Rights Update

Summary: 

In yet another concerning two months, the situation in Guatemala continues to worsen. After months of defamation and threats, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez Gálvez was forced to resign and joined the 30 other judicial sector workers in exile. Irregularities abounded in the Guatemalan judicial system, as the trial against criminalized former prosecutor Virginia Laparra began and the fate of the Death Squad Dossier case hangs in the balance now overseen by infamous pro-military judge Claudette Domínguez. Violence against defenders and Indigenous communities has soared, with a violent attack on defenders in El Estor and another violent eviction in Baja Verapaz by Guatemala security forces. Meanwhile, the US Department of Defense handed over 95 tactical vehicles to the Guatemalan military outside of the Mariscal Zavala military base, incidentally where world renowned journalist Ruben Zamorra has been held since July.   

US – Guatemala Relations 

  • US Congressional Offices Introduce Resolution on Guatemala 

On November 16, responding to the constant deterioration of rule of law and human rights conditions in Guatemala, Representatives Norma Torres (D-CA), Albio Sires (D-NJ), Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, James P. McGovern (D-MA), and Joaquin Castro (D-TX) introduced the “Restoring Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Guatemala” resolution (H.Res 1481) in the House of Representatives. The resolution condemns the kleptocratic takeover of Guatemala’s institutions, illustrating an unprecedented situation in Guatemala since the signing of the Peace Accords. Citing attacks on judicial sector workers, rising violence against human rights defenders, and the complete breakdown of rule of law, it calls on the US to take stronger action.   

“Alarm bells have been going off in Guatemala for quite some time,” said Rep. McGovern, continuing, “This resolution lays out a series of steps that should be taken immediately before corruption takes over completely.” The resolution calls for the suspension of military aid to Guatemala; safeguards to ensure that investments are not arriving to benefit corrupt elites; the investigation and freezing financial assets of corrupt Guatemalan individuals in the US banks; and stronger support from the US to Guatemalan human rights defenders, justice operators, and those increasingly at risk for their work. 

Dozens of human rights organizations, including GHRC,  welcomed the resolution, expressing concern over “the dramatic closure of civic space that affects Guatemalan Indigenous leaders, human rights defenders, and journalists.” According to GHRC Advocacy Director Corie Welch, “The United States has an obligation to support human rights in Guatemala and this resolution serves as an important first step to holding those responsible for the worrisome backsliding in Guatemala accountable.” 

  • US Donates $4.4 million Worth of Equipment to Guatemalan Military

On October 13, amidst a crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, and judicial sector workers in Guatemala, the US Embassy donated $4.4 million worth of equipment to the Guatemalan military. In a very public ceremony held at the Mariscal Zavala base–incidentally where prominent journalist José Rubén Zamora and the financial director of his newspaper El Periodico Flora Silva are being held on baseless charges–Ambassador William Popp shook hands with military officials to finalize the hand over of 95 tactical vehicles. According to the Embassy’s press release, the donation, which comes from the Department of Defense, “concludes the US Fiscal Year 2019 proposal to donate equipment to support border security efforts in Guatemala.”

Within the last five years, vehicles from the US have been used against human rights defenders and anti-corruption advocates. In 2018, as then President Jimmy Morales began his campaign to expel the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), Guatemalan armed forces circled its offices, the US Embassy, and the homes of prominent human rights defenders in donated military jeeps from the US. More recently, the jeeps were used to intimidate Indigenous human rights defenders from El Estor last October. President Giammattei declared martial law following a protest against an illegal mine that continues to harm the environment and local communities. Eye witnesses claim that several of these US J8 jeeps arrived with the other hundreds of police and military vehicles that occupied their town during the state of siege. 

Civil society organizations responded in a statement, expressing their “profound dismay at the extraordinarily counterproductive decision by the Defense Department to reward the Guatemalan military.” The group argued that the donation directly undercuts US policy objectives to support rule of law in Guatemala, pointing to the US State Department decision not to certify Guatemala under the State, Foreign Operations Law for the 2022 Fiscal Year. This decision will freeze at least 50% of aid from the United States given Guatemala’s failure to maintain standards on rule of law and human rights. The group stated, “The failure of the USG [United States Government] to maintain a consistent, principled stance against the corrupt takeover of the Guatemalan state is confounding, counterproductive—and wrong.” According to Director of the Center for Human Rights Legal Action Hector Reyes, “The US cannot continue prioritizing stopping migration over human rights.” 

