Weekly News Roundup

April 12th-April 26th

National

  • Lawsuit brought against Attorney General.  Danilo Rodríguez Gálvez, the lawyer for Efraín Ríos Montt, submitted a complaint against the Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz because she has not respected the legal process and is illegally prosecuting the former general.  Human rights groups have denounced this- among other appeals and injunctions- as an attempt to obstruct justice.
  • Remains of 99 victims of Guatemala´s internal armed conflict found inside a military base. A forensic team found the remains of 99 bodies in 15 pits on the grounds of a military base in Coban. The team of specialists is looking for the remains of 200 to 300 people who disappeared during the internal armed conflict. The exhumation efforts come as a response to requests from prosecutors and families of the disappeared. The military post where exhumation takes places is currently home to the UN Peacekeeping training Center, CREOMPAZ.  GHRC visited the exhumation in March with FAMDEGUA and has asked the UN to facilitate increased access for families, NGOs and the media.
  • Forced displacement of elderly protestors. At 3:30 in the morning on April 19th, protestors who had taken refuge at the “Refugio Dulce” during the night were brutally displaced by agents of the National Civilian Police and the Presidential Secretary for Security and Administrative Affairs. Earlier this week the demonstrators had set up their camp outside of the Presidential Palace to continue their protest which they had suspended during the Easter festivities. The protestors came from areas including Petén, Dolores and Jalapa to demand a budget of Q18 million (US $2.3 million) for the construction of housing in 9 departments. The budget was cut by Congress due to ‘abnormalities’ in the handling of the funds.
  • Group of unionists protest in Guatemala City  In the second large protest in a month, unionists of the Frente Nacional de Lucha asked for improvements in the health, education, and security sectors and the prosecution of the individuals responsible for the death of their fellow unionists.  They met with Vice-President Roxana Baldetti and future meetings will take place every 3 months.
  •  Second campesino march for rural development. Members of the National Council of Peasant Organizations (CNOC) and the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) demanded action from the government.  They want recognition of their ancestral lands, nationalization of electric energy plants, and an end to forced displacements.
  • Inter-American Court hears “Diario Militar” case.  The Inter-American Court on Human Rights heard testimony from family members of 27 individuals who disappeared during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.  Kate Doyle from the National Security Archive testified, saying that the Guatemalan government systematically hid information about the internal armed conflict.   The case was opened after the National Security Archive received and published the military book, known as the “Diario Militar.”  It was written by the President’s Intelligence Unit between 1983 and 1985 and implicates several members of the Guatemalan military, including Gudiel Álvarez, for forced disappearances and the torture of a young girl. Final testimony will be heard June 8th.
  • New technology revives investigation of Gerardi case. Fourteen years ago Monsignor Juan Gerardi was murdered in his garage; those who physically carried out the brutal crimes are in jail, but now new technology is being used in a second phase of investigations seeking to charge the intellectual authors.  DNA and fingerprint analysis, as well as reconstruction of the crime scene, are used to find new information on the suspects.
  • 201 crimes attributed to Ríos Montt.  The Public Prosecutor charged ex-head of state Efraín Ríos Montt for his role in sending the Kaibiles to Dos Erres, an act which resulted in the massacre of 201 men, women, and children on December 7, 1982. Five ex-Kabilies were already charged with 6,060 years in prison for their role in the massacre.  Ríos Montt’s defense attorney claims that his client is being targeted simply because he was the head of state.
  • Rosalina Tuyuc receives Peace Award.  Rosalina Tuyuc received the Niwano Peace Prize for her work as a peace activist and human rights defender.  This is the first time an indigenous woman has received the award.

International News

  • US announces aid program to Guatemala The United States Southern Command announced yesterday a 3-month aid program which will be developed in the departments of Coban, Alta Verapaz, Ayutla, Malacatan and San Marcos. In addition to providing medical assistance, the US military will participate in construction programs of public buildings and health facilities.
  • International Rights Advocates released a video denouncing the United States medical experiments on Guatemalans during the 1940s.  The victims of these tests still have not been compensated.

