Human Rights Update, May 11, 2017

Constitutional Court Judges Accused of Criminal Misconduct in Rios Montt Trial

On May 10, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) presented complaints of “prevaricato” against Héctor Pérez Aguilera, Roberto Molina Barreto, and Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, Guatemalan judges who when serving on the Constitutional Court annulled the 2013 trial of Efrian Rios Montt on charges of genocide.  The complaint was filed on the four-year anniversary of the historic ruling in which for the first time in the world a national court condemned a former dictator for acts of Genocide.

According to the CALDH, on May 20, 2013, ten days after the acclaimed ruling, these Constitutional Court judges intentionally sustained an illegal appeals court ruling which in effect led to the annulment of the historic genocide trial.  The ruling was framed as a response to a motion by a defense lawyer; yet in reality, the motion did not exist.  Not only did the judges knowing falsify the facts; they upheld a determination made in relation to an ongoing trial. Guatemalan law only permits appeals after a sentence has been rendered.  Also contrary to Guatemalan law, the ruling ordered the suspension of a trial in progress, a procedure not permitted.

“Prevaricato” is a criminal offense specific to judges and other public officials and is punishable by two to six years in prison.  Similar to “abuse of authority” or “dereliction of duty,” “prevaricato” occurs when a ruling or determination is issued which is knowingly based on false facts or contrary to the law.

This ruling contributed significantly to the denial of justice to the victims of 17 massacres in the Ixil Maya region of Guatemala.  The clear illegality of the Constitutional Court ruling led many to suspect it to be the result of corruption.   Corruption of judges is an issue of great concern in Guatemala. Constitutional Court magistrate, Blanca Stalling, was arrested this February on charges of influence trafficking, and the United Nations sponsored International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) has compiled a long and growing list of judges referred to as “Impunity Judges,” whose rulings pervert justice and who are suspected to have participated in corruption. A timely and fair prosecution of the charges presented by CALDH would set an important precedent.

 

How the Constitutional Court Judges Illegally Suspended the Genocide Trial

On March 19, 2013, a full courtroom awaited the three-judge tribunal that presided the First Circuit High Impact Criminal Court.  It was an historic day, the first day of the trial of Guatemalan military dictator Efrian Rios Montt on charges of Acts of Genocide against the Ixil Maya.

Observers were surprised as the three lawyers who had represented Rios Montt throughout pretrial proceedings got up and left, leaving only Francisco Garcia Gudiel. Though one of many lawyers employed in defense of the former military dictator, he had not been present in pre-hearings.  After he presented the opening arguments, the proceedings took a strange turn.  He began addressing the judges in increasingly hostile and loud terms, while claiming he had a conflict of interest with two of the judges.

Guatemalan law dictates that if lawyers have a conflict of interest with a judge the lawyers must recuse themselves from the proceedings.  However, after initiating defense, Garcia Gudiel demanded that the judges recuse themselves based on the assertion that Garcia Gudiel was enemy of the President of the Court Jasmine Barrios and a friend of Judge Pablo Xitumul.

When Judge Barrios rejected his petition, Garcia Gudiel began shouting at the judges, forcing Judge Barrios to expel him from the court.  She assigned a lawyer already present in the court to defend Rios Montt for the remainder of the day, a lawyer representing Rios Montt’s co-defendant Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, Chief of Intelligence during the genocide. The following day Rios Montt’s defense team reappeared.   Garcia Gudiel later presented a written unconstitutionality motion to the Third Court of Appeals, claiming that Judge Barrios had refused to rule on an oral motion he had presented requesting review of the ruling to expel him from the proceeding.  CALDH notes that three times during the course of the trial Judge Barrios gave the opportunity for Rios Montt’s defense to request review of the expulsion.

