Guatemala News Update: April 3-23


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.”


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


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


2 Found Guilty in Historic Sepur Zarco Sexual Slavery Case

On Friday, February 26, 2016 Judge Jassmin Barrios read a summary of the verdict in the historic case of sexual and domestic slavery against Maya Q´eqchi´ women in 1982-83.

The Guatemalan court found both Colonel Esteelmer Reyes and Military Commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij GUILTY of Crimes Against Humanity for abuses that include sexual violence, sexual slavery, domestic slavery, and cruel and degrading treatment, and sentenced them to 30 years in prison.

Additionally, the court found Reyes guilty on murder charges, adding 90 years to his sentence, 30 years for each of 3 victims. The court also found Asij guilty of enforced disappearance, adding 210 years to his sentence, 30 years for each of 7 men. In the parallel civil process for economic reparation, the men were ordered to pay indemnization to the victims and their families.


The trial took place over four intense week of testimony of survivors and expert witnesses, who detailed the pattern of military operations in the area, and the lasting impacts of the violence suffered by the women.

“The day of the sentence was so important for justice in Guatemala,” said Dania Rodriguez, GHRC’s representative in Guatemala who observed much of the trial. “The verdict was to be read at 4pm, but some people began waiting in line hours before to ensure they could be present in the courtroom.”

As Judge Barrios read the sentence, a palpable silence fell over the crowded room. She detailed the violence the women suffered, reiterating their innocence, and explaining the evidence that confirmed the command responsibility of the two accused.


“This isn’t only about the victims,” the sentence concludes, “but about all of society. These acts should not be repeated.”

When the judge finished reading, a moment of silence hung in air, before the room erupted in applause, and chants of “Justice.”

“We all felt the gravity of the moment, the long-awaited response of the justice system for these brave women,” said Rodriguez.

The following week, on March 2, the court heard arguments for reparations. Colonel Reyes was ordered to pay a total of 5.5 million Quetzales ($732,700 USD) to the 11 women. Military Commissioner Valdez Asij was ordered to pay a total of 1.7 million Quetzales ($226,500 USD) to the families of the 7 men who were disappeared.

The court also ordered the sentence be translated into 24 Mayan languages, that information about the case be included in school curricula, that monuments be built to honor the women who suffered sexual violence by the army, and that the Defense Ministry give trainings on human rights and violence against women.

GHRC celebrates this important ruling and reiterates our solidarity with the brave women who came forward to tell their testimonies.

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

Discovery of Judicial Corruption Network Brings Hope for Overdue Reforms

by Jason Mann, GHRC Summer 2015 Intern

Captured lawyer Jose Arturo Morales. Photo: Insight Crime.

Captured lawyer Jose Arturo Morales. Photo: Insight Crime.

After the investigation into a web of judicial corruption, nicknamed the “Law Firm of Impunity,” Guatemala’s failed judicial system may be headed for long-needed reforms.

Revelations began in April 2015 when the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) uncovered a massive tax fraud scheme involving numerous high-level government officials.

Among those directly incriminated in the corruption ring, dubbed “La Linea,” were the head of Guatemala’s customs enforcement and tax agency and the private secretary of Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Juan Carlos Monzón, who led the operation.

The scandal, one of the biggest in recent memory in Guatemala, barely had time to sink in, before a related scandal broke, prompted by judges who had suspiciously granted bail to the high level officials arrested. Corruption, it became clear, was being facilitated by those charged with upholding the law.

On May 8, the same day that Baldetti was forced to resign as vice president, the CICIG released phone recordings of wiretapped conversations between a ringleader of La Linea, Javier Ortiz, and businessman Luis Mendizábal. The conversation describes how Ortiz’s lawyers had bribed Judge Marta Josefina Sierra de Stalling to obtain reduced bail and a favorable house arrest sentence in exchange for a financial kickback. Continue reading

Plaintiffs in the Ríos Montt case discuss the fight against impunity in Guatemala

Photo credit: flickr user Surizar

Last week, plaintiffs in the case against Ríos Montt filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, DC against the Guatemalan government for failing to provide victims in the genocide case adequate access to justice, in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights.

