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.

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

Ríos Montt Goes to Trial for Genocide

(español abajo)

Statement from the AJR and CALDH, on the Jan. 28 decision to take Generals Ríos Montt and Rogríguez Sánchez to trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.


Today Guatemalan society is witness to a 6, cprhistoric event. For the first time in our country, a judge has ordered the opening of a trial for the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ordered the opening of the public oral debate that allows the court to hear the respective evidence in this groundbreaking case. This step toward justice is of utmost importance for thousands of survivors of genocide in Guatemala.

The Judge of the High Risk Crimes Court has decided to take this step almost one year after indicting General Efraín Ríos Montt, more than one year since indicting José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, and after 75 legal challenges (incidents, injunctions, objections, appeals, etc.) to this case.

We value the actions taken by the Judge of the High Risk Crimes Court B and we hope that if the ex-generals’ defense appeals to higher courts, that these courts act in accordance with the law and take prior rulings into account.

Today’s ruling sends a message of hope for justice to those who still suffer the consequences of the internal armed conflict. It also sends a message to the material and intellectual authors of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during this time period: that genocide, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearance, sexual violence and massacres, among other violations, will not remain in impunity.

This event represents the path walked by thousands of victims of genocide. It allows the path of memory, truth, and justice to continue, which offers a solid foundation for the construction of a more just country. We are hopeful that this case will proceed according to established laws and that soon we will have a ruling against those who ordered genocide in Guatemala.

For the right to a just country!
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH
Guatemala, January 28, 2013

*English translation by NISGUA and GHRC. Photo: CPR-Urbana

Comunicado de AJR y CALDH, sobre la decisión del 28 de enero de abrir un juicio contra los generales Ríos Montt y Rogríguez Sánchez por los delitos de genocidio y delitos contra la humanidad.


La sociedad guatemalteca hoy es testiga de un hecho histórico, por primera vez en nuestro país se dicta apertura a juicio por los delitos de genocidio y delitos contra deberes de humanidad. El juez Miguel Ángel Gálvez ordenó la apertura de un debate oral y público que permita dar a conocer a un Tribunal las pruebas respectivas en este trascendental caso. Este paso hacia la justicia es de suma importancia para las miles de personas sobrevivientes del genocidio en Guatemala.

A casi un año de haber sido ligado a proceso el general Efraín Ríos Montt y más de un año del general José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, y después de que el caso haya sido entrampado por 75 recursos (incidentes, amparos, recusaciones, apelaciones, etc.) el Juez de Mayor Riesgo decide dar este paso.

Valoramos positivamente lo actuado por el Juzgado de Mayor Riesgo B y esperamos que si la defensa del militar apela a otras instancias, éstas actúen apegado a derecho y tomando en cuenta lo ya resuelto.

La resolución presentada hoy encía un mensaje de esperanza en la justicia a quienes aún padecen las consecuencias del conflicto armado interno. También a los autores materiales e intelectuales de los graves delitos de lesa humanidad y genocidio que se cometieron en ese período, ya que no pueden quedar en la impunidad el genocidio, las ejecuciones extrajudiciales, la desaparición forzada, la violencia sexual, tortura y las masacres, entre otras violaciones.

Este hecho representa el caminar de miles de víctimas del genocidio. Posibilita continuar el camino de memoria, verdad y justicia, que ofrece bases sólidas para la construcción de un país más justo. Esperamos que el caso continúe tramitándose conforme lo establece la ley y pronto podamos tener el juicio contra quienes ordenaron el genocidio en Guatemala.

¡Por el Derecho a un País Justo!
Asociación para la Justicia y Reconciliación – AJR
Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos – CALDH
Guatemala, 28 de enero 2013