The trial proceeded and on April 19 the last witness was being heard, when Judge Barrios was notified of a ruling from the Third Court of Appeals ordering the suspension of the trial.  The Third Court of Appeals had initially rejected the Garcia Gudiel’s unconstitutionality motion, reasoning that a ruling on Garcia’s expulsion would not change the ongoing proceedings of the court.  But on April 18 the court issued a second ruling, this time in response to a motion that had not been presented.   While Garcia Gudiel claimed his petition to review his expulsion from the court had not been reviewed, the Third Court of Appeals falsely claimed Garcia Gudiel had also presented a motion asserting that he had requested that the judges review their decision to not recuse themselves, but they had not reviewed that decision.

Knowing that no court can suspend a trial mid-proceedings, Judge Barrios resolved to continue the trial until the Constitutional Court reviewed the Appeals Court ruling.  On May 10, the First Circuit High Impact Criminal Court found Efrain Rios Montt guilty of ordering Acts of Genocide.  Ten days later, the Constitutional Court upheld the Third Court of Appeals ruling, and ordered that annulment of all proceedings after the April 19th notification.

This Constitutional Court ruling was interpreted as in effect the annulment of the trial. Lawyers at CALDH, the representatives of the victims of the genocide argue that given the gross illegality of the Constitutional Court decision it is inapplicable, and thus the verdict finding Efrain Rios Montt guilty of genocide is still in effect.

Rios Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez continue under house arrest awaiting trial.  Lawyers defending the 90 year-old Rios Montt, now excused from attending the Dos Erres massacre case as a result of his alleged dementia, continue to use delay tactics to stall the case, which had already taken 12 years to reach the 2013 trial.

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.

 

 

Staff Member of Guillermo Toriello Foundation Arrested

Abelino Chub Caal, who has worked with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation for more than ten years, was arrested this week in Alta Verapaz when he was with his family. His work at the foundation involves accompanying and mediating for communities that are fighting for land.

According to the National Civil Police, he is accused of leading land invasions in Izabal. The specific charges agsinst him are aggravated robbery, arson, illegal association, use of coercion, and belonging to illegal armed groups. The arrest warrant was issued on October 17, 2016, by the First Criminal Court of Puerto Barrios. He was taken to a court in Carcha and notified of the charges against him, then he was taken to a courthouse and prison in Cobán, and later he was transferred to the Preventive Center for Men in Zone 18 of Guatemala City.

Acording to the Guillermo Toriello Foundation, his arrest owes to his work accompanying twenty-nine communities in the Sierra Santa Cruz, a region where powerful interests come together, including finca owners, such as the Murciélago Finca, companies, such as Maya Níquel, CGN, and the municipal mayor Estor Rony Mendez Caal. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of an appeal on behalf of these communities. The ruling voided registries since 1920, which were full of anomalies and laid claim to the lands in an attempt to usurp them.

A few days earlier, the Secretariat of Agricultural Affairs had called a meeting to advance a dialogue with the community of Nueva Generación del Estor. Upon leaving the meeting, one of the representatives of the community was arrested. Abelino attended that meeting, as well.

Since last year, there has been a defamation campaign against Abelino and the Guillermo Toriello Foundation, as well as against the Committee for Campesino Unity (CUC).

Judge Edgar Aníbal Arteaga López issued the warrant (#18002-2016-00328) ordering the National Civil Police to arrest Abelino Chub Caal, Martin Xi Cuz, Mateo Pop Yaxcal, and Hector Che Rax.  Of the four, only Abelino Chub has been arrested.

 

 

APG Demands Protection as Another Journalist is Killed

Journalist Manuel Salvador Villagrán was shot to death on January 19 at kilometer 149.5 of the road leading to the municipality of San Jorge, Zacapa.

Villagrán was fired on as he rode his motorcycle and was hit multiple times. He died at the scene. He was in charge of public relations for the municipality of San Jorge and worked with several media outlets in Zacapa.

