Without A Secured Right to Freedom of Expression, There Is No Democracy In Central America

On October 23, 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a Thematic Hearing on Examining Freedom of Expression in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during its 156th Session in Washington DC. Read more from Indigenous Peoples’ rights group Cultural Survival:

For Immediate Release

Contact: Mark Camp, Deputy Executive Director, Cultural Survival, mcamp@cs.org, 617-441-5400 x 11

Angelica Rao, Executive Coordinator, Cultural Survival, angelica@cs.org, 647-624-3084

Without A Secured Right to Freedom of Expression, There Is No Democracy In Central America

On October 23, 2015, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a Thematic Hearing on Examining Freedom of Expression in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala during its 156th Session in Washington DC. Organized by Asociación Mundial de Radios Comunitarias (AMARC-Subregión Centroamérica), Asociación de Medios Comunitarios de Honduras (AMCH), Asociación de Radios Comunitarias de Guatemala (ARCG), Asociación Sobrevivencia Cultural, Central American Institute for the Study of Social Democracy (DEMOS), Comité por la Libre Expresión (C Libre), Cultural Survival, Fundación de la Comunicación para el Desarrollo (Comunicándonos), Junta Ciudadana por el Derecho Humano a la Comunicación and Mujb’ab’l yol: Encuentro de Expresiones, the session seeks to shine a spotlight on the daily rights violations that Indigenous journalists and communities face when exercising the universal right to freedom of expression and communication.

These basic rights make up the foundation of a well functioning democracy, yet communities in Central America share a common experience, history and reality that citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to communication are not evenly respected and guaranteed. Indigenous journalists and community radio operators, despite physical threats, state persecution, and even risk of death, continue to exercise their rights in order to serve their communities.

El Salvador’s democracy is threatened by media concentration. Five commercial groups have historically held ownership of the radio frequency spectrum. Ex-president Elias Antonio Saca owned six radio frequencies when he began as president, and fourteen by the end of his presidency. The law does not distinguish between public, private or community radio; all frequencies are auctioned to the highest bidder and no state entity exists to regulate radio broadcasting. Continue reading

GHRC Condemns the Assassination of Two Journalists in Mazatenango, Guatemala

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission condemns the March 10, 2015 assassination of journalists Danilo Lopez and Federico Salazar. This attack also left journalist Marvin Túnchez severely injured. GHRC calls on the Guatemalan government to thoroughly investigate this attack and to bring those responsible to justice. We also call on the Guatemalan government to effectively implement a protection program for journalists.

Guatemala has a long history of being known as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. At least 342 journalists were killed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996). The Committee to Protect Journalist stated today that “Guatemala has a troubling pattern of impunity in attacks against journalists. If authorities allow these crimes to remain unsolved, all local journalists will face even more danger.”

The killings were also denounced by the IACHR and the RFK Center, and below you can find the translated statement from human rights group UDEFEGUA:


We Repudiate the Assassinations of Journalist in Mazatenango

Today, March 10, 2015, in an attempt to assassinate three journalists, two were killed and one was seriously injured. The two journalists who were killed were Danilo Zapón López and Federico Salazar, and the injured journalist was Marvin Israel Túnchez. This vile attack is part of a much wider generalized violence against journalists, social commentators, and editors in the country, which has reduced the freedom of expression not only for journalists, but also the general society. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: September 8-19

IACHR Declares Guatemala in “Contempt of Court”

The IACHR published its resolution from a May supervisory hearing at the Inter-American Court, in which the Court asked the government of Guatemala to report on the progress it had made in 11 cases, including the Rio Negro and Military Diary cases.

In its resolution, released August 22, the Court stated: “Guatemala did not inform about advances in compliance […] but instead assumed a radical change in its position intended to question the Court’s decision […]. For example, Guatemala questioned the ability for the Court to try crimes before 1987, and negated the continuing nature of the crime of forced disappearance.

The Court explicitly stated that Guatemala’s position expressed at the hearing “constitutes a clear act of contempt of court,” and reminded Guatemala of its legal obligations to comply with Court sentences — above and beyond any domestic laws — including amnesties.

Violence Possible in Mining Sector

Amnesty International released a new report about mining in Guatemala, calling attention to the growing social unrest and conflict provoked by these projects. According to the report, the Guatemalan government is exacerbating social conflict and the likelihood of violence by failing to consult with local communities before awarding mining licenses to companies. Despite fierce opposition to mining licenses, the government has awarded at least 240 licenses to businesses so far. The report can be read in full here.

Hundreds Protest over Rural Development Act

On September 18th, hundreds of indigenous and rural citizens protested in front of Guatemala’s Congress to show support for the passage of the Rural Development Law and to repeal a law that would prohibit any obstacles which block roads or limit transportation. The Legislative Branch should consult the indigenous towns before passing laws that directly impact them, yet the government recently passed several laws without the approval of indigenous groups.

The protests caused several road blocks which were maintained for three to four hours. During violent attempts by the police to break up community roadblocks by Ch’orti’ communities in Chiquimula, reporter Norma Sansir was arrested by the police. There have been several other instances of violence against reporters and government actions that contradict the idea of free press.

On September 23, Norma and four others who were arrested were released from jail.

Prior Agreements Shown in Court of Appeals Nomination Process

The process to choose nominees for the Court of Appeals began yesterday (September 17th). As a final list of candidates was compiled, questions arose over whether some names included in the list were already agreed upon, prior to the vote.

Extension of CICIG mandate to be considered

Despite previous recommendations not to extend the mandate of the CICIG — a UN-backed international body charged with helping State institutions investigate serious crime — President Pérez Molina announced that the executive branch will consider an extension of the CICIG in respect to specific sectors that would benefit from its support.

News Update: October 19-25

Constitutional Court asks lower courts to reconsider Montt for amnesty

A judicial spokesman for Guatemala’s Constitutional Court told Spanish news agency EFE on Wednesday that a court ruling this week (which has not yet been made public) opens the door to amnesty to former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt. According to Prensa Libre, the court decision recommended that the case against Rios Montt be dropped, suggesting that he could be protected under a now-defunct 1986 amnesty law made by Guatemala’s then-military regime. Plaza Publica clarifies that the Court only found that Judge Carol Patricia Flores should assess the extent of the 1986 amnesty decree, but did not endorse it.

In a public hearing at the Constitutional Court on Thursday, human rights Prosecutor Érick Geovani de León Morataya denied that Article 8 of the National Reconciliation Law could apply to charges of genocide. He said that Montt and his defense were attempting to use these protections as a means to stall the process.

Read the GHRC statement on the Constitutional Court ruling here.

Independent news channel attacked

On Saturday, October 19, unidentified gunman shot and killed Viltor Garcia, the bodyguard for Karina Rottman, who heads the independent cable news channel VEA Canal. This channel is known for its criticism of the Pérez Molina administration and allots time to individuals and organizations that oppose the government, touching on issues such as: land rights, resource exploitation, and indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) movements. Rottman says this was the second attack against her in two weeks. This year, there have been more than 80 attacks and threats against journalists.

Continue reading