Guatemala News Update: Jan. 30-Feb. 5

Oscar Mejía Víctores, former head of state accused of genocide, dies under house arrest
Oscar Mejía Víctores died Monday morning at the age of 85. He was the head of State of Guatemala between 1983 and 1986, taking power through a coup d’état that ousted his predecessor Jose Efraín Ríos Montt. Under his leadership, the government forcibly disappeared over 600 people and killed thousand of indigenous. He had been under house arrest since 2011 for accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity during his tenure as the head of State.

Guatemala Supreme Court Rules Against Lifting Congressman’s Immunity
The Guatemalan Supreme Court has denied prosecutors’ request to lift the immunity of Congressman and presidential advisor Edgar Justino Ovalle, on the basis of insufficient evidence. As a public official, he has immunity from prosecution. He has been accused of human rights abuses during his tenure as a military officer during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict war.

First Week of Sepur Zarco Trial Underway
The trial against a military officer and a military commissioner began Feb. 1. The men are charged with crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual and domestic slavery, as well as forced disappearance of indigenous villagers during Guatemala’s internal conflict. International observers have been blogging daily about the trial at the International Justice Monitor and Breaking the Silence.

Nickel company announces new mining project in Baja Verapaz
The Canadian company CVMR Corporation and Central American Nickel Inc. have announced a partnership to mine 3 million tons of mineral ore each year in Santa Anita located in Baja Verapaz which is considered to be one of the largest, untapped reserves of Nickel in existence. From Guatemala, the ore will be shipped to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to be refined. The project is not far from Rio Negro and the 33 communities displaced and massacred during the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric dam project. Another nickel mine operating in the neighboring department of Izabal is responsible for acts of violence, including a murder and the gang rape of 11 women by security forces.

New Law for Missing Women Passed in Guatemala
A law was passed on January 29th that establishes the ability to immediately search for missing women. At least 4,500 women have been reported missing over the last two years, and according to Congresswoman Sandra Moran, law enforcement often does not respond immediately when a woman goes missing. This law, the result of the combined efforts of many women’s rights organization, hopes to curb the incidence of kidnapping women for forced labor or prostitution.

Growing concern over treatment of Central American refugees
On Feb. 4, 34 Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to express concern over the treatment and safety of deported Central American families in response to the recent raids.Many of these families may qualify for special accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, protections that were not taken into account during the raids. The Members of Congress call for a suspension of raids, more careful review and screening of cases, among other changes to DHS protocols.

Bill in support of Community Radio up for vote in Guatemalan Congress
The Community Media Bill 4087 aims to legalize community radio within Guatemala. Current telecommunications laws do not allow for the municipalities to create or have access to non-profit licenses for community radios. Without a public radio system, communities cannot easily distribute important news and educational programming information such as emergency disaster relief, voter registration, and public health campaigns broadcast in their native language. Originally introduced to the Congress in 2009, the bill had been stalled up to February 2 when the first reading of the bill took place. The vote on Bill 4087 could take place as soon as February 9th.

International organizations applaud the initiation of the Sepur Zarco trial

[Abajo en español]

International organizations applaud the initiation of the first trial for sexual slavery and violence during the armed conflict in Guatemala: the Sepur Zarco Case

Guatemala, Washington D.C. and San José, February 1, 2016.- Today the trial begins in the “Sepur Zarco” case of acts of sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery committed from 1982 to 1986 by members of the Guatemalan army against Maya Q’eqchi’ women and the forced disappearance of several men. The accused in the case are former soldier Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig.

This will be the first time in the world that a national court has tried a case of wartime sexual slavery case – other cases have been heard in international criminal tribunals – and the first time in Guatemala that crimes of sexual violence have been tried as international crimes. “The Guatemalan judicial system has been a pioneer in investigating complex crimes, demonstrating to other countries that confront similar challenges that it can be done,” stated Leonor Arteaga, a program officer with the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF). Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: January 25-29

Emblematic cases of wartime atrocities move forward in Guatemala Courts

Sepur Zarco: The Case of sexual and domestic slavery against 15 Q’eqchi’ women at the Sepur Zarco military outpost goes to trial on Feb. 1, more than 30 years after the crimes were committed. GHRC’s recent post shares background and resources to stay up-to-date as the trial moves forward.

