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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Discovery of Judicial Corruption Network Brings Hope for Overdue Reforms

by Jason Mann, GHRC Summer 2015 Intern

Captured lawyer Jose Arturo Morales. Photo: Insight Crime.

Captured lawyer Jose Arturo Morales. Photo: Insight Crime.

After the investigation into a web of judicial corruption, nicknamed the “Law Firm of Impunity,” Guatemala’s failed judicial system may be headed for long-needed reforms.

Revelations began in April 2015 when the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) uncovered a massive tax fraud scheme involving numerous high-level government officials.

Among those directly incriminated in the corruption ring, dubbed “La Linea,” were the head of Guatemala’s customs enforcement and tax agency and the private secretary of Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Juan Carlos Monzón, who led the operation.

The scandal, one of the biggest in recent memory in Guatemala, barely had time to sink in, before a related scandal broke, prompted by judges who had suspiciously granted bail to the high level officials arrested. Corruption, it became clear, was being facilitated by those charged with upholding the law.

On May 8, the same day that Baldetti was forced to resign as vice president, the CICIG released phone recordings of wiretapped conversations between a ringleader of La Linea, Javier Ortiz, and businessman Luis Mendizábal. The conversation describes how Ortiz’s lawyers had bribed Judge Marta Josefina Sierra de Stalling to obtain reduced bail and a favorable house arrest sentence in exchange for a financial kickback. Continue reading

Human Rights Convergence: Eradicate Anti-Social Movement Efforts in Guatemala

On June 25, The Human Rights Convergence — a coalition of human rights organizations — published a statement regarding the protection of civilian responses to the recent corruption scandals in Guatemala.

The Convergence put forward this information to demonstrate the acts of retaliation and repression against those participating in social movements calling for an end to government corruption. The Convergence sites specific incidents of attacks and threats, which include:

  •  A fire set to a local business of a social movement leader in Quetzaltenango.
  • Death threats against Congressman Amílcar Pop, after he initiated the judicial demand to investigate President Pérez Molina.
  • The seizure of a local bus from San Juan Sacatepéquez on its return from a march that occurred in Guatemala City on June 13.
  • The murder of two community leaders, Pablo Pajarito Rompich in Quiché and Santiago Ramírez in Petén.

The Human Rights Convergence therefore requests that actions be taken by all involved actors: that the CICIG, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Human Rights Attorney Office open investigations into these allegations; that the National Security System limit the executive branch’s powers to exploit public resources for illicit activities; and that Guatemalan society as a whole maintain its commitment to fighting impunity and corruption.

Below you can find the full statement from the Human Rights Convergence in Spanish.

The Human Rights Convergence is a coalition of organizations that was formed to support the agenda of human rights in Guatemala, in general, and in particular, to develop actions oriented towards the fight against impunity.


PDF Version: Pronunciamiento de la Convergencia de los Derechos Humanos

DESARTICULAR CIACS QUE ATENTAN CONTRA MOVIMIENTO SOCIAL 

ANTE LA OLEADA DE AGRESIONES Y AMENAZAS CONTRA EL MOVIMIENTO QUE RECLAMA LA DEPURACIÓN DEL ESTADO, LA CONVERGENCIA POR LOS DERECHOS HUMANOS, EXPONE: Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: June 15-19

AFP Photo/Johan Ordonez

AFP Photo/Johan Ordonez

Guatemalan court brakes effort to strip president’s immunity

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has ruled to act on a petition from President Pérez Molina which questions the legitimacy of the congressional panel that is currently investigating allegations against the president and, subsequently, choosing whether or not to remove his immunity from prosecution.

Last Friday, a Congressional hearing was held to elect the five-member commission; those voted into the commission were Baudilio Hichos López, Hugo Fernando García Gudiel and Juan Armando Chuy Chanchavac of the LIDER Party, Independent Congressman Mario Santiago Linares, and Hugo Morán Tobar of the CREO Party.

President Pérez Molina had been ordered to appear before Congress this Thursday to be questioned about his role in the corruption scandal. Instead of appearing to testify, the president sent in a written defense in which he claims that the Supreme Court should not have passed along his case to Congress. The President referred to the decision to remove his immunity as a “purely political, or spurious, or illegitimate situation.”

Also on Thursday, the head of the congressional commission investigating the president, Baudilio Hichos López, resigned after the CICIG linked him to the country’s social security scandal. Congressman Baudilio Hichos may now be stripped of the same legal immunity granted to him as an elected official that he seeks to remove from President Pérez Molina. The head of the CICIG as well as a top prosecutor in Guatemala suspect that Hichos was involved in a questionable real estate rental contract involving the social security agency. Read more about Baudilio Hichos’s resignation here.

Mexico Deporting Migrants from Central America in Record Numbers

After initiating its Southern Border Plan, under pressure from the US, Mexico has increased border protection along its southern boundary. According to the National Immigration Institute, Mexico deported 79% more Central Americans from January to April than it did during the same time period in 2014. Following the influx of nearly 50,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America into the US during 2014, the United States has increased bilateral efforts with Mexico to reduce the migration of Central Americans through Mexico. Human rights groups, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, have expressed concerns about Mexico’s heavy-handed approach to curtail the wave of migration. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update July 7-11

International PBI accompaniers allowed to stay in Guatemala

Two Peace Brigades International volunteers were told on July 1 that their temporary residence permits were revoked for allegedly  “disturbing the public order.” Both volunteers were observers at the police eviction of the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya in May. However, on July 11 the Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla annulled the revocation order.

Migration discourse continues

Senator John McCain said he will seek to reduce the $80 million in annual aid to Guatemala from the US if Guatemala does not significantly reduce the number of children crossing the border. On a similar note, Jeh Johnson, Secretary of Homeland Security, stated that the US government’s priority is to return irregular migrant minors to their home countries. He stated that minors will be cared for while in the US but will not have the option of receiving humanitarian relief to stay in the US. Continue reading

Commemorating the Genocide Sentence; Guatemala’s New Attorney General

Today, on the one-year anniversary of the genocide sentence, we reaffirm our solidarity with the thousands of Ixil victims and survivors who have witnessed so much suffering, and with those who continue fighting for justice and dignity.

On May 10, 2013, Guatemalan courts handed down an 80-year sentence against former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and war crimes against the Maya Ixil people — a sentence that was a historic step for Guatemala, and for the global community working for justice.

The verdict not only represented justice for the 1,771 Ixil men, women and children assassinated between March 1982 and August 1983, but also for their surviving family members and the thousands of victims from across the country of the internal armed conflict. It signified, too, the possibility of justice for victims who had buried their traumas in silence for more than 30 years, and endured the indifference of a society that has gone so far as to deny that the events even occurred.

A Mayan ceremony performed outside the court asking for justice; General Rios Montt hours before a verdict was handed down Continue reading

Claudia Paz y Paz excluded from shortlist of candidates for attorney general

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GHRC laments  the decision earlier this week by the Nominating Commission to exclude Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz from the list of candidates sent to President Pérez Molina for attorney general.

Dr. Paz y Paz — the current Attorney General — received only 4 votes out of 13, despite the fact that she received the second highest score during the review process and is widely recognized for her professionalism and successful efforts to decrease impunity over the last three years in Guatemala.

The roster of the six finalists raises grave concerns about the independence of the institution in the future. Three of the six candidates selected have been the subject of serious objections raised by the CICIG; the other three have also been the subject of allegations from other groups. Continue reading