In its annual human rights report released last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has placed Guatemala in chapter IV.B, reserved for countries that violate aspects of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Analyzing the human rights situation in 2021 in the Organization of American States’ thirty-five member states, the IACHR has grouped Guatemala with Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Explaining its decision to include Guatemala in this section, the IACHR cites “structural situations that seriously affect the use and enjoyment of fundamental rights recognized in the American Declaration, the American Convention or other applicable instruments,” including “systematic noncompliance of the State with its obligation to combat impunity, attributable to a manifest lack of will.”
The IACHR report lists observations of systematic actions that have interfered with the independence of the justice system, which in turn have weakened the work of independent institutions, particularly those that continued to work to combat corruption and impunity since the departure of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). It cites “irregularities in the process to select Constitutional Court judges for the 2021-2026 term; the refusal to swear in a judge who had been selected to serve on the Constitutional Court; the delay by the Congress of the Republic in continuing with the process of selection and nomination to the High Courts; the dismissal of the head of the FECI; and the alleged abuse of motions for impeachment (antejuicio proceedings) to intimidate or eventually remove judges from office.”
Moreover, the report notes that 2021 was a particularly dangerous year for human rights defenders” due to continuing acts of violence and proceedings to criminalize those who defend human rights in the country.” It mentions the closure of democratic spaces, which “makes it more difficult to exercise the right to defend human rights in Guatemala.” Raising the issue of violence, the IACHR notes the impact of murder of defenders in 2021, particularly of members of the Campesino Development Committee, which has suffered 24 murders in the last four years. According to the report, “When an assault is committed in reprisal for a human rights defender’s actions, it produces a chilling effect on those connected to the defense and promotion of human rights,” especially in indigenous communities where the killing of a leader has “a serious impact on [the community’s] cultural integrity and breaks down the sense of community that binds them together in their struggle to defend their human rights.”
The report warns that “the systematic interference in the independence of the judiciary, the weakening of human rights institutions, and the increasingly evident setbacks in the fight against corruption and impunity have an impact, in turn, on democratic stability and the very exercise of human rights by the Guatemalan people.”
CODECA Leader Assassinated in Izabal
Human rights and environmental defender Pablo Ramos was killed in Navojoa, Morales, Izabal. According to witnesses, he was shot by two individuals on a motorcycle in the afternoon of June 7, while in the general store he owned. Ramos reportedly had received multiple threats from members of the Manchame family, who live in the same community, with whom community members have had a dispute over land. According to his family members, on June 6, Ramos had attended a conciliation hearing at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Morales, Izabal, where he had been summoned by the Manchame family.
Ramos had been a member of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) for 12 years, working to recover and defend the land of his community. CODECA condemned “this systematic, lethal violence that today annihlated the life of our brother and comrade” and demanded justice. Twenty-four members of CODECA have been murdered since 2018.
Judge Rules that Former Special Prosecutor Must Continue to Await her Trial from Prison
The hearing for Virginia Laparra Rivas–former head of Quetzaltenango’s branch of Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI)–-took place on June 7. Laparra’s legal team filed a request for “substitutive measures” which would allow her to await her trial under house arrest. The request, however, was denied by Judge Sergio Mena, who ruled to move Laparra to the Matamoros prison, where she will stay until her trial. Her hearing has been suspended, and a new date has not been set.
Prior to Laparra’s hearing, demonstrators gathered outside of the courthouse in solidarity with Laparra, demanding her release. She was accompanied by the Unit for Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA). Judge Mena, however, barred the media and UDEFEGUA from entering the courtroom and allowed authorities to block courtroom windows with paper.
Laparra will now stand trial for the charge of breach of duty. The charge stems from her presentation of legal complaints related to the misconduct of former high risk judge Lesther Castellanos. National and international organizations have denounced the charges against her as criminalization, stating that the Guatemalan government has begun “the systematic persecution of those who confronted corruption, assembling spurious cases in order to carry out political vengeance.” As a direct result of arbitrary delays in the legal process, Laparra spent over 100 days in Mariscal Zavala prison in pretrial detention, under conditions that she denounced as disproportionately extreme for her charges. Clinical psychologists identified her treatment by authorities as psychological torture.
In addition to her pretrial detention, Laparra has faced threats on social media from the Foundation Against Terrorism and its supporters. In respect to Laparra’s continuing persecution, the advocacy organization Justicia Ya condemned “the revenge of defenders of corruption” in a judicial process that is “opaque” and “full of irregularities.”
CC Gives Human Rights Commission 48 Hours to Submit Evidence Against Human Rights Ombudsman
On June 8, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) processed Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas’ appeal and required that the Human Rights Commission of the Guatemalan Congress supply corresponding records or a circumstantial report within 48 hours. Rodas’s request came following the Commission’s May 31 attempt to remove him from office, the seventh such removal attempt he has faced throughout his almost five years in the position. He is accused of campaigning for the position of rector of the University of San Carlos during working hours, a charge he claims lacks legal merit. He also asserts that the legal process violates his right to defense, as his summons occurred while he was in Ecuador attending the IV Ibero-American Migration Summit.
In light of the removal attempt, Rodas has faced increasing blatant threats and ridicule, especially from leaders within Foundation against Terrorism (FCT). Video footage reveals FCT lawyer Raul Falla threatening Rodas when the men crossed paths at Virginia Laparra’s hearing on June 8. However, various human rights organizations—including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights—have expressed concern over the recent treatment of Rodas. Jorge Santos, director of UDEFEGUA, also expressed support for Rodas and denounced the removal process as an attempt to achieve “the absolute capture of state” so “those who hold power can commit acts of corruption and violence without receiving sanctions.”