GHRC Partners Testify at Inter-American Commission Hearings

Last week, GHRC supported organizations participating in two Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearings.

Commission members take notes as petitioners present case on human rights in Guatemala

Commission members take notes as petitioners present their case on human rights and social protest in Guatemala

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.”

Top: Panel of petitioners; Bottom left: Marlen Car; Bottom right: State representatives

Top: Panel of petitioners; Bottom left: Marlen Car; Bottom right: State representatives

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News Update: August 31- September 6

Indigenous group brings complaint against Mining Law to IACHR

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.

CICIG has new leader

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.

Polochic families demand integral support

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.

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News Update: August 20-30

Two boys killed in Monte Olivo

13 year old Ageo Isaac Garcia died on Tuesday after being moved to Guatemala City in critical condition. His brother, David Estudardo Pacay Maaz, died on Monday after struggling to survive for more than 72 hours. The shooting of the two boys is allegedly related to an attempt to kidnap David Chen from the community of Monte Olivo. An alleged employee of the Santa Rita Company, which wants to build a hydroelectric dam in the Dolores River, asked the children about Chen’s whereabouts. Since the children refused to tell him anything, the employee allegedly shot them.

IACHR Special Rapporteur visits Polochic

Dinah Shelton, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for the Inter American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) visited two of the communities evicted two years ago in the Polochic Valley. Accompanying her was Kelsey Alford-Jones of GHRC who assured that her organization would monitor the handover of land to 158 families, which the Guatemalan Government has promised would be carried out on September 14th. Shelton also interviewed communities in Totonicapán, Huehuetenango and San Marcos. The IACHR will be publishing a report covering indigenous peoples in Guatemala and their struggle for land, natural resources, and consultation.

Case against Canadian mining company will move forward to trial

A surprise came in the Choc v. Hudbay Minerals Inc. case when the mining company opted not to appeal the Ontario Superior Court’s decision to try the case in Canada. The plaintiffs are suing over an alleged gang rape, a shooting and the killing of a community leader from El Estor. The next stage in the case will be the discovery process.

New developments arise in Barillas case

On August 27, eight community leaders of Santa Cruz Barillas went to the Tribunals Tower in an effort to close the case against them which had resulted in their eight months of illegal detention. During this visit, Rogelio Velásquez and Saúl Méndez were again detained on an arrest warrant regarding a murder from 2011. The trial for the assassination of community leader Andrés Pedro Miguel on May 1, 2012 is also coming to a close as both sides have presented witnesses this week.

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News Update: July 25-August 19

Journalist shot in Guatemala

Journalist Fredy Rodas, who works for Sonora Es La Noticia radio and is a collaborator with several other media outlets, was shot at least three times as he was going home in the city of Mazatenango. He had previously received a threat on the telephone.

The man accused of the attack against Rodas has now been captured by Guatemalan Security forces.  The man they captured is Marvin Cruz Ordonez, who is 19 years old.

Because of the attack, members of the Guatemalan Journalist Association complained about the situation of insecurity and violence toward journalists.  The representatives of the Association requested that President Otto Perez Molina give an interview to present the cases of journalists that have been killed and attacked.  UNESCO also expresses its concerns for journalists in Guatemala.

Udefegua reported reported that between January 1st and August 15th of this year, there have been 19 registered cases of attacks against journalists, which is a total of 6 more cases than those registered in all of 2012. Continue reading

GHRC visits Qanjobal community in Omaha, NE

On August 9th and 10th, I traveled to Omaha, NE, and had the honor to get to know the Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim (CMPI). Juana Marcos, Executive Director of CMPI, was a recipient this year of GHRC’s Voiceless Speak Fund. She and her husband, Luis Marcos had invited me to participate in the first annual Omaha Celebration of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

The celebration included religious and spiritual observance, cultural activities, and a conference on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

As I waited for the activities to begin on Friday evening, I chatted with Ricardo Ariza of the Creighton University Multicultural Center and watched several dozen teenagers file shyly into the room. They were joined by members of the local Qanjobal community.

Nebraskan Youth experience Mayan Ceremony

Qanjobal is one of the 22 Mayan linguistic groups in Guatemala, which is concentrated in the north western department of Huehuetenango. I was surprised to find such vibrant Qanjobal culture in Omaha of all places, and delighted every time I heard children switching seamlessly between speaking English, Spanish and Qanjobal.

Brothers Juanatano and Daniel Caño display elements of Mayan Ceremony

Brothers Juanatano and Daniel Caño display elements of Mayan Ceremony

Mayan spiritual guides had been invited from Guatemala to perform a ceremony and explain its significance. Professor Daniel Caño, who teaches at Rafael Landivar University in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, laid out some of the elements used in the ceremony to shared with us why they are used.

Overall, he said, the ceremony is a way to thank the earth for what we receive from her. So, many of the elements are used because they are pleasing such as sugar, flowers, cigars, and an incense made out of pine sap. Candles of six colors are also burnt, each representing a different element. The six directions are also an essential part of the ceremony—north, south, east, west, up and down.

