Maya Nations call for the protection and defense of Mother Earth

Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico – Last week Maya Ancestral Authorities from diverse Maya nations of Mexico and Guatemala convened a three-day meeting titled, Ancestral Wisdom for the Defense of life, Mother Earth, and Her Natural Elements, from February 12 -14. The gathering is in response to the urgent threats in the region due to the hundreds of development projects causing environmental destruction and violating the rights of the Maya peoples and Mother Earth. This meeting comes just days before Pope Francis will arrive in Chiapas, Mexico. His visit will include meetings with indigenous peoples to hear their concerns regarding their human rights and protection of Mother Nature. In his Encyclical, the Pope called for indigenous peoples to be the “principle dialogue partners especially when large projects on their lands are proposed.”

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Will Someone Finally Be Held Accountable for Efrain Bámaca’s Enforced Disappearance?

From the International Justice Monitor, originally posted here.
By Sophie Beaudoin

Last Tuesday, November 24, Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice was scheduled to hold a hearing on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ decision in the case of the enforced disappearance of former guerrilla commander Efrain Bamaca. However, the hearing was suspended after a motion was presented by former Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, who, according to prosecutors’ investigation, could have been responsible for Bamaca’s disappearance.  His motion aims to force all thirteen judges sitting on the Supreme Court to recuse themselves―a motion the court will decide on in the upcoming weeks. But how the Supreme Court decides to address the Inter-American Court’s ruling could reopen a case that has been shelved for many years, regarding a crime for which no one has ever been held accountable.

Efrain Bamaca, also known as “Commander Everardo,” is one of the estimated 45,000 victims of enforced disappearance during Guatemala’s 36-year long conflict, according to a UN-backed truth commission. He was commanding the Luis Ixmata Front, operating from the guerrilla group called Organization of People in Arms (ORPA) in the south-west part of the country. During a confrontation with the army that took place on March 12, 1992, in Nuevo San Carlos municipality in Retalhuleu department, Bamaca was allegedly abducted by the army. According to witnesses, he was seen in different military installations, illegally detained and with signs of having been tortured. Although relatives have sought to locate his remains, to date his whereabouts are unknown.

At the time Bamaca was abducted, former Colonel Alpirez was head of Presidential Security Department, otherwise known as the Archivo. The Archivo was a military intelligence unit within the Presidential General Staff notorious for enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and torture. Alpirez was first indicted in 1996 for his alleged responsibility in Bamaca’s disappearance, but the charges were dropped and the case dismissed on March 8, 1999. The case was closed as a criminal preliminary judge decided that no new evidence could be brought in the future to prove accountability for the crimes.

On November 25, 2000, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decided that the State of Guatemala had infringed the right to personal liberty, personal integrity, right to life, right to judicial protection and judicial guarantees, and its obligation to prevent and punish torture. The court ordered the state to effectively investigate the facts to identify the perpetrators, and prosecute and punish them. The court reiterated its order on February 22, 2002, when it decided on costs and reparations, and in its following resolutions monitoring the country’s compliance with the November 2000 decision.

Accordingly, on December 10, 2009, the Attorney General’s Office asked the Supreme Court to annul the 1999 closure order. On December 11, 2009, the Supreme Court of Justice argued that according to the pacta sunt servanda principle, the state could not call upon its national legislation to justify its failure to comply with its international obligation to effectively investigate grave crimes, and annulled the order that had closed the investigation related to Bamaca’s disappearance. Former Colonel Alpirez appealed the decision before the Constitutional Court. Guatemala’s highest tribunal awarded the appeal on August 25, 2010, arguing that the Supreme Court did not elaborate on the reasons why the 1999 resolution that closed the investigation was illegal, and the investigation was suspended.

Following this decision, on November 18, 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights emitted a resolution to monitor national compliance with its decision from November 2000. It recalled that the nature and gravity of the crimes impeded any closure of the investigation and that the state has the obligation to eliminate all mechanisms that directly or indirectly prevent investigation and promote impunity.