Justice System, Criminalization, and Transitional Justice Cases  

  • Attacks Against Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez Reach Tipping Point Forcing him to Resign

In a press conference on November 15, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez announced his resignation. As a judge for high risk court “B,” with over twenty years of experience and international recognition for his work as an independent judge, Gálvez oversaw a myriad of important cases like the Ixil Genocide Case, among others. In spite of international support, including from the US State Department, Gálvez was forced to flee in the face of an increasingly hostile campaign against him that could have resulted in imprisonment or death. 

This year, after ruling to send nine former military officers to trial in the “Death Squad Dossier Case,” Gálvez began to face serious instances of defamation, harassment, intimidation, and even death threats. Members of the Foundation Against Terrorism–an far-right, pro-military group behind the vast majority of spurious legal proceses mounted against honest judges and prosecutors–threatened Gálvez publicly on their social media accounts, promising to oust and exile him. According to transitional justice experts Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada, “Corrupt officials and war criminals alike seek to make an example out of High-Risk Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez,” continuing, “They tolerate no obstacles in their efforts to restore total impunity in Guatemala.”

Galvez is currently in Costa Rica, where he has been since November 4. According to sources, he is unable to return to Guatemala and is now exiled. He joins 30 other judicial sector workers forced into exile under the Giammattei administration.  

  • Death Squad Dossier Case Assigned New Judge, Irregularities Abound 

Following the resignation of Judge Angel Galvez on November 15, the Death Squad Dossier case was temporarily assigned to Judge Claudette Domínguez. Until a new judge is assigned to replace Judge Galvez, Domínguez will oversee the trial against nine former military and police officials, accused of being responsible for the illegal detention, torture, forced disappearance, homicide and sexual violence against at least 195 people during the de facto government of General Óscar Mejía Víctores, between 1983 and 1985. 

In the short time since her assignment, human rights groups have condemned irregularities and blatant attempts to sabotage access to justice for the victims in the case. First, in a resolution issued on November 28, Judge Domínguez granted substitutive measures in favor of the defendant Toribio Acevedo, on the grounds that he suffers from serious health problems. Acevedo, who was a fugitive for almost a year until his arrest in Panama in May of this year, was indicted by Judge Galvez for crimes against humanity, forced disappearance, murder and attempted murder. According to Guatemalan law, however, those accused of murder are prohibited from being granted house arrest. 

Second, Judge Domínguez has a history of favoring the military and ruling against victims in transitional justice cases. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) accused her of favoring people accused of serious corruption. In both the Creompaz Case and the Achi Women sexual violence case, she dismissed the accusations brought forward by the victims and was eventually recused for lack of impartiality on the case.  

Human rights organizations expressed concerns for the future of the case, stating that “decisions such as those recently issued by Claudette Domínguez and the First Chamber of the Court of Appeals represent a serious setback in the fight against impunity and the rights of the families of the victims, who have waited more than 40 years to find justice.” The group called upon the State of Guatemala to “comply with its international obligations in this regard and request the international community to continue to watch over the rights of the victims to have access to prompt and fulfilled justice.”

  • Amnesty International Declares Virginia Laparra Prisoner of Conscience as Trial Begins

Following eight months in prison, the trial against the former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) in Quetzaltenango Virginia Laparra began in Guatemala City. Laparra is accused of an administrative crime for having allegedly abused her authority for denouncing a judge in 2018. According to Laparra’s legal defense, however, her “only mistake was having denounced corruption.” 

The trial opened with the presentation of evidence. Testimony from Juan Francisco Sandoval–former head of the FECI currently exiled in the US–was rejected after the court denied a request from Laparra’s legal team to allow Sandoval to testify via video call. Instead, the court ruled that he must testify at the Guatemalan consulate in Washington, DC. Given his ongoing asylum case in the US, he was unable to testify and was recused as a witness. 

