Guatemala News Update: March 26-April 1

Genocide Case: Expert Forensic Anthropologist confirms horrors committed

On the 4th day of the closed-door debates against Jose Efraín Ríos Montt and Jose Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez,  they listened to the testimonies of  forensic anthropologists who carried out the exhumations in the Ixil area and confirmed the horrible crimes the army committed there against the unarmed civilian population.

Ríos Montt is represented by a third party in the closed-door special proceedings; the Court does not have the power to impose a prison sentence due to Rios Montt’s physical health.

In a recent public statement, GHRC and partner organizations expressed concern about the case and called for the trial against Rodríguez Sánchez to be public.

Judge Gálvez declassifies 8 military plans from the armed conflict

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez declassified eight plans from the military campaign which were used as strategies during the internal armed conflict between 1983 and 1990. These can now be used in in-progress investigations related to the Military Diary and cases of extra-judicial executions, forced disappearances, and massacres.  Copies of these documents have been given to plaintiff groups including, FAMDEGUA and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation.

CERIGUA: Poverty is worsening in the country

Currently 79.2% of the population in Guatemala is living in poverty, while 46.6% are below the extreme poverty line. This situation principally affects indigenous and rural communities, and, according to CERIGUA, the State has not adequately addressed this issue and in fact there has even been regression on progress on these issues since the start of Morales’ presidency.

Ex-President Otto Pérez Molina’s Hearing Suspended

Judge Miguel Angel Gálvez has suspended the scheduled hearing of the former president due to an appeal from the Attorney General’s Office, and it was not clear when the trial would resume. Both the former president and former vice-president, Roxana Baldetti resigned last year after a corruption scandal involving both came to light. Former Vice-President Baldetti arrived late to the proceedings due to health problems according to her lawyers, and the judge ordered she undergo medical examinations.

Following the March 28th court appearance, former President Pérez Molina was quoted as stating “I am innocent, and everyone must respect that.” He has also blamed the U.S. Embassy for interfering in the internal affairs of Guatemala through the CICIG.

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International organizations applaud the initiation of the Sepur Zarco trial

[Abajo en español]

International organizations applaud the initiation of the first trial for sexual slavery and violence during the armed conflict in Guatemala: the Sepur Zarco Case

Guatemala, Washington D.C. and San José, February 1, 2016.- Today the trial begins in the “Sepur Zarco” case of acts of sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery committed from 1982 to 1986 by members of the Guatemalan army against Maya Q’eqchi’ women and the forced disappearance of several men. The accused in the case are former soldier Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig.

This will be the first time in the world that a national court has tried a case of wartime sexual slavery case – other cases have been heard in international criminal tribunals – and the first time in Guatemala that crimes of sexual violence have been tried as international crimes. “The Guatemalan judicial system has been a pioneer in investigating complex crimes, demonstrating to other countries that confront similar challenges that it can be done,” stated Leonor Arteaga, a program officer with the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF). Continue reading

Commemorating the 2015 Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict

(Leer en español abajo)

Today, GHRC joins Guatemalans as they commemorate the Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict.

It was on this day, in 1999, that the UN Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) released it’s report, Guatemala: Memory of Silence. The report’s extensive documentation and interviews with survivors helped Guatemala – and the world – understand the magnitude of the violence, including the widespread use of torture, sexual violence, forced disappearances, systematic human rights violations against the civilian population, and acts of genocide carried out by the State against Mayan peoples in four separate regions.

Today we also salute women survivors, who, in ever greater numbers, have chosen to break the silence about the violence they suffered. Continue reading

Guatemalan Congress Seeks Impunity for Genocide

This week 87 members of the Guatemalan Congress passed a resolution denying the existence of genocide during the country’s internal armed conflict. The statement is not legally binding, but is the latest attempt to delegitimize the genocide case and create a de facto amnesty; it also raises concerns that the Congress may be looking to legislate new amnesty provisions.

The resolution was proposed by Congressman Luis Fernando Pérez of the PRI (formerly FRG), the party founded by General Efraín Ríos Montt, who was tried last year on charges of genocide. The statement describes national discussion surrounding genocide as polarizing, as well as an impediment to reconciliation. The resolution also states, “We are committed to study the legislation issued within the framework of the peace agreements.” Continue reading

March 2014 Inter-American Commission Hearings on Human Rights in Guatemala

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. [1]

Photo courtesy of Daniel Cima of the IACHR

The panel of petitioners at the first hearing on appointing justice operators in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Daniel Cima, IACHR

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

15 Years After Presentation of Historical Clarification Commission Report: A Message of Solidarity

DiadeVictimas-fotoFifteen years after the presentation of the UN Historical Clarification Commission report on Guatemala’s internal armed conflict — a day that has become known as the National Day of Dignity of the Victims — we express our solidarity with and respect for all the victims and survivors of the conflict. We also recognize the organizations and institutions that have accompanied them, and all those who have contributed in one way or another to processes seeking truth, historic memory, justice and just reparations.

On February 25, 1999, the UN Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) presented its report “Guatemala: Memory of Silence” in Guatemala City. Those present included then president Álvaro Arzú, the military high command, representatives of the URNG and a multitude from civil society.

In 12 volumes, the CEH reported the results of its investigation into the horrors suffered by the population during 36 years of internal armed conflict. From the data collected, it was possible to estimate the impact of the violence: 200,000 dead, 45,000 forced disappearances, and the displacement of one million people. The report found that 83% of the victims were Mayan indigenous and that at least 93% of the atrocities during this period were committed by State forces or paramilitary groups linked to the State. Continue reading

Weekly News Round Up Feb. 23-Mar.5

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.

Continue reading