Guatemala News Update: April 3-23

Justice

Update: Rios Montt Genocide Case

The Guatemalan court hearing the case against Rios Montt will be moved to Santa Maria Nebaj in western Guatemala for three days to hear 15 elderly witnesses who are too unwell to travel to the capital. They will testify on the murders, displacement, and the burning of their fields that occurred during the civil war.

Guatemalan Congressman tied to war crimes

BaudilioHichos, who was a member of the Guatemalan Congress for 25 years, has been linked to a “white van unit.” These units, also known as “white van” death squad, were tied to Guatemala’s Treasury Police during the Guatemalan civil war. These units were used to disappear citizens at all hours of the day, and became a form of psychological terror. Hichos spent approximately 12 years as a part of the Treasury Police.

Suspension of Molina Theissen Case

The intermediate-stage hearing scheduled for April 19 in the Molina Theissen case, an emblematic case GHRC and international partners have been closely monitoring. Yet it was suspended by the presiding judge before it began. As the trial was set to begin the judge stated she had processed an appeal filed by one of the accused, Letona Linares, challenging a prior ruling from March 1, 2016 denying application of the National Reconciliation Law (“amnesty law”). In sharing her decision, she said that although the law required the hearing to move forward, she considered it necessary to suspend the opening of the hearing to avoid later rulings that could force the repetition of previous stages of the trial. The judge’s decision allows for more delay tactics which violates the right to access to justice for the victims of serious human rights violations, and was immediately denounced by the Molina Theissen family.

Land & Water Rights

March for Water

The Popular and Social Assembly planned a march in defense of water, drawing hundreds of supporters, which began on April 11thin Tecún Umán, San Marcos and will conclude on Earth Day, April 22nd, in Guatemala City’s Constitutional Plaza. The objectives of the march, as stated by the Quetzaltenango Maya K’iche’ Council are to demand the return and protection of the rivers, lakes, lagoons, and coastal areas from economic purposes, fortify their fight in defense of water, denounce criminalization and political persecution of water rights defenders, and raise awareness among the Guatemalan public on these issues.

Lawsuit against Canadian mining company to move forward

Thousands of documents will be handed over to the lawyers of numerous Guatemalans whom have filed negligence Margarita Caal Caal who along with 10 other women from her village were reportedly raped in 2007 when being evicted from her land by men saying that the land belonged to a Canadian mining company. The lawsuit, filed in Canada against Hudbay Mineral, Inc, is the first of its kind since previously Canadian courts have claimed to not have jurisdiction over cases where the incident occurred in another country. In addition to the claims of rape, Hudbay is also facing claims over the death of local leader Adolfo IchChaman and the shooting and paralysis of a bystander German Chub in 2009.

Dam threatens to displace communities in Mexico and Guatemala

60 communities from both sides of the Mexico-Guatemala border are opposing a hydroelectric project that would potentially displace those communities. The Boca del Cerro dam is just one of five hydroelectric projects planned for the Usumacinta River which runs between the two countries.

Guatemala called on to suspend the granting of mining licenses

On April 7, environmental analysts from the US, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Guatemala reported on Guatemala’s extractive industries and called on Guatemala to stop awarding mining licenses as well as begin consultation processes to determine how best to regulate the industry. The study shows that due to legal and institutional weaknesses, the Guatemalan government “runs the risk that the holders of mining titles will not assume their responsibilities” and public money and resources will have to be used to finance the expenses of mine rehabilitation and closure.

14 accused of forcing farmers to sell their land

In early April, 14 people were arrested on suspicion of forcing poor farmers to sell their land at cut-rate prices. Approximately 28 farms were bought in this way and then resold at market prices. This land had originally been given to the farmers as part of the 1996 Peace Accords.

1 killed in tunnel collapse at Marlin mine

On April 14, a tunnel collapsed inside Goldcorp’s Marlin mine. Originally reported as missing and likely trapped underground, 26 year old Jaime Lopez has since been reported dead. The National Coordinator for Disaster Reduction, David de Leon, has assured that the accident occurred to seismic activity and the rescue teams had followed all rescue procedures. A family member of one of the miners said the managers of the mining company took away their cell phones so they wouldn’t publicize the incident.

Indigenous Rights

UN Meets with Jimmy Morales over Indigenous Issues

Indigenous leaders are meeting with the United Nations this week to plan a meeting on global indigenous issues.

President Jimmy Morales has a poor record on indigenous rights issues, having mocked them in his past occupation as a comedian and his failure to halt large scale extraction projects and agriculture that lead to indigenous displacement.