The Freedom of the Press Committee of the Association of Guatemalan Journalists (APG) held the government responsible, especially the minister of the interior, whose responsibility it is to ensure citizen safety. The committee pointed out that president Jimmy Morales on July 18 of last year approved a proposal for the construction of a journalist protection program, presented by sixteen national organizations and press departments, and the president specifically ordered that it be implemented.

Nonetheless, in spite of the guild’s cooperation, the minister of the interior’s legal advisor, René Lam, significantly weakened the accord, contravening the presidential order and keeping the profession in a state of permanent risk.

Given these facts, the Association of Guatemalan Journalists denounces the government’s failure to comply with the commitment made in 2012 in Geneva to implement a Journalist Protection Program. The association is calling for national and international solidarity in urging the responsible authorities to comply with and support the political will demonstrated by Jimmy Morales to implement the program to protect journalists. The program, the association said, could lessen the risk journalists face, especially outside of the capital.

The APG also noted that a journalist in Suchitepéquez, whose name was not released for security reasons, suffered an attempt on his life, along with his son, also a journalist. The journalist continues to receive death threats, which have increased since the assassinations of Danilo López and Federico Salazar in 2015. The journalist and his son, while they survived the attack, continue to be intimidated by a group calling itself “Ángeles Justicieros” (Vigilante Angels). The APG is calling for the immediate intervention of the authorities, asking them to afford the security that has been offered before another journalist has to be grieved.

Two Defenders Killed in January

Man, 72, Shot while Protesting Hydroelectric Project

Sebastian Alonso Juan, a member of the Guatemalan community of Yulchen, Huehuetenango, was shot to death on January 17, apparently by state security forces and paramilitaries, as he demonstrated peacefully in the area of Ixquisis, in San Mateo Ixtatatan. He was 72 years old.

He was participating in a march to protest the Pojom hydroelectric project and to demand the departure of the company constructing it, the Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos SA (PDH SA). At approximately 2:00 PM, armed men began shooting into the crowd of demonstrators, wounding indigenous and land rights defender Sebastian Alonso Juan. He died as a result of his injuries.

Early that morning, residents of various Chuj and Q’anjob’al communities had undertaken a peaceful march in the Ixquisis area to denounce the rerouting of the rivers and the imposition of the Pojom I and II project without their consent, which is required by Convention 169 of International Labor Organization and by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Residents have expressed their concern and disagreement to various state bodies for the last five years, with no response.

The Council of the Wuxhtaj Peoples has called on government authorities to end the repression against the communities and is urging the justice system to investigate Sebastian Alonso’s murder and hold the material and intellectual authors accountable. The Council asked the Ministry of Energy and Mines to cancel permits for hydroelectric project Pojom I and Pojom II because they are being implemented arbitrarily, without consultation  or participation of the people.

Leader of Opposition to El Escobal Mine Assassinated

Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda was assassinated on the night of January 16 by men who broke into her house and shot her in the head. An activist passively resisting a gold and silver mine in Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, Vásquez Pineda had been one of the leaders of the Defense of Life Committees in San Rafael since 2014.

According to the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative, the murder took place after she had been through a process of criminalization, stigmatization, and defamation. She had served seven months in jail on charges that later were dropped for lack of evidence.

Her assassination is the latest in a series of attacks against human rights defenders who have denounced the negative effects of the mine. These attacks include the assassination of Xinca indigenous leader Exaltación Marcos Ucelo in 2013, the murder of Telésforo Odilio Pivaral González in 2015, various attacks on the lives of other defenders, the illegal arrest and detention of protesters, and at least fourteen cases of improper use of criminal law against human rights defenders.

Vásquez Pineda’s murder occurs in the context of an alarming intensification of the violence against human rights defenders, which last year included at least fourteen assassinations (and perhaps as many as seventeen—verification is still pending) and seven attempted assassinations of defenders.

The mine, known as El Escobal, is owned by the San Rafael Mining Company, which is owned by the Canadian company Tahoe Resources. The mining concession was granted illegally, without previous consultation and without free and informed consent.

