Guatemala News Update: March 1-25

Assassinations of Human Rights Defenders

Environmental Activist Killed
A prominent environmental activist, Walter Méndez Barrios, was shot and killed March 16th in Guatemala. He had fought against deforestation and hydroelectric projects within Central America, was part of the Petenero Front against Dams – an organization opposing hydroelectric projects in the Usumacinta River- and led the Association of Forest Communities in Petén. His association released a statement saying that Méndez had been receiving death threats for his work.

The assassination came not long after two environmental activists were killed in Honduras – including world-renowned activist Berta Cáceres – leading to increased criticism of US and Central American plans to build more hydroelectric dams without consultation and to the detriment of local communities.

Radio Station Director Killed
On March 17th, Mario Roberto Salazar Barahona, the director of EstéreoAzúcar in the department of Jutiapa was killed. According to CERIGUA, Salazar had been inside his car after returning from meetings at another radio station when he was shot. Police believe hit men had been following him, yet the motive for the murder is still unknown. Salazar had worked in the field of journalism for over a decade. UNESCO and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have both condemned the attack. They stated, “we reaffirm the absolute need to develop a comprehensive public policy for protection of defenders of human rights, including journalists to enable them to carry out their work in an environment where their security and integrity are guaranteed.”

Transitional Justice Continue reading

News Update: September 21-27

Ex-police chief sentenced to 40 years

Hector Bol de la Cruz, chief of police from 1983-85, was convicted in the 1984 kidnapping and disappearance of student union leader Fernando Garcia. The court also sentenced former senior police officer Jorge Gomez to 40 years for his role in the kidnapping.

Former Kabil Standing Trial in U.S. for Lying on Citizenship Application

Federal prosecutors are accusing Jorge Sosa, a former Kabile, of lying on his citizenship application by concealing his involvement in the 1982 Dos Erres massacre that left over 200 people dead. Sosa, who is married to an American, was originally denied asylum in 1985. If convicted, Sosa could be stripped of his United States citizenship and face 15 years in prison. Guatemalan authorities will seek his extradition to charge him with crimes against humanity as well.

Guatemala to Rent Drones for Video Surveillance

The Interior Ministry announced that in 2014 it will rent a fleet of drones, for video surveillance. The Ministry stated that the drones would be used in military and security capacities. They will permit the government to, among other things, monitor drug trafficking along the country’s borders, criminals and criminal activities, and protests.

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News Update: May 3-22

Genocide Trial Update:  

Ríos Montt Genocide Ruling Overturned

On the evening of May 20th, the historic May 10th ruling that convicted former General Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide was overturned.  The Constitutional Court met to rule on a constitutional challenged raised by Ríos Montt’s defense attorneys at the very end of the trial. The 3-2 ruling in favor of the challenge sets the case back to April 19th, at which point all testimonies had been heard. However, while the annulment does not include the testimonies, it remains unclear whether the trial will be reconvened or repeated altogether.

Overturned Ruling Was Laden With Opposition

Challenges to the conviction do not come as a surprise. Since the trial’s conclusion, business and hard-line military supporters have issued numerous statements calling for its annulment. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, and Industrial Finance (CACIF) stated in a press release that the trial was illegal, that “justice had been prey to ideological conflict,” and the conviction of genocide was “an opinion of the court that we did not share.” Ríos Montt supporters have organized demonstrations protesting his conviction. Moreover, presidential spokesman Francisco Cuevas criticized the international community for “driving the polarization” of Guatemalans following the trial. He also claimed that foreign interference from NGOs in the trial court proceedings ultimately influenced the landmark genocide verdict.

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Organizaciones saludan avance en Caso Genocidio

En un pronunciamiento público del 16 de abril, decenas de organizaciones y juristas respaldaron el proceso judicial contra Ríos Montt y Rodríguez Sánchez.

La carta recuerda que “han transcurrido cuatro semanas desde que inició el histórico juicio en contra de los generales en retiro José Efraín Ríos Montt y José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez por su participación en la comisión de los delitos de genocidio y delitos contra los deberes de humanidad en perjuicio de la población maya ixil”.