Consequently, on December 21, 2010, the Attorney General’s Office, through its special unit overseeing conflict-related cases, once again requested before the Supreme Court the execution of the Inter-American Court’s decision from 2000. In a resolution dated January 18, 2011, Guatemala’s Supreme Court of Justice ruled that decisions from the international tribunal are mandatory and that all obstacles to the application of the rule of law and human rights have to be removed. The court’s criminal chamber thus annulled the preliminary judge’s decision from 1999 and re-opened the investigation to identify, prosecute, and punish the perpetrators responsible for Bamaca’s enforced disappearance.

Once more, Alpirez appealed the decision. On April 13, 2011, the Constitutional Court welcomed the appeal and ordered the Supreme Court to hold a hearing where all the parties involved, including civil parties and suspected perpetrators, will be able to argue before the court regarding how the Inter-American Court’s decision should be carried out. That hearing was scheduled to take place November 24 but was suspended when Alpirez’s defense attorney presented a recusal action against all 13 Supreme Court. The recusal motion now must be resolved before the hearing can proceed.

Relatives of the victim, including his wife, American attorney Jennifer Harbury, have been fighting for justice in Guatemala for more than 20 years. After all these years when the case seemed forgotten, the Supreme Court could re-open the investigation and individuals could finally be held accountable for Efrain Bamaca’s disappearance.

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UDEFEGUA calls for the respect for all rights during election process

In a context in which at least 282 municipalities have reported threats of conflict on election day on September 6, UDEFEGUA urges all citizens — whether they choose to vote for a candidate, casta null or blank vote, or abstain from the process entirely —  to exercise their rights peacefully.

La Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala ante el proceso electoral que se realizará el domingo 6 de septiembre de 2015 a la ciudadanía guatemalteca manifiesta lo siguiente:

Guatemala atraviesa una de las crisis institucionales más grandes de su historia democrática. El sistema de corrupción perpetuado utilizando la maquinaria de partidos políticos y aprovechando el voto ciudadano ha instalado a verdaderas corporaciones mafiosas al frente del Estado guatemalteco. En las semanas anteriores al proceso electoral el país ha vivido las movilizaciones ciudadanas más grandes de las últimas décadas, trasladando el reclamo ciudadano por la transparencia hacia el clamor por detener la galopante corrupción del sistema, la dimisión del ciudadano presidente, revisar el proceso electoral y depurar los listados de candidatos de personas cuya honorabilidad está cuestionada por tener procesos penales en curso o por tener pendientes procesos de antejuicio. Todo este contexto, coloca al proceso electoral en un ambiente de fragilidad, en tanto la legitimidad de los mismos está cuestionada por distintos sectores de la sociedad.

En ese marco, hemos observado con preocupación desde el mes de mayo el aumento de agresiones a ciudadanos, defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos, que expresan su opinión ante la podredumbre de la clase política. Dichas agresiones no han sido ni prevenidas ni investigadas por las autoridades responsables, lo que ha permitido que su frecuencia y gravedad aumenten conforme se acercan las elecciones. Continue reading

Human Rights Convergence Denounces Intimidation Against CALAS

The Human Rights Convergence stands in solidarity with the Center for Legal Action in Environment and Social Issues (CALAS) in the wake of recent acts of intimidation toward the organization. On July 29, an unknown man fired a series of gunshots in front of the CALAS offices. The event occurred just one day before the organization was scheduled to participate in an evidentiary hearing in order to bring the former head of security for the San Rafael mine, Alberto Rotondo, to trial for violence against community members. The Convergence is calling for a criminal investigation into these acts, and holding mining company Tahoe Resources accountable for both acts of intimidation against CALAS and acts of violence against residents who opposed the mine.

Leer el cominicado en español:

La Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos Frente a la intimidación a CALAS Manifiesta

El Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social de Guatemala –CALAS–, organización de la Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos, el 29 de julio de 2015 fue objeto de actos de intimidación, en tanto que en horas de la noche, un hombre desconocido en motocicleta realizó una serie de disparos frente a la sede de dicha organización.