 

 

Assassinations Increase in 2016

The human rights situation, on the surface, seems to have improved last year in Guatemala, but while the number of attacks was down to levels not seen since 2008, the violence of the attacks intensified: the number of assassinations increased. From January 1 to October 31, eleven human rights defenders were killed in Guatemala, and after October 31, the killings escalated. For example, on November 2, indigenous leader Benjamin Roderigo Ic Coc, departmental representative of the Mayan Council of the Peten, was found shot to death in Sayaxché. He had received threats prior to his killing. On November 6, journalist Hamilton Hernández and his wife were assassinated in Coatepeque. On November 9, union leader Eliseo Villatoro Cardona, in Tiquisate, was killed. On November 12, Jeremy Abraham Barrios Lima, Assistant to the General Director of the Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action of Guatemala, was shot to death. Miguel Suchite Hernandez, COCODE president, in La Llorna, Petén, was killed November 18, bringing the total number of defenders killed to date this year to sixteen.

By comparison, the number of defenders assassinated by December 31, 2015 year was thirteen. In 2014, it was seven. The cases of the defenders killed in the Petén are still being verified to ascertain whether their work on behalf of human rights led to their deaths. But even excepting those two cases, the total number of murders this year exceeds that of last.

Union members, environmental defenders, and journalists have been the most heavily targeted groups.

Journalists

As of September 22, the Observatory of Journalists of the Center for Information Reports on Guatemala (Cerigua) recorded 47 grievances against the press. By the same date, the Fiscal Unit of Crimes against Journalists had received 76 complaints. Targeted assassinations, assaults, intimidation, censorship, and cyber-attacks hindered press freedom. In addition to Hamilton Hernández, mentioned above, the following journalists were murdered:

On the March 17, Mario Roberto Salazar Barahona, director of Radio Estéreo Azúcar, was killed in Asunción Mita, Jutiapa as he waited in his car for change after buying a coconut on the roadside. Gunmen pulled up beside him on a motorcycle and opened fire. Less than a month later, on April 8, Winston Leonardo Túnchez Cano, a broadcaster on Radio La Jefa, was shot and killed by men on a motorcycle while he was shopping for groceries in Escuintla. On April 30, journalist Diego Salomón Esteban Gaspar, the 22-year-old leader of Radio Sembrador, was killed by three men who intercepted him on his motorcycle in the village of Efrata, Ixcán, Quiché. The director of the radio station had been receiving threats since 2015. On June 7, journalist Víctor Hugo Valdéz Cardona was shot and killed in the streets of Chiquimula by two individuals on a motorcycle. Víctor was the director of  Chiquimula de Visión, a cultural television program that had been around for more than 27 years.

On June 25th, journalist and radio reporter Álvaro Alfredo Aceituno López was shot by unidentified assailants on the street where the Radio Ilusión station is located, in the southeastern city of Coatepeque. He was director of the station and the host of a news program called Acontecer Coatepecano. One of the bullets hit Aceituno in the back of the head. He was rushed to the hospital by the Guatemalan Red Cross, where he died later the same day. Just a month after the murder, Aceituno’s daughter, Lindaura Aceituno, was shot and killed by men on a motorcycle as she was driving her daughter to school. According to reports, one of the men got off the motorcycle and approached to see if she was dead and then fired again.

On November 6, a journalist for the cable station Punto Rojo, Hamilton Hernández Vásquez, was killed by while returning home from covering an event. Men on a motorcycle chased him and his wife, who were also on a motorcycle. The men opened fire. His wife, Ermelinda González Lucas, also was shot to death

Environmental defenders

On March 16, Walter Méndez Barrios was shot and killed outside of his home in Las Cruces. He was a well-known environmental rights defender, fighting to protect natural resources in communities of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. He was a founding member of FPCR (Petenero Front Against Dams), an organization that was formed in 2005 to fight for land rights, water rights, and other natural resources of those affected and threatened by the construction of dams. He had been receiving death threats prior to his murder.

