A recent report presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) explores the growing presence of Canadian mining companies in Latin America, highlighting a series of environmental and social concerns, and raising questions about who should ultimately be held responsible for violations related to Canadian-owned projects. The report, titled The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s responsibility [full report in Spanish], was written by a working group made up of six civil society organizations from Latin America and one from the US, with input from twenty-two additional Latin America-based organizations. Continue reading
By Lindsay Pollack
Lindsay Pollack is a master’s candidate in the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, and is a GHRC Spring 2014 Intern.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held its 150th session of hearings in March. The hearings on Guatemala took place on March 25, 2014, and dealt with transparency and honesty in the justice system and providing reparations for victims of the country’s internal conflict.
About the Commission
At 55 years old, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is the oldest human rights body in the Americas. The themes of human rights issues have expanded greatly in the last 55 years and in response, the agenda of the Commission has changed rapidly to include topics such as gender-based violence and LGBTQ issues. The Commission’s staff is comprised of 65 people, 32 of whom are lawyers. The Commission itself is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence. According to an IACHR official, human rights issues have gained more attention in recent years, but the Commission’s funding has not increased in response, leaving the Commission with a shortage of funding. According to its website, the Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. 
The First Hearing: The Process of Appointing Justice Operators in Guatemala
Currently, the Guatemalan judicial system is undergoing significant changes. With the announcement that Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz, the country’s attorney general, will end her term in May instead of December of this year, there is widespread concern about the process of choosing a replacement. After much deliberation, Paz y Paz did decide to run for a second term, but there is no guarantee that she will be selected.
There were various complaints about the process thus far. For example, without advance notice, the nominating committee shortened the period of public comment on candidates for the attorney general position to only five days. This made it difficult for organizations to prepare their comments in time. Continue reading
Guatemala’s Constitutional Court provisionally ruled that Attorney General Paz y Paz will end her term in May of this year instead of December. International bodies, and Paz y Paz herself, argued against the decision. They claim that the decision was because those who have been affected by “crusader” Paz y Paz’s quest for justice while in office want her removed. The court ordered Congress to convene the commission to find Paz y Paz’s successor, but despite support from the Patriot Party there were not enough votes in favor of doing so.
Government officials are preparing a response to the conditions imposed on the Pérez Molina administration in the U.S. Appropriations Act. Pérez Molina has rejected the conditions, and blamed them on Appropriations Committee Staffer, Tim Rieser. Meanwhile, Vice President Roxana Baldetti stated that it wouldn’t be possible to compensate the communities affected by the Chixoy Dam because the government doesn’t have the resources to do so. Continue reading
Last week, GHRC supported organizations participating in two Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearings.
The first case presented to the IACHR focused on the criminalization of social protest in Guatemala.* A panel that included community leaders from the country’s indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) movements, as well as legal experts, detailed a slew of human rights violations that have occurred against protesters attempting to peacefully defend their territories against destructive mining and natural resource extraction projects.
Marlen Car, representing 12 indigenous communities from San Juan Sacatepéquez, denounced harassment of women and the illegal imprisonment of fellow community members who opposed a cement factory in the region. “The message to the business community is that these are our lands,” she stated. “No one is going to take them away because our ancestors left them to us.”
GHRC Assistant Director Kathryn Johnson and George Mason Professor Jo-Marie Burt discuss recent developments in the Rios Montt trial, focusing on how the decision will affect the future of justice in Guatemala.
After the Constitutional Court opened the door for amnesty last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reiterated today the need for a proper investigation of genocide, despite the Amnesty Law, and called on the country to put a stop to obstructions of this investigation. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights also affirmed that amnesty should never apply to genocide.
On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court rejected a measure by the Legal Action Center for Human Rights (CALDH) to clarify its ruling regarding the possibility of amnesty for Efrain Rios Montt. Now, the First Chamber of Criminal Appeals will have five days to rule why the application of Decree 8-86, which grants amnesty for crimes committed during the Rios Montt era, does not apply to Rios Montt’s case.
In a related article, Montt’s defense lawyer Francisco Garcia Gudiel discusses the recent request for amnesty in an interview with El Periodico.
The Western People’s Council of Mayan Organizations (CPO) has filed a complaint before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IAHCR) against Guatemala’s Mining Law, based on the law’s lack of a mechanism to consult with indigenous communities, which the CPO claims violates international law. Previously, the CPO challenged the law before Guatemala’s Constitutional Court but the Constitutional Court upheld the Mining Law, leaving the CPO no recourse but the IACHR.
Iván Velásquez Gómez is the new head of the International Comission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). President Otto Pérez Molina announced that this was the last period of CICIG in the country and the investigation of ongoing and new cases will continue until 2015, when they will have to transfer the work to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the National Civil Police.
While the government is set next week to give 140 land titles to families evicted from the Polochic Valley two years ago, these residents point out that land is not sufficient to return to a sustainable lifestyle. The area where they will be relocated is more than 80 km from their original community of Agua Caliente and lacks water, roads, and basic services. They also expressed frustration over the cumbersome and bureaucratic process of obtaining the titles.
La verdad, la justicia y la reparación deben prevalecer en el juicio por genocidio en Guatemala
Organizaciones del continente instan a un adecuado proceso, con las debidas garantías.