Dr. Rudi Mitchell explains the Omaha people's Cedar Ceremony

Dr. Rudi Mitchell explains the Omaha people’s Cedar Ceremony

As the four spiritual leaders prepared the elements for the ceremony, Dr. Rudi Mitchell,elder in the Omaha tribe, performed a cedar ceremony, and told us about its significance for many tribes around North America.  Then, as day fell, the Mayan ceremony began. 

Mayan spiritual leaders, Professor Caño explained, are also called day counters in Qanjobal, as they are keepers of the Mayan calendar. Over the next two ours, while the candles and other materials burned, the four leaders listed the 260 days of the lunar calendar.  

Mayan Spritual Leaders prepare materials for the Ceremony

Mayan Spritual Leaders prepare materials for the Ceremony

The next morning, the conference began. Keynote speaker, Bishop Ramazzini discussed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIPS), as well as other pieces of international law such as the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169. As he pointed out, ILO 169, which Guatemala has signed, is the most binding and complete legal mechanism for upholding indigenous rights.

Both ILO 169 and DRIPS uphold indigenous people’s right to control the lands they the traditionally occupied as well as the natural resources contained in those lands. This right is routinely violated in Guatemala as indigenous communities are evicted or minerals or oil are taken from beneath them without their permission.

Bishop Ramazzini

Bishop Ramazzini

Bishop Ramazzini also discussed how the right to equal treatment is not upheld for indigenous communities in Guatemala, especially when it comes to basic services. He pointed out that in Huehuetenango, which has one million inhabitants, there is only one public hospital, and it doesn’t have the technology to provide basic services like ultrasounds.

Bishop Ramazzini lamented that when he and others in the Catholic Church speak out against this rampant racism, they are accused of being terrorists. His prescription for change was to place more indigenous Guatemalans in positions of power to gain more political clout and push for greater respect for indigenous rights.

I also had a chance to speak about UN-DRIPS and the way that GHRC’s work supports the rights enumerated in the declaration. Obviously, our work around access to land and natural resources reflects the rights I outlined above. However, our work against militarization is also backed by the declaration, as it calls for the demilitarization of indigenous lands. I also had the opportunity to describe the strategies that GHRC uses to carry out our work to support human rights and invite the audience to join us.

KeJ on Panel

On the panel with me were representatives of the Omaha tribe who outlined the concerns faced by indigenous peoples in the United States, including poverty, contamination of their water supplies and dislocation. Strikingly, they could have been describing the situation faced by Mayans in Guatemala.

The second day of the celebration closed with an evening of cultural activities including marimba music and dance. Touchingly, a group of young men and women performed a dance they had choreographed themselves to honor the four cardinal directions. Luis confided to me later, that these same youth not long ago had been ashamed of their identity as Maya because of the discrimination they faced. It was heartwarming to see them now, celebrating their culture and sharing with their community.

Written by Kathryn Johnson

News Update: July 2-July 10

Lawyers in Genocide Trial ask the Constitutional Court to make a decision and allow case to move forward

Both the prosecution and the defense asked the Constitutional Court to make a decision regarding the defense’s appeal about the decision issued by the Appeals Court on May 6th.  to reinstate Defense Attorney Francisco García Gudiel.

Hunger in the Polochic Valley

Representatives from the 14 indigenous communities that had been evicted from their homes in March of 2011 reported that among the  community members, 6 out of 10 children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, and two out of every 100 adults suffers from acute malnutrition.  Additionally, more than half of the population does not have access to health services. This data was gathered by the Ixim Rural Studies Collective, which also reported economic and social rights violations. President Otto Pérez Molina made a commitment that the 800 families that were displaced would receive land. He claimed that the first group of 300 families will receive their land by September 15th. Continue reading

Weekly News Round-Up, Mar. 26 – Apr. 1

Indigenous leaders publicly denounced Guatemalan government
Ixil, Q’anjob’al, Chuj, Akateko, K’iche’, Mam, Kaqchikel, Q’eqchi’, Ch’orti’, Poqomchi’, Achi’, Xinka and Mestizo leaders presented further proof that the Guatemalan government is racist and disregards lives of indigenous communities. Specifically, they denounced mining laws as unconstitutional and demanded changes.

Update on Ríos Montt Trial
At this point, about half of the 122 witnesses have testified. Prosecutor Orlando López has said that the over 900 pieces of evidence, including testimonies of genocide survivors, are enough to prove Ríos Montt and Rodriguez were intellectual authors of the slaughters of the Ixil population. On April 1, 2013, the court heard testimonies from 12 more witnesses who described the massacres, inhumane conditions and, in one instance, torture suffered during the time of Montt’s 1982-83 rule. Attorneys for the prosecution also arranged for forthcoming testimony from survivors of sexual assault.

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GHRC Condemns Attack against Xinca Leaders in Santa Maria Xalapán

Español abajo

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) condemns the killing of Exaltación Marcos, who along with Roberto González, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López, was kidnapped yesterday evening, March 17, by a group of heavily armed men.

The four leaders were abducted while returning home from a good-faith consultation in the El Volcancito community, San Rafael Las Flores, Guatemala.

Hours after the abduction, Rigoberto Aguilar and Roberto López managed to escape and reach their community.  They had both been badly beaten. Today, Exaltación Marcos was found dead, with his body displaying signs of physical violence. The Santa María Xalapán community now fears for the life of Roberto González, President of the Xinca Parliament, who is still missing.

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