Expresa que “los imputados Ríos Montt y Rodríguez Sánchez no se encuentran en ninguna situación de desigualdad jurídica que limite el ejercicio de sus derechos” y expresaron su preocupación por el uso abusivo de la figura del amparo.

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Weekly News Round-Up, March 18-25

Day 1 of Genocide Trial
On March 19, 2013, the historic trial opened against Rios Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez. After almost two hours of delays by the Defense, the trial began. The public prosecutor stated that the objective of military operational plans under Ríos Montt was the destruction of the Mayan Ixil population as part of a counter-insurgency campaign that characterized civilians of this ethnic and linguistic minority as an “internal enemy”. Attorney Edgar Pérez rejected assertions that the act of seeking justice is itself an act of terrorism or an effort to destabilize Guatemalan society. Political pressure on the actors involved has been intense, and just before the trial begain, President Otto Perez Molina’s denied that genocide took place. Perez told reporters: “It is important to state it because I lived it: there was no genocide in Guatemala.” Marcie Mersky, Program Director at the International Center for Transitional Justice, says such comments may influence legal proceedings and are inappropriate.

Lolita Chávez participates in month-long speaking tour in Canada and US
In events in Montreal, Ottowa, Vancouver, BC and Washington, DC, Lolita Chavez spoke about the work of the K’iche’ People’s Council and community resistance to harmful transnational development projects. In an interview with Montreal Gazette, Lolita stated that: “Canadian companies are the main protagonists in this invasion that brings only death and destruction.” A short video interview is available here.

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Weekly News Round Up

Updates on the Genocide Trial:
The trial of Efraín Ríos Mont and José Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity on August 14th of this year. Rodríguez Sánchez’s defense filed an injunction against the decision by Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez to send the former military leader to trial. According to Rodríguez Sánchez’s lawyer, Gálvez did not explain the reasons for open debate against his client. Ríos Montt’s defense has now filed a similar legal action in which he claims that the crime he is being charged with does not exist in the legal code. Ríos Montt has also objected to the fact that Judge Patricia Flores is presiding over his appeal to the Court of Constitutionality. His lawyers claim that Flores is unfit to hear his case because she was recused from the proceedings against Héctor Mario López Fuentes, also accused of genocide.

International Crisis Group warns against use of military in maintaining public order
In a recent report featuring the October incident in Totonicapán, the ICG warned about the dangers of using the military to maintain public order in the country, especially where marches and social protests are concerned. Mary Speck, an analyst from ICG, observed that tensions are higher in indigenous areas where issues of mining, access to land, electricity and education have been prominent. She pointed out that these conditions have made the creation of trained civil security forces all the more urgent. The civil security forces should be used to confront protests without the use of violence.

Xincas oppose mining activity
Xinca communities and organizations demanded an end to the licensing of mining projects  in their territory in Santa Rosa, Jutiapa because of environmental damage. Juan Pablo López, director of the Coordinating Council of the Xinka People asked that the Environmenal Ministry consult with the indigenous communities before releasing a decision on environmental impact studies. López says that the San Rafael Las Flores mining company contaminates more than 6 million liters of water in the area daily. Continue reading

January News Round Up

Ríos Montt on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity
The trial against former head of state Ríos Montt and along with former general José Rodríguez, began on January 30th, two days after Judge Ángel Gálvez announced his decision to try the two men for genocide and crimes against humanity. The much-anticipated announcement drew a large crowd which included many survivors of the armed conflict as well as journalists, retired military personnel, and human rights activists. The decision was hailed as a victory for the victims of one of the most violent conflicts in Central America.

Spanish delegation comments on conflict in Santa Cruz Barillas
A group of Spanish representatives on a mission to investigate human rights in Guatemala held a press conference last week to talk about several of the cases they looked into during their visit. One of the cases that they highlighted was the conflict in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango surrounding the dam proposed by the Hidro Santa Cruz energy company. One Spanish representative expressed concern for the human rights violations there including the assassination of a community member, illegally long detentions of political prisoners and the absence of a means of democratic communication between the community members and authorities. Another representative, Josep Nuet, expressed a desire for Hidro Santa Cruz to start the project anew, this time with the input of the community.

