Commemorating the 2015 Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict

Today, GHRC joins Guatemalans as they commemorate the Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict.

It was on this day, in 1999, that the UN Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) released it’s report, Guatemala: Memory of Silence. The report’s extensive documentation and interviews with survivors helped Guatemala – and the world – understand the magnitude of the violence, including the widespread use of torture, sexual violence, forced disappearances, systematic human rights violations against the civilian population, and acts of genocide carried out by the State against Mayan peoples in four separate regions.

Today we also salute women survivors, who, in ever greater numbers, have chosen to break the silence about the violence they suffered. Continue reading

Celebrating the Third Anniversary of the “La Puya” Peaceful Resistance Movement

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Members of La Puya celebrate their 2nd anniversary last March (2014)

Nearly three years have passed since residents from San Pedro Ayampuc and San Jose del Golfo first joined together in peaceful opposition to a gold mining operation near their homes. From a single act of civil disobedience emerged the world-renowned environmental justice movement known as “La Puya.”

La Puya began on March 2, 2012, when community members joined together to form a human blockade, preventing mining machinery from entering the site. Despite their dedication to nonviolent resistance, participants in the roadblock endured extreme repression — including threats, arrests, and violence — from both employees of the U.S.-owned mining company and the Guatemalan government. Yet, even after the blockade was violently broken up by riot police last May and machinery was escorted onto the mine site, members of La Puya continue to maintain a 24-hour presence in moral opposition to the project. 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

The Sentencing in the Spanish Embassy Case: Inside the Courtroom with Dania Rodríguez

On Monday, nearly 35 years after an attack on the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala which resulted in the deaths of 37 people, former police chief Pedro García Arredondo was found guilty of orchestrating the 1980 burning of the embassy.

GHRC’s Dania Rodríguez was present at the sentencing hearing, and spoke to us about the mood in the courtroom, the importance of the case, and what the verdict means to her personally.

For more information about the case and the trial, check out the Spanish Embassy page on our website.

Q: What was the atmosphere like in the courtroom?

Dania Rodríguez: The courtroom was full of relatives of victims who passed away that January 31 in 1980, as well as relatives of other victims from the internal armed conflict from El Quiche, Chimaltenango, and other communities who were there expressing their solidarity. You could see a lot of emotion in the faces of Rigoberta Menchu Tum and Sergio Vi. They were the civil parties involved in the trial and, at that moment, were representing all relatives of the victims of the fire. The presence of Spain’s ambassador to Guatemala, Manuel Lejarreta, was also noticeable – he has followed the case since the beginning of the process and attended certain hearings. Above all, there were strong feelings of nervousness and of expectation because – after a trial that lasted more than 3 months – a verdict would finally be reached.

Q: Can you talk about how the case was initiated, and why it’s so important?

DR: Before entering the courtroom, Rigoberta Menchú mentioned that the lengthy process of bringing the case to court was initiated 16 years ago. In a press release from the beginning of the trial, Rigoberta Menchú, Sergio Vi and the relatives expressed, “…the empire of law and justice with due process is the only civilized path forward so that crimes against humanity and state terrorism do not remain in impunity.” This verdict is of great importance, especially in providing closure for relatives of the victims, who have waited 35 years for justice.

Q: How is the case important to you personally?

DR: This is without a doubt a very emotional moment. It was a long wait for those of us who wanted to enter the courtroom, and an hour more for the jury to enter the room. I was reflecting on how long it felt to wait those 4 hours, which is nothing in the face of the 35 years that relatives of those who died inside the Spanish Embassy waited for the court to recognize the case and hand down a verdict. This case, like the genocide trial, has given us much hope that the cases of human rights violations during the armed conflict can achieve justice.

 
 

Genocide Trial Resumes, Then Is Suspended Once Again

Yesterday, Jan. 5, the retrial against both Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez was set to begin. However, after a series of delays, the proceedings against Guatemala´s former dictator and his head of national intelligence were suspended almost as soon as they began.

Almost 19 months have passed since the original trial concluded, on May 10, 2013, when Ríos Montt became the first head of state in Latin America to be convicted in domestic courts of genocide and war crimes. The guilty verdict, however, was annulled just 10 days later by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court on questionable legal grounds.

Last month, the Constitutional Court removed one of the biggest impediments to the new trial — an appeal to send it back to November 2011, before Ríos Montt had been indicted. Although this recent decision cleared the way for a new trial to begin, the matter of a 1986 amnesty law and whether it could apply to Ríos Montt remains unresolved. International groups have reiterated the illegality of any amnesty, as has Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzón.