On April 13, Benedicto de Jesús Gutiérrez Rosa, Juan Mateo Pop Cholom and Héctor Joel Saquil Choc, forestry engineers with the National Institute of Forests, were ambushed and shot to death by gunmen in a car around 2:00  PM as they were driving in Carcha, Alta Verapaz.

On June 8, human rights defender Daniel Choc Pop was killed by unknown individuals who shot him numerous times. He was an indigenous and campesino human rights defender from the community of San Juan Tres Ríos in Cobán, which he represented at the General Assembly of the Highlands Campesino Committee (CCDA). The CCDA is a national organization committed to defending local water sources used by indigenous communities. There had been recent disputes regarding over land ownership with owners of the estate Rancho Alegre.

On November 12, Jeremy Abraham Barrios was shot to death. He worked as the Assistant to the General Director of CALAS (Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social de Guatemala). CALAS is a human rights organization founded in 2011 and based in Guatemala City. The organization has been active in denouncing abuses committed by mining companies in the region, as well as in the protection of environmental rights. There was no prior indication Barrios had received any threats; however his employers had received warnings.

Union members and Community Leaders

On May 10, community leader Blanca Estela Asturias was shot to death in Villalobos, Villanueva, Guatemala. Two men approached her as she was at her newspaper stand at 6:00 A.M. and without a word shot her at point-blank range. She had recently organized a protest to call for better water service and better maintenance of the community’s drainage system.

On June 19, around  6:00  P.M., Brenda Marleni Estrada Tambito was driving through Zone 1 in Guatemala City when a vehicle drove up next to her. The occupants of the vehicle then opened fire. She was hit by bullets and died at the scene of the attack. She was a member of the Coalition of Workers’ Unions of Guatemala (Unión Sindical de Trabajadores de Guatemala – UNSITRAGUA) and the Sub-Coordinator of the Legal Aid Commission within the union. UNSITRAGUA brings together workers’ unions from the different industries, as well as self-employed workers and independent farmers. Estrada was the daughter of lawyer Jorge Estrada. Prior to her assassination she had driven her father to a bus terminal where he would travel to Puerto Barrios, Izabal. He is currently involved in investigating and assessing labor rights in several banana plantations across Izabal.

On November 10th, Eliseo Villatoro Cardona was riding his motorcycle, headed home, when two pursuers, also on motorcycles, shot and wounded him. He tried to flee, in spite of his wounds, but the gunmen closed in and killed him. Villatoro Cardona was a member of the executive committee of the Organized Municipal Employees’ Union of Tiquisate, Escuintla (SEMOT).

Look for our final 2016 human rights report, including a broader range of violations, in February.

Guatemalan News: November 27 – December 2

Guatemalan woman dies in Immigration and Customs Control Service (ICC) custody in Arizona

A 36 year old Guatemalan woman died after suffering convulsions in the Eloy detention center in Arizona, a privately managed facility where 15 migrants have died since 2004.  She had been placed in the facility on November 23, and was awaiting deportation.

Transleader and activist murdered in her home

Sulma Alegría Robles (also known as Evelyn), trans leader and activist, was found murdered in her home on November 18 with signs of torture and physical violence. Sulma was a beneficiary of precautionary measures granted by the IACHR for risk of systematic attacks, threats and violations for defending human rights. The murder of Sulma demonstrates the state of Guatemala failing to fulfill its duty to protect its life and physical integrity, and a case of targeted violence against the LGBTQ community.

Mayan elders go to Standing Rock to show solidarity

Mayan representatives from the Mam and Ixil peoples of Guatemala have travelled to Standing Rock in the Dakotas, in solidarity with the Sioux Tribe in defense of the land, territories, environment, sacred sites and all natural elements.