Today, on the 2014 International Human Rights Day, we want to share some highlights from our year working to promote human rights and rule of law in Guatemala. Click on any photo for full size viewing, or to enter slideshow … Continue reading →
I just got back from Guatemala, and wanted to share my experience while I was there.
As an intern, I had the opportunity to attend GHRC’s August delegation to Guatemala, titled Women in Resistance. In addition to meeting with different human rights organizations and the U.S. Embassy, we were fortunate enough to listen to the testimony of Ixil genocide survivors. Before beginning their testimony, they admitted that repeating their stories to us would be emotionally draining. Yet they understood that we were there to foster solidarity, and we assured them that we would share their experiences with our contacts back in the U.S.
After three hours of listening to the five women speak about their experiences during the conflict, the room fell silent. None of the delegates knew how to respond to what we had just heard. I personally could not imagine the suffering that these women expressed to us: horrific details of rape; soldiers burning everything they owned; families fleeing to the mountains, just to watch their own children die from starvation. I had read similar stories through my GHRC internship. However, as I listened to these women weep and scream while recounting their experiences, I understood the raw reality of the genocide and witnessed the strength of these women for surviving to tell their stories.
As we absorbed what we had just heard, Kelsey, GHRC Director, broke the silence by presenting the survivors with a poster. The poster displayed comments posted by our supporters to GHRC’s Facebook page. The comments demonstrated the vast international support and solidarity with all victims of the Guatemalan genocide. The women in turn expressed their gratitude that they are not alone in the fight to achieve justice.
On Saturday, we at GHRC had the pleasure of taking part in a powerful art installation in Washington, DC. After three years of preparation, the organization One Million Bones blanketed a section of the National Mall with bones made of various materials to bring attention to genocide committed around the world. The organizers of One Million Bones had extended a special invitation to GHRC and the Guatemala community to take part and commemorate Guatemala’s genocide victims.
GHRC staff, interns and volunteers, joined thousands of others in laying out the bones. Our group took the opportunity to read the names of the victims in the Ixil Triangle included in the charges against former generals Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez.
We posted a photo of the event on our Facebook pageon Saturday afternoon, and were shocked to see the response. Our wall was covered by an energetic debate about genocide in Guatemala. It was heartwarming to see all the comments in support of justice for victims, but sad to see that there were also many comments full of hate, anger, and denial of the crimes committed against Guatemala’s indigenous people.
Unfortunately, many of the people who posted on our wall are the same people who have been spreading the same messages of hate and denial in the Guatemalan media and organizing protests in support of those who committed atrocities.
The courageous genocide survivors, along with their lawyers, the judges, and the organizations who support justice, have been victim to this type of attack constantly since the Ríos Montt trial began. The messages in the media in Guatemala are not just slander. They are threats of violence. For example, Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, founder of the Foundation Against Terrorism, who posted on our wall, said in an interview with Guatemalan TV station Guatevision that the civil society leaders pushing for justice could be assassinated. In his post on GHRC’s facebook page, he called us a “terrorist organization.”
We don’t want to hide this debate going on in Guatemalan society, but we adamantly condemn the use of defamation, threats and messages of hate. We would love to see our page covered with messages of support for justice and for the victims and survivors of genocide.Can you add your voice
Over the last month, the historic trial has been moving forward in Guatemala’s High Risk Court charging former Head of State Efraín Ríos Montt and former Head of Military Intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez with Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. The victims have waited for over 30 years for justice to be served for the atrocities committed against Guatemala’s indigenous people, and finally, a verdict is in sight.
Thanks to all of our supporters who sent an email to U.S. Ambassador Arnold Chacon asking him to attend the genocide trial. Although the trial began on March 19, the US Ambassador didn’t make an appearance in the courtroom until April 9th. The following day the Embassy finally broke its silence regarding the trial and issued a press release reiterating the importance of justice for reconciliation in Guatemala. The press release also expressed the US’s support for justice processes which are “credible, independent, transparent and impartial,” and exhorted “all Guatemalans to respect the legitimacy and integrity of the process.”
Nobel Peace Prize winner and genocide survivor Rigoberta Menchu greets victims’ families. (Photo: mimundo.org)
Breaking News: We’ve received word that a decision in the trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and José Rodríquez Sanchez may come as soon as the end of this week. The trial has progressed at breakneck speed covering testimony from more than 100 survivors and dozens of experts, despite constant attempts by the defense to stall or derail the process.
Perez Molína sells Puerto Quetzal
Over Easter weekend, Perez Molína sold Puerto Quetzal to a Spanish company. Protesters hung banners around the city denouncing Molína’s decision, and insist that the sale was illegal. The company that purchased the port, Terminal de Contenedores de Barcelona (TCB), plans to construct a dock and terminal that deals directly to Spain.
Day 1 of Genocide Trial
On March 19, 2013, the historic trial opened against Rios Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez. After almost two hours of delays by the Defense, the trial began. The public prosecutor stated that the objective of military operational plans under Ríos Montt was the destruction of the Mayan Ixil population as part of a counter-insurgency campaign that characterized civilians of this ethnic and linguistic minority as an “internal enemy”. Attorney Edgar Pérez rejected assertions that the act of seeking justice is itself an act of terrorism or an effort to destabilize Guatemalan society. Political pressure on the actors involved has been intense, and just before the trial begain, President Otto Perez Molina’s denied that genocide took place. Perez told reporters: “It is important to state it because I lived it: there was no genocide in Guatemala.” Marcie Mersky, Program Director at the International Center for Transitional Justice, says such comments may influence legal proceedings and are inappropriate.
Lolita Chávezparticipates in month-long speaking tour in Canada and US
In events in Montreal, Ottowa, Vancouver, BC and Washington, DC, Lolita Chavez spoke about the work of the K’iche’ People’s Council and community resistance to harmful transnational development projects. In an interview with Montreal Gazette, Lolita stated that: “Canadian companies are the main protagonists in this invasion that brings only death and destruction.” A short video interview is available here.
Constitutional Court rejects legal action filed by Toto indigenous leaders
The Constitutional Court (CC) unanimously rejected the legal action filed by the 48 cantones of Totonicapán against the Mining Law. The court’s decision called on Congress to regulate consultation with indigenous communities as established in ILO Convention number 169. The plaintiffs argue that the Mining Law was issued when there was still a right to consultation under the ILO convention and therefore the law is unconstitutional because it does not respect that right. The trial against the soldiers who fired on the group of protesters in Totonicapán last year is still ongoing. One of the defense lawyers for the accused soldiers says that he will ask for an acquittal. He says that his clients were motivated by “an overwhelming fear”, and thus they are innocent.