The retrial, which was set to begin at 8:30 AM on January 5, was initially delayed as Ríos Montt’s defense team sought to excuse him on medical grounds. Ordered by Judge Valdéz to present himself or be declared in contempt of court, Ríos Montt was eventually wheeled into the packed courtroom on a gurney. His defense team attempted to further delay the trial by filing a last minute recusal against Judge Valdéz, arguing that an academic thesis written by Valdéz on genocide in 2004 meant she could not preside fairly over the trial. With two of the three judges from the tribunal accepting the recusal, the trial is now suspended until a new tribunal can be formed.

The Genocide trial is an emblematic case in Guatemala, not only because of the historic nature of the proceedings, but also because it provides a barometer for measuring the strength of the justice system. While the genocide case is the most controversial, numerous other transitional justice cases are awaiting trial and could be impacted by the outcome – or lack of resolution – of the genocide trial.

Follow updates on Twitter via @NISGUA_Guate (English), @cmiguate (Spanish) and @HijosGuatemala (Spanish), and by following #EyesonJan5 and #Sihubogenocidio.

Additional Resources:

Eighteen Months After Initial Conviction, Historic Guatemalan Genocide Trial Reopens but is Ultimately Suspended (International Justice Monitor blog, English)

Derecho guatemalteco e internacional prohíben la aplicación de amnistía a los crímenes contra la humanidad y a genocidio (GHRC press release, Spanish)

Guatemalan Genocide Trial Set to Resume Amid Amnesty Battles (Article by Jo-Marie Burt, English)

Human Rights Organizations Send Letter of Concern to Ambassador Robinson

This past October, human rights groups sent a letter to Todd Robinson — the new US Ambassador to Guatemala — outlining human rights concerns.

October 14, 2014

Ambassador Todd Robinson
U.S. Embassy
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Dear Ambassador Robinson:

We write to congratulate you on your recent appointment as the United States ambassador to Guatemala, and we recognize your extensive experience and service in country as well as throughout the Western hemisphere. As U.S.-based human rights and policy organizations, we closely follow the human rights situation in Guatemala and the impacts of U.S. policy in the region.

We appreciate the steps the U.S. Embassy has taken in recent years to support justice and accountability in Guatemala and fervently believe that the protection of human rights must continue to be a top priority.

Unfortunately, over the last two years, the human rights situation has been deteriorating. As you are well aware, Guatemala currently suffers from increasing violence, organized criminal activity, intense conflict over land and natural resources, high rates of poverty and unemployment, and minimal social spending. When addressing these challenges, the Guatemalan government should implement policies that improve the common good; its institutions and public officials should act within the rule of law, and be held accountable when they do not. However, the Guatemalan government, through militarized policies and ineffective mechanisms for civil society dialogue, has exacerbated social conflict. Impunity rates for all crimes remains high –particularly in cases relating to human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, women, and LGBTQ individuals–and corruption within the government has not been effectively addressed.

The U.S. Embassy can play a key role in addressing human rights concerns in several areas: promoting justice and accountability; strengthening mechanisms for dialogue; addressing land rights conflicts; supporting human rights defenders; and re-assessing security policy and U.S. foreign assistance. We hope the U.S. Embassy can expand its commitment to the promotion of human rights under your leadership. Continue reading

Families Violently Evicted from the Polochic Valley Demand Rights

More than 3 years have passed since 769 families were violently evicted from the Polochic Valley at the hands of the sugar cane company Chabil Utzaj, in conjunction with Guatemalan police and military forces. Since then, the Polochic case has become one of the emblematic land rights cases.

Today, over 30 representatives of affected families, alongside members of several organizations, demonstrated in front of the presidential offices in Guatemala City to continue to demand their ancestral land rights. They also delivered a letter to President Otto Perez Molina — signed by over 100 organizations including GHRC — in support of the 75% of families who remain without land, homes, and basic services. Although the government agreed to return land to all families affected by the eviction, the process has been stalled since October of 2013, when only 140 of the 769 families were relocated.

Polochic-protest-12.2.14The letter to President Molina calls for an urgent solution for all families. It also draws attention to a changing rural landscape where economic policies that promote monoculture agriculture and extractive projects have led to the displacement of families and entire communities.

To accompany this action virtually, you can find suggestions for tweets and Facebook posts at this link (in Spanish): https://acaparamiento.titanpad.com/5.