HISTORIC RULING: RIOS MONTT CHARGED WITH GENOCIDE AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY

[en español abajo]
On Thursday, January 26, Guatemala’s former dictator Efrain Rios Montt sat in court while the Public Prosecutor read the evidence against him…and read…and read…until he had summarized the crimes committed by armed forces under Rios Montt’s command in 1982-83 which constituted acts of genocide in Guatemala’s Ixil Triangle (San Juan Cotzal, San Gaspar Chajúl and Santa María Nebaj): the forced displacement of 29,000, the deaths of 1,771 individuals in 11 massacres, as well as torture and 1,485 acts of sexual violence against women.

For families and communities that have endured decades of fear, silence and impunity in cases that relate to the internal conflict, this was a rare day when justice seemed less illusive, even possible.

[Photo: El Periodico]

Inside and outside the courtroom, Guatemalans gathered to watch the hearing. The steps of the court building were decorated with flowers, photographs of lost loved ones, and a large sawdust carpet denouncing impunity. Hundreds more – of not thousands – watched via live-stream.

Rios Montt, who took power in 1982 after a military coup, declared himself president, dissolved congress, and annulled the constitution. As leader of the military high command, he “authorized, created, designed and supervised” the military’s counterinsurgency strategy which targeted the civilian population in the indigenous highlands, declaring them internal enemies that needed to be “destroyed.” The scorched earth policy that was carried out in the following 17 months has become widely recognized as the most violent period in all of Guatemala’s 36-year conflict.

As the crimes themselves are not in question, the prosecution focused on Rios Montt’s command responsibility; the idea that, as president and commander in chief, he was directly in the chain of command with authority over those who carried out the acts, that he was informed about what happened, and that he actively oversaw and perpetuated a state policy of violence that targeted a specific ethnic group.

Human rights lawyer Edgar Pérez, representing victims organizations CALDH and AJR, spoke eloquently about the cultural and ethnic destruction caused by Rios Montt’s policies. Using military plans and strategies from the time, including Operación Sofía, Plan Victoria ’82 and Plan Firmenza ’83, he described the how the Rios Montt regime institutionalized the war against the indigenous, and that the dictator personally received updates as to the military’s actions.

Their evidence was convincing to the public, and many waited for hours to hear the judge’s decision. At 9:30pm, Judge Patricia Flores ruled that there was sufficient evidence to move forward with a trial.

Photo: Reuters

Rios Montt declined to speak in his own defense, saying only: “I prefer to remain silent.” It was only on January 14th that the former dictator left Congress, and lost his immunity. In December, he had presented himself to the court to “know the charges against him” and was quickly subpeoned to appear for Thursday’s hearing. Despite the official charges against him, the judge ruled, against protocol, that Rios Montt could post bail and be put under house arrest instead of going to jail.

The two other members of the military high command from Rios Montt’s regime, then head of the Military Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mario Lopez Fuentes and Mejia Víctores,  then Defense Minister, were subpoenaed last year but their evidentiary hearings were both postponed due to health issues.

The case is far from over, but for many, Thursday’s trial was a positive first step in Guatemala’s right to truth and justice.

 See an interview with GHRC’s Director on Al-Jazeera about the hearing here.

 ***

Audiencia Histórica: Ríos Montt ligado a proceso de genocidio y deberes contra la humanidad.

 El jueves, 26 de enero, el ex dictador Efraín Ríos Montt se sentó en el banquillo de los acusados mientras el fiscal leía la evidencia en su contra… y leyó …y leyó… hasta que logró resumir los crímenes cometidos por las fuerzas armadas bajo el comando de Ríos Montt en 1982-83, los cuales constituyeron actos genocidas en el triangulo Ixil (San Juan Cotzal, San Gaspar Chajúl y Santa María Nebaj): el desplazamiento forzado de 29,000 personas, la muerte de 1,771 individuos en 11 masacres, así como la tortura y 1,485 actos de violación sexual contra mujeres.

Para las familias y comunidades que han tenido que sufrir décadas de miedo, silencio e impunidad en casos relacionados al conflicto armado interno, este fue un raro día cuando la justicia parecía menos ilusiva, incluso hasta posible.