Since Laparra’s arrest in February,  human rights organizations have continued to call for her immediate release. Days after trial began, Amnesty International declared Laparra a “prisoner of conscience,” demanding her freedom. According to  Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International, “We have found serious shortcomings as regards the charges against former prosecutor Virginia Laparra, as well as multiple irregularities in the handling of the case. Not only is there no solid evidence that she has committed any crime, but it is clear that the reasons given by the court for rejecting her requests to be released while proceedings continue are arbitrary.” The trial is set to continue through December. Laparra faces up to nine years in prison if convicted.  

  • MP Releases Additional Arrest Warrants Against Anti-Corruption Attorneys

On October 19, police raided the home of former head of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) Leily Sentizo. Shortly after, Rafael Currichiche–the current head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI)–announced on social media the release of another arrest warrant against the former prosecutor as well as former head of the FECI Juan Francisco Sandoval for alleged “obstruction of criminal action.” The warrants are a result of a criminal complaint filed by the Foundation Against Terrorism related to a phone conversation that was intercepted between Sentizo and Sandoval earlier this year. 

Further details, however, have not been made public by the Public Ministry or overseeing courts. In fact, Sentizo’s defense team denounced that the prosecutors on the case have refused to share the forensic report. Meanwhile, privileged information is surfacing on anonymous social media accounts, some of which before any official announcement was made. In a statement, international human rights groups condemned the acts of criminalization that “have shown a pattern in which the events that will happen, are publicized in advance through social network accounts of private actors that should not have any relationship with institutions such as the Judiciary and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.” According to the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), “This new case is the criminalization of the practice of law and the right of the accused prosecutors to defend themselves.” 

That same day, while Virginia Laparra was awaiting the start of a hearing to review the measures forcing her to await her trial from prison, the Foundation Against Terrorism and anonymous accounts began to leak information about a new arrest warrant had been issued against her. As former head of the FECI in Quetzaltenango, Laparra was arrested in February as part of a string of arrests made against anti-corruption attorneys. She has been forced to wait her trial from prison, in conditions that have been condemned as inhumane and “torturous.” At the end of the hearing, she received official information that an Urgent Proceedings Judge had ordered her arrest for the alleged crime of “disclosure of reserved information.” She was denied bail once again.

According to the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) these new acts of criminalization against Juan Francisco Sandoval, Leily Santizo and Virginia Laparra “take place in a context of deliberate erosion and weakening of the rule of law in Guatemala, which aims to create a climate of fear, as well as the co-optation of the judicial system to guarantee impunity for the criminal networks that operate in the country.’ 

Violence Against Defenders 

  • Armed Group Attack Defenders in El Estor 

On the morning of October 26, following widespread rumors on social media that police were on their way to El Estor to carry out arrest warrants related to the October 2021 anti-mining protests, thousands of police arrived at the dock of Chapin Abajo. According to community members, they arrived by land, sea, and air. Eye witnesses report that two boats–one official military ship and another owned by the local palm oil company NaturAceite–arrived suddenly at the pier, dropping 2000 officers clad in full riot gear. Three helicopters also circled overhead in what one community member described as like “the times of war.” 

To capture nine indigenous authorities, the police attempted to enter the community, but were blocked by a row of Q’eqchi’ women leaders. According to one Indigenous Authority, in order to enter the community, the police needed to “request permission from the Community Development Councils (COCODES) and from us, the ancestral authorities.” Rather than engage in dialogue, the group of security forces began to taunt the women, demanding they let them pass and calling them racial slurs. The police then began to use force against the women and other community members, firing teargas and, according to witnesses, live rounds into the crowd. No one was reported injured.  

Following the altercation, the police began circulating flyers with pictures and names of the nine authorities they tried to arrest, offering a reward and calling the defenders “fugitives of the law.” The warrants are related to the participation of the defenders in the anti-mining movement in El Estor. Thirteen others, including journalist Carlos Choc, have faced warrants for their arrest related to the state of siege in El Estor last October. This worrisome trend in El Estor reflects a national pattern, where human rights defenders are facing rising criminalization. 

  • Security Forces Carry Out Violent Eviction in Baja Verapaz 

On November 21 in Baja Verapaz, hundreds of Guatemalan security forces–including both military and National Civil Police (PNC)–gathered, preparing to evict several communities in the area. Notified of their intentions and in fear of their lives, community members from Pancoc and Monjon fled their homes, which were subsequently raided by security forces who then proceeded to eat their food and kill their livestock. One community member was reportedly injured in the process. 

