Guatemala News Update: Jan. 30-Feb. 5

Oscar Mejía Víctores, former head of state accused of genocide, dies under house arrest
Oscar Mejía Víctores died Monday morning at the age of 85. He was the head of State of Guatemala between 1983 and 1986, taking power through a coup d’état that ousted his predecessor Jose Efraín Ríos Montt. Under his leadership, the government forcibly disappeared over 600 people and killed thousand of indigenous. He had been under house arrest since 2011 for accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity during his tenure as the head of State.

Guatemala Supreme Court Rules Against Lifting Congressman’s Immunity
The Guatemalan Supreme Court has denied prosecutors’ request to lift the immunity of Congressman and presidential advisor Edgar Justino Ovalle, on the basis of insufficient evidence. As a public official, he has immunity from prosecution. He has been accused of human rights abuses during his tenure as a military officer during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict war.

First Week of Sepur Zarco Trial Underway
The trial against a military officer and a military commissioner began Feb. 1. The men are charged with crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual and domestic slavery, as well as forced disappearance of indigenous villagers during Guatemala’s internal conflict. International observers have been blogging daily about the trial at the International Justice Monitor and Breaking the Silence.

Nickel company announces new mining project in Baja Verapaz
The Canadian company CVMR Corporation and Central American Nickel Inc. have announced a partnership to mine 3 million tons of mineral ore each year in Santa Anita located in Baja Verapaz which is considered to be one of the largest, untapped reserves of Nickel in existence. From Guatemala, the ore will be shipped to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to be refined. The project is not far from Rio Negro and the 33 communities displaced and massacred during the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric dam project. Another nickel mine operating in the neighboring department of Izabal is responsible for acts of violence, including a murder and the gang rape of 11 women by security forces.

New Law for Missing Women Passed in Guatemala
A law was passed on January 29th that establishes the ability to immediately search for missing women. At least 4,500 women have been reported missing over the last two years, and according to Congresswoman Sandra Moran, law enforcement often does not respond immediately when a woman goes missing. This law, the result of the combined efforts of many women’s rights organization, hopes to curb the incidence of kidnapping women for forced labor or prostitution.

Growing concern over treatment of Central American refugees
On Feb. 4, 34 Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to express concern over the treatment and safety of deported Central American families in response to the recent raids.Many of these families may qualify for special accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, protections that were not taken into account during the raids. The Members of Congress call for a suspension of raids, more careful review and screening of cases, among other changes to DHS protocols.

Bill in support of Community Radio up for vote in Guatemalan Congress
The Community Media Bill 4087 aims to legalize community radio within Guatemala. Current telecommunications laws do not allow for the municipalities to create or have access to non-profit licenses for community radios. Without a public radio system, communities cannot easily distribute important news and educational programming information such as emergency disaster relief, voter registration, and public health campaigns broadcast in their native language. Originally introduced to the Congress in 2009, the bill had been stalled up to February 2 when the first reading of the bill took place. The vote on Bill 4087 could take place as soon as February 9th.

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Guatemala News Update: June 8-12

Guatemala’s Supreme Court Opens the Door for the Prosecution of Pérez Molina

The Supreme Court has approved for congress to decide whether to remove President Pérez Molina’s immunity from prosecution for possible involvement in the “La Linea” and IGSS corruption scandals. Should Perez Molina be put on trial, his possible prosecution would essentially result in his impeachment. 

The Upcoming 2015 Elections

In this Saturday, May 30, 2015 photo, protesters carry a fake coffin with a effigy of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina during a protest to demand his resignation in Guatemala City. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (The Associated Press)

In this Saturday, May 30, 2015 photo, protesters carry a fake coffin with a effigy of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina during a protest to demand his resignation in Guatemala City. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo) (The Associated Press)

A recent poll by Costa Rican firm Borge y Asociados indicates that while conservative candidate Manuel Baldizón is still the favorite to win the upcoming presidential election, comedian Jimmy Morales is gaining support. Morales is seen as an anti-establishment candidate with little ties to Guatemala City, which could benefit him with the recent public outcry over government corruption. Morales is running as a member of the right-wing party, Frente de Convergencia Nacional, which has ties to the military. However, many express their doubt in Morales’ ability to lead as president. He has also recently made controversial comments about the past internal conflict in the country, including his denial that genocide was committed against the Maya Ixil people. Continue reading

Commemorating the 2015 Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict

(Leer en español abajo)

Today, GHRC joins Guatemalans as they commemorate the Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict.

It was on this day, in 1999, that the UN Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) released it’s report, Guatemala: Memory of Silence. The report’s extensive documentation and interviews with survivors helped Guatemala – and the world – understand the magnitude of the violence, including the widespread use of torture, sexual violence, forced disappearances, systematic human rights violations against the civilian population, and acts of genocide carried out by the State against Mayan peoples in four separate regions.

Today we also salute women survivors, who, in ever greater numbers, have chosen to break the silence about the violence they suffered. Continue reading

Guatemalan Congress Seeks Impunity for Genocide

This week 87 members of the Guatemalan Congress passed a resolution denying the existence of genocide during the country’s internal armed conflict. The statement is not legally binding, but is the latest attempt to delegitimize the genocide case and create a de facto amnesty; it also raises concerns that the Congress may be looking to legislate new amnesty provisions.

The resolution was proposed by Congressman Luis Fernando Pérez of the PRI (formerly FRG), the party founded by General Efraín Ríos Montt, who was tried last year on charges of genocide. The statement describes national discussion surrounding genocide as polarizing, as well as an impediment to reconciliation. The resolution also states, “We are committed to study the legislation issued within the framework of the peace agreements.” Continue reading

May 10: Commemorating the One-Year Anniversary of the Genocide Sentence

genocide-anniversary
(Información de los eventos está disponible abajo en español)

On May 10, people around the world will commemorate the one-year anniversary of the conviction of Ríos Montt for genocide perpetuated against the Maya Ixil people during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. The sentence was delivered by Judge Yassmín Barrios, of the High Risk Crimes Court “A”, and convicted Montt to 80 years in prison for genocide and war crimes. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: February 17-21

Paz y Paz to testify before the CC next week

Claudia Paz y Paz will give testimony before the Constitutional Court next Wednesday regarding why she should stay in office through December of 2014, instead of only through May. The attorney general holds that her term ends four years after she was appointed, which would be this December. She is still deciding if she will run for reelection.

Appeals in genocide trial of Rios Montt advance

The Constitutional Court ordered the Second Appeals Court to decide if amnesty should be applied in the case against General Rios Montt for genocide and war crimes based on a law passed in 1986. The Court requested an explanation of the decision with “solid legal arguments.” In a separate appeal in the same case, the Constitutional Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 26 regarding Judge Patricia Flores’s ruling to restart the trial from where it was in November of 2011. The trial of Rios Montt, who is currently under house arrest, is scheduled to continue in January of 2015. Continue reading

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