Foto: El Periodico

Adentro y afuera de la corte, guatemaltecos se reunieron a ver el juicio. Las afueras del Tribunal fueron decoradas con flores, fotografías de seres queridos y una gran alfombra de aserrín denunciado la impunidad.  Cientos – o miles – de personas más vieron el juicio por medio de internet.

Ríos Montt, quien tomó poder en 1982 mediante un golpe de estado, se declaró presidente, disolviendo el congreso y anulando la constitución. Siendo comandante de alto mando militar, él “autorizó, creyó, diseñó y supervisó” la estrategia contrainsurgente militar que se enfocó en la población civil indígena, declarándola enemigo interno que necesitaba ser “destruido”. La estrategia militar de “tierra arrasada” duró 17 meses y ha sido reconocido plenamente como el periodo más violento durante los 36 años de conflicto.

Ya que no se cuestionan los crímenes en sí, la prosecución fue centrada la responsabilidad de Ríos Montt como autor intelectual: la idea que, como presidente y jefe de estado, él estaba directamente involucrado en la cadena de comando, con autoridad sobre los que realizaron dichos actos, que él estaba informado sobre lo que pasaba y que activamente supervisó y perpetuó una política de estado de violencia contra un grupo étnico específico.

Abogado de derechos humanos, Edgar Pérez, representando a organizaciones de víctimas CALDH y AJR, habló elocuentemente sobre la destrucción cultural y étnica que fue resulta de las políticas de Ríos Montt. Usando evidencia de planes militares y estrategias como Operación Sofía, Plan Victoria ’82 y Plan Firmeza ’83, describió  cómo el régimen de Ríos Montt institucionalizó la guerra contra los indígenas y cómo el dictador personalmente recibió notificaciones sobre las movilizaciones y acciones del ejército.

La evidencia  fue encontrada convincente para el público y varios esperaron durante horas para escuchar la decisión de la jueza.  A las 19:30h, la jueza Patricia Flores declaró que había suficiente evidencia para ligarlo al proceso.

Ríos Montt se reusó hablar en su propia defensa, diciendo solo: “prefiero guardar

Foto: New York Times

silencio”. Tan solo fue el 14 de enero cuando el ex dictador dejó el congreso y perdió su inmunidad.  En diciembre, llegó a la corte para “conocer los cargos” en su contra y pronto fue citado para presentarse. A pesar de que fue ligado a proceso, la jueza declaró, contra protocolo, le fijó fianza y arresto domiciliario en vez de ir a la cárcel.

Los otros dos miembros del alto mando militar del régimen de Rios Montt, el entonces jefe del Estado Mayor de la Defensa, Héctor Mario López Fuentes y Mejía Victores, el entonces Ministro de la Defensa, fueron citados  a la corte el año pasado pero las dos audiencias fueron pospuestos por causas de problemas de salud.

El caso está lejos de ser resuelto, pero para muchos, el juicio de jueves fue un paso positivo para el derecho de todos guatemaltecos a la verdad y justicia.

Ver la entrevista con la directora de GHRC en Al-Jazeera sobre la audiencia aquí.

Otto Pérez Molina takes office as Guatemala’s new president

Photo: Al-Jazeera

Otto Pérez Molina was inaugurated on Saturday as Guatemala’s new president, making him the first military official to take office since the end of the military government 25 years ago.  As the murder rate, violence and infiltration of organized crime and narco-trafficking groups have increased, Guatemalan voters have offered their support to Pérez Molina’s ‘iron fist’ approach to security and crime.  In his inaugural speech, Pérez Molina promised to ‘show results’ in the first six months of his presidency and ‘cut the murder rate by half by the end of his term.’ Speaking directly to military officials yesterday, President Pérez Molina  called on the army to ‘neutralize illegal armed groups by means of military power’ and demanded loyalty, participation and enthusiasm from all military officials.