Nevertheless, sixteen representatives from indigenous communities around the world met with leaders like President Morales and to discuss issues important to indigenous groups, such as cultural, social, and economic rights, as well as education, health and the environment.

Protests continue in Guatemala over lack of changes

President Jimmy Morales took office almost 100 days ago on a platform calling for change in corrupt practices, however Guatemalans claim that they have seen little changes in administrative practices. This comes in addition to the Observatory of Guatemala’s Indigenous Communities claimed that the new government under Jimmy Morales was “racist,” “discriminatory,” and “aimless.” They stated that they had seen “100 days of political backsliding and 100 days of growing corruption and poverty.”

Corruption

President Jimmy Morales requests extension of CICIG

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales requested an extension of the anti-corruption body, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, this week on his first visit to the United Nations in New York. While the mandate had already been extended by former President Otto Perez Molina (ousted due to corruption charges last year) to last until 2017, President Morales’s new request stretches the Commission’s mandate until 2019.

Ex-President Otto Perez Molina accepted bribes from Spanish Company

The Spanish company, Group TCB, paid the former president and vice president of Guatemala approximately $25 million in bribes in exchange for securing a 25 year contract for building and managing a new port terminal. While the president stated that Group TCB offered the best deal for the country, there were no competing bids. These charges will be added to those that the former president and vice president are facing for their involvement in the customs corruption scandal known as La Linea, or the Line. Other government officials who were in office during Perez Molina’s presidency have also been linked to the corruption scandals.

 

Suspension of Hearing in Molina Theissen Case Opens Doors to Malicious Litigation and Revictimization of the Family

[en español abajo]

The intermediate-stage hearing scheduled for April 19 in the Molina Theissen case was suspended by the presiding judge. The criminal case is based on the illegal capture and torture suffered by Emma Molina Theissen between September 27 and October 5, 1981 and the disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen on October 6, 1981. The latter was an act of revenge committed by members of the Guatemalan military for his sister’s escape from the military zone in Quetzaltenango where she had been illegally detained. Those accused of committing these crimes, Edilberto Letona Linares, Francisco Luis Gordillo, Manuel Callejas y Callejas y Hugo Zaldaña Rojas, have been indicted and are in pre-trial detention.

Yesterday as the trial was set to begin the judge informed the parties that she had processed an appeal filed by one of the accused, Letona Linares, challenging a prior ruling from March 1, 2016 denying the petition to apply the National Reconciliation Law (“amnesty law”). In sharing her decision, she said that despite the fact that the law required the hearing to move forward, she considered it necessary to suspend the opening of the hearing in order to avoid later rulings that could force the repetition of previous stages of the trial.

The Molina Theissen family, as a joint prosecutor in the case, expressed its disagreement, based on Article 408 of the Criminal Code which specifies that appeals shall be granted without suspending the proceedings; Article 291 also indicates that “if the court rejects a motion it will order the correct procedures be followed.”

The suspension of the hearing is detrimental to the Guatemalan justice system, it re-victimizes the family, above all Marco Antonio’s mother. Furthermore, it is contrary to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruling against the Guatemalan government in the supervisory hearing regarding compliance with Court sentences, on November 24, 2014.[1] Compliance is obligatory due to the principal of Conventionality Control, given that Guatemala is party to the American Convention on Human Rights. In its resolution, regarding the obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish those implicated in the violation of the rights of Marco Antonio and the victims in eleven other cases sentenced by the Inter-American entity, the IACHR specifies that judges’ actions should not become delay tactics or impede the judicial process, and that the State should abstain from resorting to amnesty, applying statutes of limitations or establishing exemptions from responsibility.

The judge’s decision today opens the door to more delay tactics and suggests an eventual push-back of the trial date, which violates the right to access to justice for the victims of serious human rights violations and the principal of speedy judicial remedy. The family will remain attentive to the impacts on the case and will continue to demand justice for Marco Antonio, as well as demanding the identification and return of his remains to provide a dignified burial. The family has strong convictions that only justice will make it possible to ensure that Guatemalan boys and girls NEVER AGAIN suffer torture and forced disappearance.

Molina Theissen Family 

Guatemala, April 19, 2016

[1]http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/supervisiones/12_casos_24_11_15.pdf


Suspensión de audiencia en Caso Molina Theissen Abre las Puertas al Litigio Malicioso Revictimiza a la Familia 

La audiencia de fase intermedia programada para el 19 de abril en el caso Molina Theissen fue suspendida por la jueza contralora. El proceso penal es impulsado por la captura ilegal y torturas sufridas por Emma entre el 27 de septiembre y el 5 de octubre de 1981 y la desaparición del niño de 14 años Marco Antonio Molina el 6 de octubre de 1981, un acto de venganza cometido por elementos del ejército guatemalteco debido a la fuga de su hermana de la zona militar de Quezaltenango en donde estuvo ilegalmente retenida. Como sindicados por estos hechos se encuentran ligados a proceso penal y en prisión preventiva los señores Edilberto Letona Linares, Francisco Luis Gordillo, Manuel Callejas y Callejas y Hugo Zaldaña Rojas.