Weekly News Roundup

July 20-August 2

  • Constitutional Court to hear case on constitutionality of mining lawOn Monday July 23rd, the court heard a case challenging the 1997 mining law for the failure to consult with communities. The lawsuit was filed by the Western Peoples Council (CPO) and will allow the Constitutional Court to have 20 days to rule after the hearing. The CPO plans to bring the case to the Inter American Court on Human Rights if the court does not rule in its favor.
  • Eight thousand community members march to oppose miningResidents of Jalapa, Jutiapa, and Santa Rosa protested on Friday, July 27th, in San Rafael Las Flores. In addition to opposing the San Rafael mine itself, the community members were protesting the absence of a visit by a high-level commission to the area, which was supposed to attend meetings on mining exploration. In response to the march, the municipal center was closed and 200 police agents were sent.
  • Indigenous communities and campesinos reject constitutional reformsThe Assembly of the National Indigenous, Campesino and Popular March (Amarc) expressed their rejection of the group of constitutional reforms presented by the executive branch to Congress. They stated that the reforms not only do not express the sentiment of the people of Guatemala, but that they disregard the sentiment and needs of campesino and indigenous communities.
  • Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Prize winner, calls for an analysis of the impact of development on indigenous populationsMenchu proposed an analysis of the impact development and development projects have had on indigenous populations around the world. Menchu called upon the international community to study the effects of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its fulfillment by the governments of the world. She also stated that indigenous communities should be taken into account when studying legislation and projects that might affect them.
  • MSICG denounces attacks on union leadersThe Campesino and Indigenous Union Movement of Guatemala (MSICG) denounced attacks on union leaders and requested that the Inter American Commission on Human Rights grant precautionary measures. The representatives stated that for years the rights of the people have not been respected in Guatemala and that the justice system has failed to protect union leaders.
  • Repression continues in Santa Cruz BarillasThe Court of First Instance in Santa Eulalia reported on July 25th that arrest warrants exist for another 33 people in Santa Cruz Barillas, following the 12 arrests made during the State of Siege in May. The charges include kidnapping, threats, and delinquency; the accused, who are activists and leaders within the community, deny that they have any connection to the crimes. Centro de Medios Independientes also interviewed Sergio Vives, a lawyer for the activists captured in May, about the recent events.
  • Public Prosecutor’s office to appeal Byron Lima decisionThe Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) will appeal the July 13th decision that granted release from prison to retired colonel Byron Lima, who was convicted of the assassination of Bishop Juan José Gerardi in 1998. The MP’s decision is based on the six years that the ex-colonel spent in the military hospital, during which time it was not possible to verify his conduct. Additionally, Prosecutor Jorge Garcia stated that in a previous attempt to seek early release, the authenticity of the documents submitted on behalf of Lima was in question.
  • Inter American Commission takes Guatemala to court. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights announced that it was remitting a case to the Inter-American Court for Guatemala’s lack of investigation into the murder of Florentin Gudiel Ramos, a human rights activist killed in 2004. The case remains in impunity and his family members had to leave their homes as the government could not guarantee their safety after testifying before the authorities.
  • Prosecutor’s Office requests additional charges against Garcia Arredondo The Prosecutor’s Office has requested the judge of the case against former director of the National Police to add the charge of attempt of murder to Garcia Arredondo. Arredondo faces charges of forced disappearance for the case of two students from the University of San Carlos who were kidnapped and murdered when they were coming back from the funeral for 37 Spanish citizens who died during the fire in the Spanish embassy in 1980. Garcia Arredondo is also being investigated for that case, as he is accused of preventing firemen from rescuing personnel from the embassy.

GHRC Denounces Closure of Peace Archives Directorate in Guatemala // GHRC denuncia clausura de la Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz

[en espanol abajo]

The Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA expresses extreme concern at the Guatemalan Government’s announcement that it is closing down the Peace Archives Directorate of the Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ) and dissolving its investigative team, effectively canceling their projects to publish historical reports and denying future contributions to criminal investigations.

The work of the Peace Archives Directorate (Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz, DAP) has been integral to ongoing efforts to institutionalize the peace process and promote transitional justice, and has contributed greatly to the public’s access to truth and historic memory.

The Directorate’s investigative researchers and their reports have provided key evidence for human rights prosecutions, such as the military chain of command at times when the army committed massacres, torture and forced disappearances. Recently, Archive staff were called upon to provide expert testimony in emblematic cases such as the Genocide Case brought against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.

Created in 2008, the Directorate´s mandate is to “receive, analyze, classify, compile and digitalize military archives in order to establish human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict”, recognizing explicitly that “the clarification of historic truth has been part of the Guatemalan peace process given that it contributes to the dignification of victims” of the conflict. In 2009, the mandate was expanded to include documents from other Government offices that could help establish human rights violations.

In only four years, the office has digitalized more than two million documents and published nine books that analyze themes such as the Presidential General Staff (Estado Mayor Presidencial, or EMP), illegal adoptions, the Military Diary (el Diario Militar), and the labor rights movement.

Nevertheless, the Secretary of Peace, Antonio Arenales Forno, announced on May 31 that the investigation and analysis provided by the archive is not reason to maintain the entity, saying: “Today the decision was made to eliminate the Directorate, canceling contracts for which I find no justification and the functioning of an office I find makes no sense.” The focus of the Peace Archives, he maintained, should be on providing information for the National Reparations Program, not on investigating the military, an erroneous justification given that the dignification of victims through the clarification of the truth is considered an important element of reparations.

Since January, when retired General Pérez Molina assumed the presidency, 23 staff members of the Directorate have been dismissed, including the former director Marco Tulio Alvarez. In April, five technical archival experts were let go, and on May 28, 17 investigators and other experts were notified that their contracts had been prematurely terminated. Members of the SEPAZ union, SITRASEPAZ, have denounced the firings as illegal under existing procedural guidelines.

The closure will also terminate an existing agreement of cooperation between the Peace Archives and the Public Prosecutor’s Office and will impede the Archive’s contribution to criminal investigations into human rights violations. Furthermore, the comments of Arenales Forno demonstrate not only a lack of respect for victims of the internal armed conflict, but a genuine threat to their right to truth and justice.

