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)

GHRC Congratulates FAMDEGUA on 22 Years of Searching for Truth, Justice, and Memory

On the 22nd anniversary of its founding, GHRC would like to recognize the important and brave work carried out by the women and men of the Asociación Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos de Guatemala (The Relatives of the Disappeared and Detained in Guatemala), also known by its Spanish acronym, FAMDEGUA.

Members and supporters of FAMDEGUA attend a mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral to commemorate the organization's 22-year anniversary.

Members and supporters of FAMDEGUA attend a mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral to commemorate the organization’s 22-year anniversary.

Continue reading

Claudia Paz y Paz excluded from shortlist of candidates for attorney general


GHRC laments  the decision earlier this week by the Nominating Commission to exclude Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz from the list of candidates sent to President Pérez Molina for attorney general.

Dr. Paz y Paz — the current Attorney General — received only 4 votes out of 13, despite the fact that she received the second highest score during the review process and is widely recognized for her professionalism and successful efforts to decrease impunity over the last three years in Guatemala.

The roster of the six finalists raises grave concerns about the independence of the institution in the future. Three of the six candidates selected have been the subject of serious objections raised by the CICIG; the other three have also been the subject of allegations from other groups. Continue reading

A 15 años de la presentación del Informe de la CEH: Un mensaje de solidaridad

Dia de VictimasA 15 años de la presentación del informe y de que se constituyera ese día como el Día Nacional de la Dignidad de las Víctimas, enviamos un mensaje de solidaridad y de respeto hacia todas las víctimas y sobrevivientes del conflicto. Así también, un reconocimiento a las organizaciones e instituciones que les han acompañado y que de una u otra manera han contribuido en los procesos de búsqueda de la verdad, memoria histórica, justicia y reparación digna.

El 25 de febrero de 1999, la Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (CEH) presentó su informe, “Guatemala Memoria del Silencio,” en la ciudad de Guatemala. Asistieron el entonces presidente Álvaro Arzú, el alto mando del ejército, la URNG y una presencia masiva de la sociedad civil.

En 12 tomos, la CEH recopiló los resultados de la investigación realizada sobre los saldos de horror sufridos por la población durante los 36 años del conflicto armado interno. De los datos registrados, fue posible estimar el impacto de la violencia: 200 mil personas muertas, la desaparición de 45 mil y el desplazamiento de un millón de habitantes. El informe registró que las víctimas eran el 83% de origen maya y que al menos el 93% de las atrocidades cometidas durante ese periodo, fueron responsabilidad de las fuerzas armadas del Estado y grupos paramilitares afines. Continue reading

Organizations Protest Constitutional Court Decision to Remove Attorney General Paz y Paz

Protesters gather in support of Claudia Paz y Paz

Protest outside of the Guatemalan Congress in Support of Paz y Paz

Yesterday, hundreds of representatives from civil society, human rights organizations, campesino and indigenous movements, pro-justice groups, and others gathered in front of the Guatemalan Congress to protest a recent Constitutional Court (CC) decision to limit the term of Guatemala’s respected Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz.

The decision, made on February 6, 2014, called for Paz y Paz to step down in May 2014 — seven months before her four-year term was scheduled to end. The ruling was based on an argument that the Attorney General’s term technically began in May 2010, when the official she replaced was appointed, instead of December 2010, when she first took office.

Paz y Paz appealed the ruling, which was dismissed by the CC last week. This week, Congress formed a commission to begin the search for a replacement.

Protesters gathered to demand that Congress “not comply with the illegal resolution of the Constitutional Court.” They further stated that the decision constitutes the crime of malfeasance, typified in the Penal Code:

“Article 462. Malfeasance. The judge, knowingly dictating resolutions contrary to the law or based on false facts, will be sentenced to prison for two to six years.”

Protest in support of Paz y Paz

We won’t let threats stop our work!


The attack on GHRC a couple of weeks ago was a sharp reminder of what a dangerous time this is for human rights defenders in Guatemala. The messages of hate and violence posted on our Facebook page were echos of the slander and threats which our partners have suffered for months and even years.

Can you make a donation today to help us continue our work to protect human rights defenders?

In response to the attack, we received over 100 posts on our wall on Facebook expressing support for our work and for the survivors of genocide in Guatemala. These words, as well as numerous emails and phone calls, were an inspiring reminder of the strong and resilient network of activists we rely on. The messages we received were so heartwarming that I wanted to share some of them with you.

  “We stand in solidarity with the people of Guatemala, the brave judges and witnesses at the genocide trial and the dedicated human rights advocates at GHRC. God bless you and may your (and our) dream of human rights for all prevail!”

Continue reading

Vigil Against Impunity, Antigua Guatemala, Jun 4, 2013

Español abajo

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.


March Against Impunity Guatemala City, May 24, 2013

The march against impunity ended in front of the Constitutional Court, where the participants, including many community leaders, raised their voices in protest. Their petition: justice in the genocide case!

La marcha contra la impunidad, terminó frente a la CC, en donde los manifestantes, entre ellos varios líderes comunitarios, lanzaron varios mensajes al máximo órgano constitucional, la demanda de Justicia fue el llamado más fuerte. Image

Continue reading

March Against Impunity Guatemala City, May 24, 2013

Español abajo

The Guatemala’s highest court, the Constitutional Court (CC), recently snatched justice from the hands of the victims and survivors of General Efraín Rios Montt’s bloody dictatorship. On May 10th Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The CC voted 3-2 to annul that sentence. Most analysts agree that the court was under severe pressure form the economic elite organized in CACIF (Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations), itself accused of playing a nefarious role during the internal armed conflict.


Despite the CC’s highly questionable decision to annul the sentence and repeat part of the trial, the verdict was handed down and RíosMontt was found guilty. Neither the CC nor Montt’s defense attorneys can erase the historic truth: in Guatemala there was genocide!

Continue reading