Ayer, una vez instalado el tribunal y antes del inicio de la diligencia, la juzgadora informó de que había dado trámite a la apelación presentada por el sindicado Letona Linares contra la resolución previa de denegar la petición de aplicar la Ley de Reconciliación Nacional (“ley de amnistía”), del 1 de marzo de 2016. Al expresar su decisión dijo que, pese a considerar que la ley demandaba la realización de dicha audiencia, consideraba necesario suspender el acto procesal de apertura a juicio para evitar que resoluciones posteriores obligasen a “retrotraer” a etapas procesales ya concluidas.

La familia Molina Theissen, en tanto querellante adhesiva en el proceso, expresó su desacuerdo con base en el artículo 408 del Código Procesal Penal (CPP) el cual precisa que todas las apelaciones se otorgarán sin que se deba suspender el procedimiento; asimismo, el artículo 291 indica que “si el tribunal rechaza la cuestión mandará seguir el procedimiento”.

La suspensión de la audiencia es perjudicial para la justicia guatemalteca, revictimiza a la familia, sobre todo a la madre de Marco Antonio, y contraviene lo ordenado por la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Corte IDH) al Estado de Guatemala en su resolución de supervisión de cumplimiento de sentencia del 24 de noviembre de 2014[1], obligatoria por el principio de control de convencionalidad dado que es parte de la Convención Americana sobre Derechos Humanos. En esta resolución, sobre la obligación de investigar, juzgar y castigar a los implicados en la violación a los derechos humanos de Marco Antonio y las víctimas de otros once casos juzgados por este órgano interamericano, la Corte IDH especifica que los jueces deben actuar de manera que los recursos judiciales no tengan efectos dilatorios y entorpecedores en el proceso, así como que el Estado se debe abstener de recurrir a la amnistía, la prescripción o el establecimiento de excluyentes de responsabilidad.

La decisión de la juzgadora abre las puertas para más recursos dilatorios y plantea un eventual retardo de la apertura a juicio, lo cual significa la violación al derecho de acceso a la justicia de las víctimas de graves violaciones a los derechos humanos y al principio de justicia pronta y cumplida. La familia se mantendrá atenta a las incidencias del proceso y continuará demandando justicia para Marco Antonio, así como la ubicación y devolución de sus restos para sepultarlos dignamente con la convicción de que solamente la justicia hará posible que NUNCA MÁS los niños y niñas guatemaltecos sufran torturas y desaparición forzada.

Familia Molina Theissen

Guatemala, 19 de abril de 2016

[1] http://www.corteidh.or.cr/docs/supervisiones/12_casos_24_11_15.pdf

Guatemala News Update: March 26-April 1

Genocide Case: Expert Forensic Anthropologist confirms horrors committed

On the 4th day of the closed-door debates against Jose Efraín Ríos Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez,  they listened to the testimonies of  forensic anthropologists who carried out the exhumations in the Ixil area and confirmed the horrible crimes the army committed there against the unarmed civilian population.

Ríos Montt is represented by a third party in the closed-door special proceedings; the Court does not have the power to impose a prison sentence due to Rios Montt’s physical health.

In a recent public statement, GHRC and partner organizations expressed concern about the case and called for the trial against Rodríguez Sánchez to be public.

Judge Gálvez declassifies 8 military plans from the armed conflict

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez declassified eight plans from the military campaign which were used as strategies during the internal armed conflict between 1983 and 1990. These can now be used in in-progress investigations related to the Military Diary and cases of extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, and massacres.  Copies of these documents have been given to plaintiff groups including, FAMDEGUA and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation.

CERIGUA: Poverty is worsening in the country

Currently 79.2% of the population in Guatemala is living in poverty, while 46.6% are below the extreme poverty line. This situation principally affects indigenous and rural communities, and, according to CERIGUA, the State has not adequately addressed this issue and in fact there has even been regression on progress on these issues since the start of Morales’ presidency.