18 de marzo de 2013- El próximo 19 de marzo dará inicio en Guatemala la audiencia pública en el juicio que se sigue en contra del General en retiro Efraín Ríos Montt y de su ex director de los servicios de inteligencia militar, también General en retiro José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, como presuntos autores intelectuales de genocidio y crímenes de lesa humanidad (asesinatos, desapariciones forzadas, violaciones sexuales, tortura) en contra de casi dos mil personas, la mayoría de ellas mayas Ixil. Los hechos ocurrieron desde marzo de 1982 hasta agosto de 1983, cuando Ríos Montt ocupó el poder en su país.
En el proceso judicial, impulsado por el Ministerio Público, figuran como abogados directores de la parte querellante, la Asociación para la Justicia y la Reconciliación (AJR), los abogados del Bufete Jurídico de Derechos Humanos y del Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH). Quienes además están siendo apoyados por Abogados sin fronteras Canadá, todos en condición de representantes de las víctimas. La trascendencia de este proceso –inédito en Guatemala- implica el desahogo de aproximadamente 140 testimonios de víctimas y de la comparecencia de unos 70 peritos expertos.
Constitutional Court upholds case closure for Efraín Bámaca’s disappearance
The Constitutional Court (CC) has confirmed the closure of the criminal case involving the forced disappearance of Efraín Bámaca. In March 2011, Bámaca’s widow, Jennifer Harbury, brought a criminal complaint against then presidential candidate Pérez Molina for his role in her husband’s disappearance and death. Bámaca (alias Comandante Everardo) disappeared in 1992. According to the military, he committed suicide, but Harbury says that he was actually detained, tortured and killed. In December 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan government to re-investigate the case of Bámaca’s forced disappearance. Harbury’s lawyer has indicated that he will take action against Pérez Molina for not fulfilling the IACHR’s demands for a re-investigation of the case.
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.
Communities deny participation in new attack on Hidro Santa Cruz in Barillas
The Spanish-owned hydroelectric company is claiming that on the night of February 17, a group of 15-20 people closed off the entryway and entered the construction site where they damaged equipment. The community, which resumed peaceful protests against the hydroelectric project on the 15th, says that it had nothing to do with the attacks. Community leaders insist that, as of now, they do not know who is responsible for these events. Actions such as these have, in some cases, been carried out by people linked to a company in order justify a greater police or military presence to protect its economic interests.
Meanwhile, Otto Pérez Molina spoke to Spanish businesses about investing in Guatemala. In a speech before a group of Spanish businessmen and several government officials, President Pérez Molina emphasized the need for more foreign direct investment in his country. Highlighting the abundant hydroelectric and mining resources in Guatemala, and projects that like in Barillas, he claimed that conflicts around resource extraction projects are simply a product of misinformation put forth by environmental groups, which have been “fully identified and controlled.”
Eight soldiers and one colonel will go to trial for Totonicapán killings
Colonel Juan Chiroy and eight of his soldiers will not be tried for the crime of extrajudicial execution in the killing of six protesters in Totonicapán in October of last year. Instead, the colonel is charged with breach of duty while the soldiers are charged with breach of duty and “murder in a state of violent emotion.” Judge Carol Patricia Flores determined that the soldiers fired in self-defense. On February 19th, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented a recusal against Judge Flores. Continue reading
Ríos Montt on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity
The trial against former head of state Ríos Montt and along with former general José Rodríguez, began on January 30th, two days after Judge Ángel Gálvez announced his decision to try the two men for genocide and crimes against humanity. The much-anticipated announcement drew a large crowd which included many survivors of the armed conflict as well as journalists, retired military personnel, and human rights activists. The decision was hailed as a victory for the victims of one of the most violent conflicts in Central America.
Spanish delegation comments on conflict in Santa Cruz Barillas
A group of Spanish representatives on a mission to investigate human rights in Guatemala held a press conference last week to talk about several of the cases they looked into during their visit. One of the cases that they highlighted was the conflict in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango surrounding the dam proposed by the Hidro Santa Cruz energy company. One Spanish representative expressed concern for the human rights violations there including the assassination of a community member, illegally long detentions of political prisoners and the absence of a means of democratic communication between the community members and authorities. Another representative, Josep Nuet, expressed a desire for Hidro Santa Cruz to start the project anew, this time with the input of the community.
Limitations on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights repealed
The executive branch announced on January 17th Government Agreement number 30-2013, which repealed an earlier decision to not recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on violations prior to February, 1987. The original agreement (number 370), which was announced on January 2nd, was met with much criticism, forcing the President to suspend it the next day.
An analysis of President Perez Molina’s first year in office
During his first year in office, President Pérez Molina launched the Cero Hambre and Bolsa Segura programs to combat malnutrition and hunger. His critics allege that these programs have not yet reached much of the at-risk population and have not done enough to break the cycle of poverty. Credit should be given to the attorney general, police commissioner, and interior minister, and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala for the improvements in the murder rate as well as the security situation. “In 2012, Guatemala recorded 5,174 homicides, approximately 500 fewer than in Colom’s last year, thereby reducing the country’s murder rate from 39 to 34 per 100,000. However, while the government’s increased reliance on the military and mano dura policies has not led to an increase in homicides, there is good reason to be concerned with the government’s increasing reliance on the military to perform acts better suited for police.” writes Mike Allison. Continue reading