By dismantling the entity designed to oversee and manage the entirety of documents pertaining to human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict, Secretary Arenales Forno and President Pérez Molina will extinguish an invaluable contribution to the preservation of historic memory and to the State´s obligations under the Peace Accords, at the same time obstructing efforts to investigate the military for egregious human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission calls on the Guatemalan government to:

  • Strengthen, not weaken, the Peace Archives Directorate and respect its important role in promoting transitional justice;
  • Reestablish formal collaboration and inter-governmental agreements that were terminated between the Directorate and the Public Prosecutor’s Office;
  • Reinstate any worker whose contract has been illegally terminated;
  • Explain the fate of the digital archives maintained by the Directorate and the public reading room;
  • Clarify and make transparent the plans to restructure SEPAZ, the National Reparations Program (PNR) and the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH).

Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
Washington, DC
June 4, 2012

La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Estados Unidos (GHRC) expresa su profunda preocupación por el anuncio del Gobierno de Guatemala de clausurar la Dirección del los Archivos de la Paz de la Secretaria de la Paz (SEPAZ) y desarticular su equipo de investigación, efectivamente anulando sus proyectos de publicaciones de informes históricos y de la memoria histórica y negando futuras contribuciones a investigaciones criminales.

El trabajo de la Dirección del los Archivos de la Paz (DAP) ha sido integral en los continuos esfuerzos para institucionalizar el proceso de paz y justicia transicional y ha aportado grandes contribuciones al acceso público a la verdad y la memoria histórica.

Los investigadores de la DAP y sus publicaciones han brindado evidencia clave en juicios de derechos humanos, así como sobre la cadena de mando del Ejército en tiempos en los que cometió masacres, tortura y desapariciones forzadas. Recientemente, personal de la DAP fue citado a dar testimonio como perito en casos emblemáticos como el caso de genocidio contra el ex dictador Efraín Ríos Montt.

Creada en 2008, la DAP tiene el mandato de “recibir, analizar, clasificar, compilar y digitalizar archivos militares con el fin de establecer violaciones a los derechos humanos cometidas durante el conflicto armado interno”, reconociendo explícitamente que “el esclarecimiento de la verdad histórica ha sido parte del proceso de paz guatemalteco y que contribuye a la dignificación de las víctimas” del conflicto. En 2009, el mandato fue ampliado para incluir documentos de otras instituciones del Estado que pudieran tener información sobre violaciones a los derechos humanos.

Tan solo durante cuatro años, la oficina ha digitalizado más de dos millones de documentos y ha publicado nueve libros que analizan temas como el Estado Mayor Presidencial, adopciones ilegales, el Diario Militar y el movimiento sindical.

Sin embargo, el Secretario de la Paz, Antonio Arenales Forno, anunció el 31 de mayo que la investigación y análisis que se lleva a cabo en la DAP no es suficiente motivo para mantener la entidad con vida, diciendo que: “Hoy por hoy se tomó la decisión de eliminar la Dirección, cancelando contratos por los que no encuentro justificación y la función de una dirección a la que no le encuentro sentido”. El enfoque de la DAP, insistió Arenales Forno, debe ser en proveer información para el Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento, no en investigar el ejército, una justificación errónea ya que la dignificación de las victimas a través del esclarecimiento de la verdad es considerada una forma importante de resarcimiento.

Desde enero, cuando asumió la presidencia el general retirado Otto Pérez Molina, 23 empleados de la DAP han sido despedidos, incluyendo el entonces Director, Marco Tulio Alvarez. En abril, cinco técnicos archivistas fueron destituidos y el 28 de mayo, 17 investigadores y otros expertos fueron notificados que se había rescindido sus contratos antes de tiempo. Miembros del sindicato de SEPAZ, SITRASEPAZ, han denunciado los despidos como ilegales según los procedimientos legales correspondientes.

La clausura también termina con un convenio de cooperación vigente entre la DAP y el Ministerio Público e impedirá que el Archivo aporte información para procesos penales por violaciones a derechos humanos. Además, los comentarios de Arenales Forno demuestran no sólo una falta de respeto para las víctimas del conflicto armado interno, sino también una amenaza real a su derecho de conocer la verdad y se haga justicia.

Al desmantelar la entidad diseñada para supervisar y administrar la totalidad de los documentos relacionados con las violaciones de derechos humanos cometidas durante el conflicto armado interno, Secretario Arenales Forno y el Presidente Pérez Molina extinguirán una contribución invalorable a la preservación de la memoria histórica y al cumplimiento de los Acuerdos de Paz, a la vez que obstaculizan los esfuerzos para investigar al ejército por las violaciones atroces de derechos humanos y crímenes de lesa humanidad.

La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala insta al Gobierno de Guatemala a:

  • Fortalecer, en vez de debilitar, la Dirección de los Archivos de la Paz y respetar su papel importante en impulsar un proceso de justicia transicional;
  • Restablecer la colaboración formal y los compromisos inter-gubernativos rescindidos entre la DAP y el Ministerio Público;
  • Reincorporar cualquier trabajador cuyo contrato fue rescindido de forma ilegal;
  • Explicar el destino de los archivos digitales administrados por la DAP y el del salón de lectura;
  • Clarificar y transparentar los planes para reestructurar la SEPAZ, el Programa Nacional de Resarcimiento (PNR) y la Comisión Presidencial Coordinadora de la Política del Ejecutivo en materia de Derechos Humanos (COPREDEH).

Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Estados Unidos
Washington, DC
4 de junio de 2012