Ex-President Otto Pérez Molina’s Hearing Suspended

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez has suspended the scheduled hearing of the former president due to an appeal from the Attorney General’s Office, and it was not clear when the trial would resume. Both the former president and former vice-president, Roxana Baldetti resigned last year after a corruption scandal involving both came to light. Former Vice-President Baldetti arrived late to the proceedings due to health problems according to her lawyers, and the judge ordered she undergo medical examinations.

Following the March 28th court appearance, former President Pérez Molina was quoted as stating “I am innocent, and everyone must respect that.” He has also blamed the U.S. Embassy for interfering in the internal affairs of Guatemala through the CICIG.

Guatemala News Update: March 1-25

Assassinations of Human Rights Defenders

Environmental Activist Killed
A prominent environmental activist, Walter Méndez Barrios, was shot and killed March 16th in Guatemala. He had fought against deforestation and hydroelectric projects within Central America, was part of the Petenero Front against Dams – an organization opposing hydroelectric projects in the Usumacinta River- and led the Association of Forest Communities in Petén. His association released a statement saying that Méndez had been receiving death threats for his work.

The assassination came not long after two environmental activists were killed in Honduras – including world-renowned activist Berta Cáceres – leading to increased criticism of US and Central American plans to build more hydroelectric dams without consultation and to the detriment of local communities.

Radio Station Director Killed
On March 17th, Mario Roberto Salazar Barahona, the director of EstéreoAzúcar in the department of Jutiapa was killed. According to CERIGUA, Salazar had been inside his car after returning from meetings at another radio station when he was shot. Police believe hit men had been following him, yet the motive for the murder is still unknown. Salazar had worked in the field of journalism for over a decade. UNESCO and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have both condemned the attack. They stated, “we reaffirm the absolute need to develop a comprehensive public policy for protection of defenders of human rights, including journalists to enable them to carry out their work in an environment where their security and integrity are guaranteed.”

Transitional Justice Continue reading

US Company Continues Illegal Mining Operations at El Tambor Mine

US Company Kappes Cassiday & Associates and Guatemalan subsidiary, Exmingua, continue to mine gold illegally in San Pedro Ayampuc, Guatemala.

On February 22, 2016, the Guatemalan Supreme Court granted an injunction that suspends the granting of KCA’s license for extraction of gold and silver at the El Tambor mine. The Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines, the body responsible for carrying out the administrative procedures to suspend the license, have refused to do so.

In response, families have camped out in front of the ministry, demanding they enforce the ruling.

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Peaceful protesters in front of the Ministry of Energy and Mining.

The Guatemalan congress has called on the Minister to justify his lack of action.

As the pressure mounts, the US-owned mine continues to operate. The waste-water tailing pond continues to fill as material is extracted and treated with a chemical bath – procedures not fully addressed in the Environmental Impact Assessment, and without any oversight regarding the structural integrity of the holding tank or mandatory testing of possible contamination of the local water supply.

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Holding tank at the El Tambor mine

With communities again blocking the entrance to the mine, Exmingua employees have taken to illegally transporting petroleum for mining machinery by foot. They were stopped by the police on at least one occasion, but a recent video captured them exiting with empty canisters.

In the last couple of days, the company has begun to use helicopters to carry large containers in and out of the mine.

 

Despite intense US pressure on the Guatemalan government to address corruption and improve rule of law, the Embassy has been silent on a US Company’s alleged evasion of legal procedures and it’s ongoing operations despite multiple court injunctions.

Background: 

Communities in the area have been in non-violent resistance since 2011, and have maintained a presence outside the mine for over 4 years. Continue reading

GHRC announces the 2016 recipients of Voiceless Speak Fund grant

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Giovanni Batz, Concepcion Santay, and Zully Juarez at a speaking even in Los Angeles on Mayan resistance to development projects.

Since 1987, the Voiceless Speak Fund has provided direct assistance to Guatemalans raising awareness about the human rights situation in Guatemala or organizing in their communities in the US to defend the rights of Guatemalans living here.

GHRC is excited to announce the 2016 Recipients of our Voiceless Speak Fund grant program: Continue reading

GHRC Condemns the Assassination of Berta Cáceres – Human Rights Defender from Honduras

Berta Caceres Picture

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA condemns in the most strongest of terms the killing of world renowned environmental activists and human rights defender Berta Cáceres of Honduras. According to reports Berta Cáceres was killed by armed assailants early in the morning March 3rd. Berta led and founded the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), and was the winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Gustavo Castro, a fellow activist from Otros Mundos, was also injured in the attack. GHRC calls for an immediate investigation into this heinous crime and that those responsible be prosecuted and held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. GHRC also calls for immediate action to be taken to ensure the protection of Gustavo Castro, a key witness in this murder.