This most recent attack by police falls into a worrisome pattern in both Alta and Baja Verapaz, where Indigneous communities have faced increased violence from security forces carrying out eviction orders. The communities of Dos Fuentes and Washington shared their concerns that they could be the next target. In October of 2020, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted both communities protective measures, requiring the Guatemalan government to ensure the personal integrity of the Poqomchi’ families, take culturally appropriate measures to improve their living conditions, prevent future attacks from third parties, and investigate attacks  that have been made against them.

Since 2020, however, these two and all Indigneous communities in the Verapaces regions face a higher risk for violence and other forms of repression like criminalization. For example, in 2021, the Guatemalan government established the Observatory on Property Rights–a special prosecutor’s office specifically designed to address crimes of usurpation. As seen across Guatemala and throughout the region, the crime of usurpation is often leveled against Indigneous communities and land defenders in the process of reclaiming their ancestral territories. 

Militarization across the Verapaces and specifically in the Sierra de Las Minas region has expanded, as evidenced by the heavy presence of military and police forces. In July of this year, GHRC’s Emergency Human Rights Delegation documented increased presence from security forces, including hundreds gathered outside of a gas station in Purulha, en route to evict an Indigenous community. In September of this year, the Guatemalan army established its first new military brigade in ten years, to be based in Baja Verapaz. 

Indigenous communities have reported the impact of such militarization on their wellbeing, including both physical and mental health. Community members report that the increased presence of military forces around their communities is reminiscent of terror campaigns used during the internal armed conflict, where hundreds of thousands were brutally killed and/or disappeared. Now, families are unable to move freely to carry out essential tasks for their daily life. In an alert published by GHRC, we called on the state of Guatemala to “guarantee the right to life, safety and security of the community members” and to cancel any pending warrants for evictions that violate human rights and basic international norms and put Indigenous communities at grave risk. 

Civil Society 

  • Far Right Group Targets Prominent Human Rights Organization 

After accompanying criminalized former prosecutor Virginia Laparra to her most recent hearing, the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) was hit with a new wave of defamation on social media. The prominent human rights organization–recognized internationally for over two decades of exceptional work advocating for human rights defenders in Guatemala–has been accused by the Foundation Against Terrorism of profiting off of international support and donations. 

Human rights groups in Guatemala came to UDEFEGUA’s defense, publishing a series of statements on social media in support of the organization and its essential work. For more than 20 years, UDEFEGUA has been committed to supporting human rights in Guatemala, documenting attacks, accompanying defenders, and advocating for those at risk. According to the Human Rights Convergence, “This situation of open threats against UDEFEGUA, as well as the collusion of judicial authorities to impede its labor, represents an enormous risk to an organization that is fundamental to the exercise of human rights in Guatemala.”  

  • Human Rights Groups Raise Concerns over Regional Slide into Authoritarianism 

From October 10-14, human rights defenders from Central America visited Washington, DC to share their concerns over what they identified as a “regional slide into authoritarianism.” This coalition–consisting of human rights groups from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua–was formed to address common issues and trends in the region. In a packed four days, the group–accompanied by GHRC–met with congressional offices, the State Department, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and several DC- based human rights groups. 

Guatemalan representatives with the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and Indigenous Peoples’ Law Firm highlighted their concerns regarding the dramatic regression in human rights in Guatemala. In particular, they emphasized the lack of protections for human rights and land defenders, as institutions are overtaken by corrupt forces. The group called for stronger action from the US government, including robust support for civil society and human rights defenders, the suspension of security aid to the region, and the re-evaluation of pending loans in order to ensure compliance with human rights standards.  

  • Organizations Form National Resistance Coalition 

In a press conference held on October 2, human rights groups came together to announce the creation of a non-violent coalition dedicated to fighting corruption and resisting what they identified as a mounting dictatorship in Guatemala. Named the “National Resistance Convergence” or CNR, the group has formed to resist and counteract the capture of institutions by elites in Guatemala and democratic backsliding. In the press conference, representatives from CNR called for “unity and organization, for nonviolent participation and resistance so that together we can dream and work for a different Guatemala fighting against corruption, impunity and electoral fraud in 2023.”

