Guatemalan News Update: September 22-26

Community Members and Organizations Commemorate 5th Anniversary of Killing of Adolfo Ich

On September 27 of 2009, Adolfo Ich Chamán was murdered by private security forces working for the Fenix nickel mine in El Estor, Guatemala. Adolfo’s death was part of a wave of violence committed by employees of CGN, the Guatemalan subsidiary of Canadian mining company Hudbay Minerals, against anti-mine activists. On the same day that Adolfo was killed, seven others were injured, including German Chub, who was shot and left paralyzed.

Community members in El Estor will commemorate Adolfo’s death, as well as the ongoing community resistance, through ceremonies and events to take place on September 27, 2014. Representatives of GHRC will be present at the commemoration in Guatemala. Today, a memorial in solidarity with those in El Estor will also be held in Toronto in front of Hudbay’s corporate headquarters.

State of Emergency in Guatemala Town After Clashes

On September 22nd, Guatemala declared a “State of Prevention” in San Juan Sacatepéquez, a municipality outside the capital. The emergency measures, which suspend constitutional rights, were allegedly put in place in response to acts of violence committed in the community of Los Pajoques on the 19th and 20th of September. The clash, which killed eleven people, resulted from disagreements over the construction of a cement factory and proposed highway which would cut through the community.

Click here to read GHRC’s statement detailing concerns over the State of Prevention in San Juan Sacatepéquez.

Congress Receives “Acceptable” List for the Supreme Court of Justice

On September 22nd, a list of twenty-six candidates for the Supreme Court of Justice was sent to Congress. Thirteen Supreme Court judges were then elected from the list candidates, amongst suspicions that the final list had already been decided upon prior to the vote. Human rights groups have expressed frustration at the selection proceedings, which have been criticized as being opaque, responding to private interests, and guaranteeing a “pact of impunity.”

New Talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry

On September 23rd, government officials from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras met with Secretary of State John Kerry to present plans to stop the influx of unaccompanied immigrant children into the United States. The plans were the result of a July meeting with President Barack Obama. Chancellor Carlos Raúl Morales, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, said, “The idea is that from these plans, a discussion with the United States will open for two or three months…”

Plans for Immigrant Family Detention Center Draws Criticism

Federal officials are planning the construction of a new detention center near San Antonio to house Central American immigrant children and their parents. This new center could be run by a for-profit prison firm with a history of holding families in deplorable conditions. Advocates warn against the use of detention centers to house families. “It breaks down the structure of families,” said Michelle Brané, director of migrant rights and justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission.

New Instances of Political Repression of “Los q’eqchies”

This article looks at the connection between violence and the exploitation of natural resources in Alta Verapaz, where the construction of a hydroelectric dam is being planned. On August 15th, the National Civil Police violently evicted dozens of families and entered the village of Semococh in order to capture two leaders of Codeca, an organization of peasants and indigenous peoples calling for justice and better living conditions. The conflict ended in a violent clash between the police and villagers, which left three villagers dead.

GHRC participates in TASSC Annual Survivors’ Week

TASSC-buttonMembers of the GHRC team were honored to attend the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) 17th Annual Survivors’ Week last month. The event provided an opportunity to stand in solidarity with TASSC’s mission to end torture as well as to empower survivors of torture.

Sister Dianna Ortiz, a survivor of torture in Guatemala, originally started TASSC as a GHRC program in 1998. TASSC has since expanded to become an independent organization that carries out impressive advocacy and assistance work. In the words of one survivor, “I arrived in the United States less than 10 months ago and TASSC has provided me with so much support. I would never have imagined that I would be meeting with a member of the United States government to tell my story and advocate on behalf of survivors.”

The TASSC Survivors’ Week week consisted of presentations, testimony from torture survivors, advocacy outreach on Capitol Hill (including 26 congressional meetings), and a concluding vigil in front of the White House.

At the Opening Session, GHRC team members and 115 other participants learned more about addressing torture worldwide. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, warned that impunity is the greatest enemy of the anti-torture movement and serves as an invitation for torture to continue. He also explained that while torture and genocide conventions emphasize the prevention of torture, they frequently do not give specific recommendations. Thus, it is important to remember that it is the individual state that holds the most responsibility in implementing prevention mechanisms. Méndez also discussed how reparations themselves are not enough; survivors need to be given a part in creating their own rehabilitation programs.

Speakers also presented on inhumane immigration detention policies here in the US. Yohanes Birhane, of TASSC, described the ways in which Border Patrol facilities employ methods of psychological torture against individuals apprehended after entering the US irregularly. Detainees are often placed in “ice boxes” — very cold rooms with no amenities — and frequently sleep on the floor, have no access to a shower, have limited access to toilet paper and sanitary items, are denied adequate food and may face other degradations. Border patrol personnel frequently tell detainees that they will only be allowed to leave if they sign expedited removal papers that may be provided in English only. While many individuals have suffered these conditions, survivors are reluctant to give testimony because they fear that to do so may impact their legal status. Birhane therefore appealed to American citizens to advocate on behalf of detainees and to support S1817 and HR3130, two bills that address degrading treatment at the border.

More information about TASSC is available here.