At a separate event to discuss perspectives on the ongoing trial, Edgar Pérez – one of the lead Guatemalan prosecutors representing victims – sought to clarify why the case was annulled just 10 days after the guilty verdict was delivered. In his opinion, the defense’s legal strategy was to create technical glitches (such as changing lawyers at the last minute) which would disrupt and delay the trial. Simultaneously, supporters of Ríos Montt worked to shape public opinion of the case, both by disseminating the claim there was “no genocide in Guatemala” – an idea propagated by the country’s powerful business association and high level government officials – as well as through campaigns to criminalize those speaking out about historic memory.

The annulment sent the trial back to a midway point, a confusing and legally questionable scenario in which the same panel of judges cannot hear the same case, yet new judges cannot step in because they haven’t been party to the evidence already presented. The trial, therefore, would have to start again from the very beginning. “Because of one person, all of the advances we were making in the justice system in Guatemala were halted,” said Pérez. Continue reading

Vigil Against Impunity, Antigua Guatemala, Jun 4, 2013

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The City of Antigua Guatemala, was recently host to the 43rd General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS). In attendance were 28 Foreign Ministers and Secretaries of State, as well as other diplomats and representatives of the Guatemalan government.

ImageAt the same time that the General Assembly was being inaugurated, the VigilAgainst Impunity was taking place in Antigua’s Central Park. Human rights activists from Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia, Brasil, Canada, and Guatemala gathered to remember the victims of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. The participants made clear their disapproval of the Constitutional Court’s annulment of the sentence in the genocide case against General Efrain Rios Montt, an act which denies justice to the Maya Ixil victims and survivors.

ImageThe activists voiced their solidarity with the men and women who survived the genocide, and who valiantly testified in the courtroom during the trial. “Your struggle is our struggle. The judgment against the dictator Rios Montt was also a triumph for justice in all of Latin America,” stated one of the participants.

Women’s organizations highlighted the strength and courage of the Ixil women who were victims of sexual violence during the conflict, and who gave their powerful and heartbreaking testimonies during the trial. They are an example for all the women who suffered under the dictatorships that devastated Latin America.

ImageThe vigil was illuminated by the memory of each one of the disappeared. The music of young artists, poems, and words of solidarity filled the park by Antigua’s cathedral.

Vigilia contra la Impunidad

Antigua Guatemala, 4 de Junio de 2013

En Antigua Guatemala se desarrolló en días pasados la 43 Asamblea General de la Organización de los Estados Americanos (OEA). Asistieron los cancilleres de los países miembros, cuerpo diplomático acreditado en el país y ministros del Estado guatemalteco.

ImageMientras esta Asamblea se inauguraba, se desarrollaba la Vigilia contra la Impunidad en la plaza central de Antigua Guatemala, en ella se congregaron activistas de derechos humanos de México, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panamá, Costa Rica, Honduras, Uruguay, Paraguay, Colombia,  Brasil, Canadá y Guatemala, para recordar a las víctimas del conflicto armado interno en el país; para manifestar su rechazo a la resolución hecha por la Corte de Constitucionalidad (CC), que anula la sentencia por genocidio y deberes contra la humanidad, dictada en contra del general José Efraín Ríos Montt, con esta anulación se niega el derecho a Justicia a las víctimas del genocidio Ixil.

ImageCada uno de los activistas tomó la palabra, manifestando su solidaridad y haciendo un reconocimiento para todas las mujeres y hombres sobrevivientes, que valientemente presentaron sus testimonios ante el tribunal que conocio el caso. Un activista latinoamericano expresó: “Su lucha fue nuestra, la sentencia dictada contra el dictador Ríos Montt, fue también un triunfo para la Justicia en América Latina…”.

ImageAsí también, organizaciones de mujeres manifestaron que la  fuerza, la valentía de las mujeres víctimas de violencia sexual al dar sus desgarradores testimonios durante el juicio, son un ejemplo para muchas que también fueron víctimas durante las dictaduras que azotaron en Latinoamérica.

La vigilia estuvo iluminada con el recuerdo de cada uno de los desaparecidos. La música de jóvenes artistas, poemas y palabras de solidaridad se escucharon esa noche a un costado de la catedral de esa ciudad guatemalteca.