The group consists of 52 representatives from 13 social organizations in Guatemala and is led by Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini. It also announced its commitment to remaining non-violent and non-partisan. The press conference ended with a call to all sectors of civil society, encouraging diverse inclusion in the resistance. 

PLEASE HELP US REACH OUR GOAL ON GIVING TUESDAY

Dear Friends,

Today is the day! During the next 24 hours, people around the world will come together to participate in a global day of giving. At GHRC we have a goal of raising $4,000 to promote human rights in Guatemala and support communities and activists who face threats and violence. Thanks to supporters like you, we believe it’s possible.

Attacks on human rights defenders have skyrocketed in recent months, and we’ve responded. This year, we provided accompaniment and emergency support to over 93 human rights defenders in Guatemala, including women defenders, defenders of Indigenous rights, and environmental defenders. Will you help us support the brave Guatemalans fighting for truth and justice? Please DONATE  and help us help our Guatemalan partners.   Please give whatever you can. Every bit makes a difference.

P.S.  Share on social media and let friends and loved ones know they can make a difference on #GivingTuesday by supporting our work! Please DONATE

THANK YOU!

Army and Police Move to Evict Indigenous Communities in Baja Verapaz

During the night of November 24, according to reports, numerous soldiers, police officers, and heavily armed civilian men are making incursions into the Q’eqchi and Poqomchi communities in the Sierra de las Minas, Baja Verapaz.

Already, for five days now, numerous contingents of soldiers and police officers have been occupying and controlling communities in the area. In the face of the armed and intimidating force of the military, members of the communities of Pancoc and Monjón fled their homes. Members of the army and the National Civil Police then entered and occupied the homes of community members, consumed their foods, killed and consumed their animals, and reportedly seriously injured more than one community member. 

We are deeply concerned that more illegal and arbitrary evictions, including of the Dos Fuentes and Washington communities, will follow. These communities received protective orders from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in October 2020. Their rights must be respected. The Guatemalan government agreed to protect the rights to life and personal integrity of the Poqomchi’ Mayan families of the Washington and Dos Fuentes communities; use culturally appropriate measures to improve their living conditions, nutrition, and access to water; prevent acts of violence by third parties; and investigate the attacks that led to the granting of protective measures.

Instead, your government took action that put Indigenous communities at greater risk, in 2021 creating the Observatory on Property Rights and a special Prosecutors Office for the Crime of Usurpation—usurpation being a charge often leveled against Indigenous communities claiming their ancestral lands. Two months ago, the Guatemalan army inaugurated its first new military brigade in ten years, based in Baja Verapaz.

The entire Sierra de Las Minas area is now militarized, and as a result of the heavy presence of soldiers and police officers, members of Indigenous communities have not been able to freely circulate to carry out essential tasks of daily life. 

Your government has systematically and repeatedly violated  basic standards evictions must meet under international law. Various Poqomchi’ and Q’eqchi communities now fearfully await illegal and arbitrary forced eviction. 

We urge the Guatemalan government to guarantee community members’ rights to life, liberty, and physical safety;

Cancel eviction orders that violate human rights and international standards and place Indigenous communities, including families with children, in grave danger;

Immediately demilitarize the Sierra de Las Minas area and guarantee the safety and free movement of members of these threatened Indigenous communities;

Comply with all obligations in the IACHR precautionary measures for the communities of Dos Fuentes and Washington, as well as obligations of the Guatemalan Constitution and international treaties adopted by Guatemala related to demilitarization and Indigenous rights.

URGENTE

En horas de la noche de hoy 24 de noviembre, numerosos militares, elementos
policiales y hombres civiles fuertemente armados están incursionando en las
comunidades q’eqchi y poqomchi en la Sierra de las Minas, Baja Verapaz.
Ya son 5 días que ocupan y controlan a las comunidades y ante la fuerza armada
e intimidatoria de los militares, miembros de las comunidades de Pancoc y Monjón
huyeron de sus hogares. Miembros del ejército y de la Policía Nacional Civil ingresaron
y ocuparon las viviendas de los comuneros, consumieron sus alimentos, mataron y
consumieron sus animales y, según los informes, hirieron gravemente a miembros de
la comunidad.