CREOMPAZ: A recent article from NACLA looks at the recent arrests of 18 former military, most of whom were arrested for their connections with crimes committed at the CREOMPAZ base in Coban. 12 of accused had been students at the US School of the Americas. Another suspect, Congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle of the President’s FCN Nation political party, enjoys immunity from prosecution, a protection recently upheld by the Guatemala Supreme Court.

Evicted Families ask the President to comply with the IACHR measures

Representatives of families of the Polochic Valley who were violently evicted in 2011 have asked President Jimmy Morales to comply with the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The measures have been in place since 2011 when close to 800 families from 12 communities were violently and forcibly evicted. Only 140 families have been formally resettled, while most continue to live in precarious conditions, some returning to squat on land owned by the sugar cane refinery Chabil Utzaj, who has threatened a new wave of evictions. Families have asked for suspension of all evictions until the adoption of legislation that prevents forced evictions and that in his role as head of state, President Morales fulfills the state’s commitment to grant land and provide decent resettlement conditions for the 578 remaining families waiting for land. Continue reading

Trial Begins Feb. 1 in Historic Sepur Zarco Sexual Slavery Case

After 30 years of impunity, the case of sexual and domestic slavery at the Sepur Zarco military outpost will finally be heard in a court of law on Monday, February 1. This is a landmark case — the first time a domestic court has heard a case on wartime sexual slavery.

GHRC will be observing the trial and you can follow progress via our live tweets by following @GHRCUSA. There should be a link to a live stream available; see GHRC’s facebook and twitter for updates on Monday.

The Sepur Zarco case is the result of extensive work by three Guatemalan organizations that form the Alliance for Breaking the Silence and Ending Impunity, which worked with women victims in the region for years to build the case and provide psycosocial support to the women. A criminal suit was filed in Guatemalan courts on September 30, 2011. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: January 16-22

Joe Biden’s Visit to Guatemala

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden met with newly inaugurated Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales during his visit to Central America last week. He congratulated Morales and praised his commitment to fight corruption.

Guatemala tries 11 ex-soldiers over wartime massacres

Guatemalan judge Claudette Dominguez opened a trial on Monday, January 18th of 11 retired soldiers accused of participating in massacres of Indigenous citizens during the country’s 36 year civil war.

This case was described by the district attorney’s office as one of the largest forced disappearance cases in America Latina. Evidence that led to the its opening case includes a report from the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, which reported finding 558 bones and human remains in 83 mass graves on Military Zone 21 (CREOMPAZ) in the Alta Verapaz region, where the detainees were active members between 1978 and 1998. 90 of these remains corresponds to minors, 443 to adults, and three to the elderly, with 22 unknown. So far 97 of the victims have been identified through DNA. Continue reading

Arrests of War Criminals Loom Over Inauguration of New President

President-elect Jimmy Morales will be inaugurated today as Guatemala’s next leader, amid new protests and ongoing uncertainty about how he plans to run the country. Riding a wave of anti-establishment sentiment, Morales—a comedian with no political experience and backed by military hard-liners—achieved an unexpected first-round win in September before defeating former first lady Sandra Torres in the October 25 runoff election.

Although Morales has not yet officially announced who will make up his Cabinet, information has begun to circulate via “leaks” on social media sites. Morales has already suffered a political setback related to his Cabinet when one of his top advisers, Edgar Ovalle Maldonado, was among a group of ex-military leaders accused of crimes against humanity on Jan. 6. For now, Ovalle cannot face prosecution due to his status as an incoming lawmaker, though Attorney General Thelma Aldana has said that her office has asked the Supreme Court to consider lifting his immunity. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: January 4-8

18 Ex-Military Leaders Arrested in Guatemala for Crimes against Humanity

Eighteen former military leaders — including former generals, a former army chief of staff, and a former military intelligence chief — were arrested on Jan. 6 on criminal charges related to massacres and disappearances from the internal armed conflict. Fourteen of the arrests pertain to an investigation on a military base known as CREOMPAZ in Cobán (formerly called Military Base 21), where the remains of hundreds of people have been found and where the identities of at least 97 people have been confirmed as individuals disappeared during the 1980s, when the ex-officials were in power. Four of the arrests relate to the disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, a minor, in 1981.

The handling of these cases will be a test for president-elect Jimmy Morales, who will take office on Jan. 14. GHRC and other human rights groups have raised concerns that Morales’s party is backed by military hard-liners, including one of the accused, Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, who could not be arrested yesterday due to his immunity as an incoming legislator. Attorney General Themla Aldana announced that her office has asked the Supreme Court to consider lifting Ovalle’s immunity.