Este acto intimidatorio contra de CALAS se da un día previo a que se celebrara la audiencia de ofrecimiento de prueba con el objeto de llevar a juicio al señor Alberto Rotondo, quien en su calidad de gerente de seguridad de la Mina San Rafael violentara la integridad física de comunitarios del municipio de San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa, Guatemala. Continue reading

Human Rights Group UDEFEGUA: 2014 the “Most Violent Year” for Defenders

According to the annual report from the Guatemalan Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), 2014 was the most violent year for human rights advocates in Guatemala, with an average of 2.2 attacks reported daily. Violence against individuals and organizations that promote human rights has been on the rise since 2013, when those opposed to the genocide trial formed what human rights groups have called ¨an alliance to promote impunity, limit freedom of expression and criminalize defenders.¨ The year also saw a sharp rise in physical attacks against defenders, where in past years, verbal or written threats had been more common.

The majority of attacks (82% of the total) were perpetrated against defenders of land and environmental rights — both against individuals and communities, as well as against reporters covering these events. It is also important to note that women activists and defenders of women’s rights have been among the most vulnerable this year. Women were victim to 54% of overall attacks against defenders, including acts of sexual harassment, an increase over previous years.

Despite the rise of violence, the government’s response has been inefficient and insufficient, and levels of impunity in Guatemala remain high. For these reasons, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights — in the case of Florentín Gudiel et al vs. Guatemala — ordered the creation of an institutionalized Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders, which could serve as a future model for the protection of human rights defenders.

UDEFEGUA 2014 Annual Report

UDEFEGUA-informe12014 was undeniably the most violent year for people and organizations that promote human rights. The wave of violence against them has been increasing since 2013 when opposition to the genocide trial coalesced in an alliance between government actors (including the President’s office), business interests from the agriculture and extractive industries, groups of former members of the military involved in human rights violations, and right-wing extremists. This alliance was strengthened through a series of “pacts of impunity” which included strategies to criminalize public protest and limit freedom of expression. Continue reading

Reflections from GHRC Founder Alice Zachmann

This year, GHRC Founder Alice Zachmann wrote a letter to our supporters, which we wanted to make available to all those who may not be on our mailing or email lists:


Sister Alice Zachmann

Dear friends of Guatemala and GHRC,

Some time has passed since I last wrote to you about our common concern for the people of Guatemala, but the situation there is never far from my mind. Though I’m no longer involved in the day-to-day operations of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, I still serve as a member of the Advisory Board, and am still often asked why I founded the organization.

The answer to that question lies in the intertwined histories of Guatemala and my own life.

My first visit to Guatemala was in 1975. In many ways it seems so long ago, yet in other ways, such a short time ago. I traveled that first time to visit a friend, Sister Rita from my community, who was a missionary in San Lucas Toliman working to support the efforts of the people to improve their lives. After a week, I was smitten by the natural beauty of the people and the country, but appalled by the poverty, neglect and discrimination against the Mayan people. I left with the determination to help as much as I could by sending supplies to the clinic with anyone I knew going to Guatemala. I continued my ministry at a parish in St. Paul, MN until October of 1981 when I received a request from Guatemalans and returned missionaries to visit them in Washington, DC. Continue reading

Persecusión Política a Defensores de Derechos Humanos Se Agrava

An update from the Guatemalan Human Rights Protection Unit (UDEFEGUA) on the criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala, especially regarding recent actions taken by courts and judges which violate the minimum legal guarantees of the accused.

Comunicado por UDEFEGUA:

La segunda semana de noviembre se tornó en una donde el Sistema de Justicia muestra su participación en la persecución política a defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos.

El día jueves 13 de noviembre, el juez de primera instancia de Villa Nueva decidió enviar a juicio a Oscar Morales, líder de la resistencia en San Rafael Las Flores, por una presunta amenaza realizada al gerente de la empresa minera San Rafael, S.A. subsidiaria de la Tahoe Resources, minera canadiense.  En la audiencia de imputación el juez había mostrado su parcialidad cuando ligó a proceso al defensor sin elementos de investigación.  Ahora al trasladar el proceso vuelve a hacerlo sin que exista elementos de investigación claros, ya que el mismo Ministerio Público había planteado que no podía acusar al defensor.  Fue claro que al trasladar el caso al Tribunal de Sentencia de Villa Nueva para que se procesa al juicio, el juez obedecía intereses privados representados por el abogado del querellante adhesivo.  El día 29 de diciembre está ordenado el inicio del debate oral y público en contra de Oscar Morales.  Continue reading