The new president is asking the United States and Mexico to support Guatemala in its efforts to crack down on drug-related violence, expressing his intentions to push for the lifting of a military aid ban from the U.S.  Lifting the ban would lead to greater emphasis on military training in a country suffering from continued military impunity from the internal conflict and a dire need for police and judicial reform–not more military support.  However, regaining aid from the U.S. would require Guatemala to meet a set of 6 conditions, including releasing all military documents from the armed conflict–something Perez Molina is unlikely to do.  The move to lift the ban is a glimpse of what is to come in the new president’s term, marking a shift back to the militarization strategy of the armed conflict and raising serious concerns over the potential for human rights abuses, given the accusations of war crimes held against President Pérez Molina and the well-known history of human rights violations by the Guatemalan military.

Check out video coverage of the inauguration from Al-Jazeera below:

Weekly News Round-Up

Weekly Round-Up: 12/11 – 12/16

National News

  • President-elect Pérez Molina met with Mexican President Felipe Calderón yesterday to discuss their collaboration on a variety of issues.  In a press conference following the meeting, Pérez Molina reported that they had discussed several issues, including the creation of a civil intelligence platform to share information regarding the organized crime and narco-trafficking and a possible ‘consular pass’ that would allow Guatemalan immigrants to travel through Mexico without a visa.
  • Fifty more names have been added to the list of those accused of violent actsduring their supposed involvement with the leftist guerilla movement of Guatemala’s armed conflict.  Theodore Michael Plocharski, a Guatemalan citizen responsible for the accusations, is claiming that the accused were involved in the kidnapping, torture and assassination of eight diplomats.  The list includes human rights defenders and social activists Sandra Torres Casanova, Orlando Blanco and Marielos Monzón.
  • In an interview with ElPeriodico, Theodore Plocharski comments on his motives for accusing over 50 people with links to the assassination of diplomatsand association with the leftist guerilla movements during the armed conflict.  Plocharski said he wants the truth to be heard and justice to be served and argued that it is time the Attorney General investigates crimes committed by the guerrillas as well as the military.  He also commented that he is not necessarily proposing legal action against the individuals on the list, but rather against the guerilla entities—ORPA, EGP, PGT and FAR.

    Michael Plocharski, denunciante. (Foto Prensa Libre: Erick Avila)

International News

Election Results are in…

Photo by: Associated Foregin Press, for BBC World

Otto Peréz Molina was the clear winner in yesterday’s presidential elections, receiving 54% of the popular vote and beating out opponent Manuel Baldizón, who received 46% of the vote.  The majority of Molina’s support comes from the capital city, where 66% of votes were in his favor.  Alongside the new president-elect, Roxana Baldetti will become the first female vice-president in Guatemala’s history. During a press conference following confirmation of the results, Molina announced the first official members of his cabinet–Mauricio López Bonilla as Interior Minister, Francisco Arredondo as Minister of Health, and Alejandro Sinibaldi as Communications Minister.

The election of the former general  marks a dramatic and worrisome political shift in Guatemala, as increasing violence and drug-trafficking has led many citizens to support Perez Molina’s ‘mano dura’ hardline approach to cracking down on crime.  Guatemala is facing some of the highest rates of poverty, malnutrition and violence in all of Latin America.  The election of Otto Perez Molina points to the increasing level of dissatisfaction and frustration with previous leaders’ failure to control what many view as a downward spiral.  Many Guatemalan’s seem to be desperate for results and the ‘iron-fist’ approach of Perez Molina is an appealing and dramatic shift in policy.

However, human rights defenders and organizations–GHRC included–have expressed serious concerns about the incoming president’s involvement in acts of genocide and war crimes during Guatemala’s armed conflict.  In alliance with Rights Action and lawyer Jennifer Harbury, GHRC presented a formal allegation letter to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights denouncing Otto Perez Molina and accusing him of direct involvement in the systematic use of torture and acts of genocide during his military service as a general in the Ixil Triangle from 1982-83 and as Director of Military Intelligence in the early 90′s.  A recently published article in the Wall Street Journal provides an extensive profile of the general, including an interactive timeline of his involvement in the armed conflict and the torture, capture and murder of political prisoner Efrain Bámaca.