We’re looking for the other half of our co-director team. With a focus on communications and fundraising, the Director of Outreach and Development will help lead GHRC’s work for human rights in Guatemala from the Washington, DC office. This position requires patience, skill, and attention to detail, plus a true passion for human rights. See more here.
The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) has issued a communique expressing deep concern about a spate of serious human rights violations. GHRC provides a rough translation below. See the original here.
The Unit for the Protection for Human Rights Defenders-Guatemala expresses deep concern about a series of violent acts committed yesterday, Wednesday, November 9, rarely seen and with little precedent. On that account, UDEFEGUA wishes to express:
- On yesterday [Wednesday] alone, union leader Eliseo Villatoro Cardona in Tiquisate was assassinated; illegal, forced entry was made into the Teachers House, where information valuable to STEG [the Union of Guatemalan Education Workers] was stolen; the threat was made to lynch two defenders of a Sololá social auditing organization and five members of COCODE [the Community Development Council] of the same department, whose location we maintain in reserve until the risk is diminished; and one act of sexual violence was committed against a community leader whose name and organization we keep in reserve. Also, reports came to light that a member of CODECA [Committee for Campesino Development] in Cobán was abducted, with the involvement of members of the National Civil Police.
- These events are part of a series of acts of violence that affect the capacity to carry out the defense of human rights, such as the assassination of journalist Hamilton Hernández and his wife in Coatepeque last week; threats to three journalists by the group identified as “the Zetas” to stop their coverage in the fight for human rights in Alta Verapaz, El Quiché, and Huehuetenango; violent evictions in El Estor; the illegal arrest of an elder of the Q’anjob’al Nation, as well as the aggression against another community member in Yxquixix, San Mateo Ixtatán, and the attack on members of UVOC [the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations] in El Estor.
- These acts of exacerbated violence occur within the framework of permissiveness that the government of Jimmy Morales and the ruling political party (FCN-Nacion) extend to the perpetrators.
Given the facts expressed above, UDEFEGUA demands:
- That the authorities in charge of criminal investigation carry out the pertinent procedures and that they permit the intellectual and material authors of these crimes and serious human rights violations to be identified and condemned.
- That the Public Ministry [recognize] the urgent need to carry out a general instruction to permit prosecutors to have greater and more capacity to guarantee an end to impunity.
- That COPREDEH take effective steps towards the creation of a Program for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in order to take other preventive measures.
Finally, we wish to send a message of solidarity, support, and accompaniment to the defenders who commit their lives to the defense and promotion of human rights.
The Unity for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) has released its human rights report covering the first ten months of 2016. Between January 1 and October 31, eleven human rights defenders were assassinated. Union members, defenders of the environment, and journalists were the most heavily targeted groups. The most common forms of attack were defamation and intimidation. See the full report in Spanish here.
Journalist Hamilton Roelí Hernández Vásquez, 28, and his wife Ermelinda González Lucas, 35, were killed in a shooting on Saturday November 5th. The National Civil Police (PNC) reported that the bodies were found on the road leading from Coatepeque to Flores Costa Cuca, Quetzaltenango.
According to the Diario Digital, Hernández Vásquex worked in a local radio station as a news broadcaster. The motive for the attack is so far unknown; Public Ministry spokeswoman Julia Barreda has said at this time the proceedings have been made to begin an investigation.
“Calls came in alerting [us] that two people were found on the edge of a dirt road on the Coatepeque highway, upon arriving at the location we found that the victims had died some hours earlier, both had several bullet wounds in their heads,” said Cecilio Jackal, spokesman of the local fire department.
Information given to firefighters at the scene stated that Hernández Vásquez had covered an event on Saturday night, and left the area on his motorcycle, on his way to pick up his wife.
Neighbors were the first to notify police of the shooting. Official spokesperson for the PNC, Jorge Chinchilla, stated that the victims were found at 5:00 am.
“Hernández Vásquez had at least three gunshot wounds in the back of his head, and Lucas González had two, according to witnesses.
“The guild once again suffers the death of another colleague. This raises warning signs, since last year three murders were recorded, while in 2016 with the death of Hernández Vásquez, the number has risen to nine. Each time, we move up on the scale of countries where it is a risk to practice journalism,” said Ileana Alamilla of the Association of Journalists of Guatemala (APG).
By October, 76 complaints had been registered in the Fiscal Unit for Crimes against Journalists, according to the latest report of Journalists Observatory, part of the Center for Informative Reports on Guatemala (Cerigua). Cerigua has reported 47 attacks on the guild to the Inter American Press Association (IAPA)
Within a month the number rose, according to Alamilla, and with this case, there are now 55 cases that include allegations of threats, assaults, intimidation and censorship on journalists. According to the Diario Digital, Alamilla stated, “There will be many cases that are not related to the practice as such, but records are still in process, which the Public Ministry should determine. It is necessary that investigations and cases of judicialization be sped up. This year, as in others, cases are repeated in the departments.”
Ivan Velasquez, head of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), confirmed that they support the investigation of the two assassinated journalists, which could be tied to organizations that are already being investigated.
Note: The number of murders of journalists varies is reported at 7, while other sources report numbers as high as 11.
We share a video for the release of Amnesty International’s new report on Human Rights Defenders in #Guatemala and #Honduras titled “We Are Defending the Land With Our Blood’ Defenders of the Land, Territory and Environment in Honduras and Guatemala”. Download the report here: http://bit.ly/2bUoDLV
In this short video story, the indigenous justice center in Santo Tomás Chicicastenango is explored. Where today, an ancient model of justice continues to be practiced and serves as a viable and functional way to resolve conflicts in Guatemala.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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
The Northern Triangle presidents, including Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales, met with Joe Biden this week to discuss the Alliance for Prosperity aid and security package for the region. During the meeting, Biden stated that the United States’ goal in funding the Alliance for Prosperity was to promote regional security as well as development in the three countries. However, critics have argued that the package will actually result in higher levels of poverty and inequality due to the neoliberal economic policies that it promotes.
The House of Representatives announced the creation of a Central America caucus to focus on US policy towards the region on Wednesday, February 24. According to Chairwoman Rep Torres (D- Calif.), the Caucus aims to address problems in the region that have been overlooked in US foreign policy, which, she says, has been focused on “other parts of the world at the expense of the countries just beyond our borders.”
RigobertaMenchú and Jody Williams, both Nobel Peace Laureates, as well as members of the Nobel Women’s Initiative attended the High Risk Tribunal for the SepurZarco case as observers. Both laureates have been following the topics of transitional justice and will present their conclusions about the judicial process in a press conference. Next Wednesday Dr. Williams will host the press conference and give details of the situation that she observed in the trial of the Sepur Zarco case and the situation of violence that Guatemalan women confront.
The Case closes today, and sentencing will occur at 5pm EST. Live streaming available at http://www.alianzarompiendoelsilencio.com/
On February 22 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights concerning violations committed in relation to international adoptions in Guatemala. The two brothers in this case were taken from their home as young children in 1998, after allegedly being abandoned by their families. The IACHR has determined that the Government carried out no investigation to confirm the children had been abandoned before the children were placed into adoption.
This week, Al Jazeera reported on the work of the Forensics Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) in the city of Coban. About a thousand people vanished from this area between 1979 and 1983. The FAFG has been exhumed thousand of victims of the conflict since it’s founding in 1993. This work has provided evidence for trials in the many cases of human rights abuses committed during the conflict.