Nos preocupa profundamente que el Estado de Guatemala esté realizando desalojos
ilegales y arbitrarios, incluidos los de las comunidades de Dos Fuentes y Washington.
Las comunidades cuentan con medidas de protección de la Comisión Interamericana de
Derechos Humanos dadas en octubre de 2020. El gobierno de Guatemala se obligó
proteger los derechos a la vida e integridad personal de las familias mayas poqomchi’
de las comunidades de Washington y Dos Fuentes; utilizar medidas culturalmente
apropiadas para mejorar sus condiciones de vida, nutrición y acceso al agua; prevenir
actos de violencia por parte de terceros; e investigar las agresiones que dieron lugar al
otorgamiento de medidas de protección.

Instamos al gobierno de Guatemala a garantizar el derechos a la vida, la libertad y la
seguridad física de los miembros de las comunidades; Cancelar las órdenes de desalojo
que violan los derechos humanos y las normas internacionales y ponen en grave
peligro a las comunidades indígenas, incluidas las familias con niños; Desmilitarizar de
inmediato la zona de la Sierra de Las Minas y garantizar la seguridad y libre circulación
de los miembros de estas comunidades indígenas amenazadas; cumplir las
obligaciones de la Constitución política de Guatemala y los tratados internacionales
adoptados por el Estado de Guatemala, relacionados con la desmilitarización y los
derechos indígenas.

GHRC Connects Defenders to Policymakers with Back-to-Back Tours

As the situation continues to devolve in Guatemala, GHRC has remained committed to amplifying the demands of our partners on the front lines of defending human rights. In the last month, our Advocacy Team has been hard at work, leading two tours of Central Americans in Washington, DC to connect human rights defenders with policymakers and government officials. 

GHRC Accompanies Survivors and Transitional Justice Advocates in DC 

From September 20-30, we had the immense honor of accompanying survivors and transitional justice advocates Demesia Yat de Xol, of Sepur Zarco, and Maxima Garcia Valey de Ric, of Rabinal. This year, the Maya Achi women of Rabinal and the Maya Q’eqchi’ women of Sepur Zarco were recipients of human rights awards from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) for their tireless efforts to bring former civil patrollers and military officers to justice for sexual violence that occurred during the internal armed conflict. Our team arranged several meetings with congressional representatives and other government officials, including Representative Norma Torres. A roundtable with the State Department provided a vital space for the women to share their stories of survival and their fight for justice, and as well as their concerns for the future. 

In spite of achieving convictions against those who perpetrated sexual violence against them during the internal armed conflict, the women explained that reparations measures established in the sentences still have not been carried out. Moreover, in the context of democratic backsliding in Guatemala, they expressed their fears as attacks against transitional justice advocates, attorneys, and even judges overseeing these cases continue to intensify. Finally, given the closure of institutions set up in the framework of the Peace Accords, such as the Secretariat for Agrarian Affairs, the women shared their fears about further violent displacement of their communities.

GHRC Organizes Tour to Raise Concerns over Regional Slide into Authoritarianism 

This week, we led a DC tour for human rights defenders from Central America. This coalition–consisting of human rights groups from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua–was formed to address common concerns and trends in the region. In a packed four days, we met with congressional offices, the State Department, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and several DC- based human rights groups. 

Guatemalan representatives with the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) and Indigenous Peoples’ Law Firm highlighted their concerns regarding the dramatic regression in human rights in Guatemala. In particular, they emphasized the lack of protections for human rights and land defenders, as institutions are overtaken by corrupt forces. The group called for stronger action from the US government, including robust support for civil society and human rights defenders, the suspension of security aid to the region, and the re-evaluation of pending loans in order to ensure compliance with human rights standards.   

Support Our Work

For 40 years, GHRC has been committed to supporting the people of Guatemala as they struggle to defend their rights. Our 40th Anniversary Celebration is scheduled for November 3 at the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, DC. Our founder, Sister Alice Zachmann, will be attending by Zoom. We would love for you to be part of that special evening. 

We will also be honoring the Ixil Authorities and the Chicoyoguito Resistance as the recipients of this year’s Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award. Don’t miss this opportunity to hear from these incredibly brave defenders! Email veronicaserranotama@ghrc-usa.org or fill out this form to register.

In honor of our 40th anniversary, we are encouraging donations in multiples of 40. Donate using this link or send us a check to 3321 12th St NE Washington, DC 20017.  

If you can’t attend but would like to support our work, any amount is appreciated!