Limitations on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights repealed
The executive branch announced on January 17th Government Agreement number 30-2013, which repealed an earlier decision to not recognize the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on violations prior to February, 1987. The original agreement (number 370), which was announced on January 2nd, was met with much criticism, forcing the President to suspend it the next day.

An analysis of President Perez Molina’s first year in office
During his first year in office, President Pérez Molina launched the Cero Hambre and Bolsa Segura programs to combat malnutrition and hunger. His critics allege that these programs have not yet reached much of the at-risk population and have not done enough to break the cycle of poverty. Credit should be given to the attorney general, police commissioner, and interior minister, and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala for the improvements in the murder rate as well as the security situation. “In 2012, Guatemala recorded 5,174 homicides, approximately 500 fewer than in Colom’s last year, thereby reducing the country’s murder rate from 39 to 34 per 100,000. However, while the government’s increased reliance on the military and mano dura policies has not led to an increase in homicides, there is good reason to be concerned with the government’s increasing reliance on the military to perform acts better suited for police.” writes Mike Allison. 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.

Weekly News Roundup

April 12th-April 26th


  • Lawsuit brought against Attorney General.  Danilo Rodríguez Gálvez, the lawyer for Efraín Ríos Montt, submitted a complaint against the Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz because she has not respected the legal process and is illegally prosecuting the former general.  Human rights groups have denounced this- among other appeals and injunctions- as an attempt to obstruct justice.
  • Remains of 99 victims of Guatemala´s internal armed conflict found inside a military base. A forensic team found the remains of 99 bodies in 15 pits on the grounds of a military base in Coban. The team of specialists is looking for the remains of 200 to 300 people who disappeared during the internal armed conflict. The exhumation efforts come as a response to requests from prosecutors and families of the disappeared. The military post where exhumation takes places is currently home to the UN Peacekeeping training Center, CREOMPAZ.  GHRC visited the exhumation in March with FAMDEGUA and has asked the UN to facilitate increased access for families, NGOs and the media.
  • Forced displacement of elderly protestors. At 3:30 in the morning on April 19th, protestors who had taken refuge at the “Refugio Dulce” during the night were brutally displaced by agents of the National Civilian Police and the Presidential Secretary for Security and Administrative Affairs. Earlier this week the demonstrators had set up their camp outside of the Presidential Palace to continue their protest which they had suspended during the Easter festivities. The protestors came from areas including Petén, Dolores and Jalapa to demand a budget of Q18 million (US $2.3 million) for the construction of housing in 9 departments. The budget was cut by Congress due to ‘abnormalities’ in the handling of the funds.
  • Group of unionists protest in Guatemala City  In the second large protest in a month, unionists of the Frente Nacional de Lucha asked for improvements in the health, education, and security sectors and the prosecution of the individuals responsible for the death of their fellow unionists.  They met with Vice-President Roxana Baldetti and future meetings will take place every 3 months.
  •  Second campesino march for rural development. Members of the National Council of Peasant Organizations (CNOC) and the Committee of Peasant Unity (CUC) demanded action from the government.  They want recognition of their ancestral lands, nationalization of electric energy plants, and an end to forced displacements.
  • Inter-American Court hears “Diario Militar” case.  The Inter-American Court on Human Rights heard testimony from family members of 27 individuals who disappeared during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.  Kate Doyle from the National Security Archive testified, saying that the Guatemalan government systematically hid information about the internal armed conflict.   The case was opened after the National Security Archive received and published the military book, known as the “Diario Militar.”  It was written by the President’s Intelligence Unit between 1983 and 1985 and implicates several members of the Guatemalan military, including Gudiel Álvarez, for forced disappearances and the torture of a young girl. Final testimony will be heard June 8th.
  • New technology revives investigation of Gerardi case. Fourteen years ago Monsignor Juan Gerardi was murdered in his garage; those who physically carried out the brutal crimes are in jail, but now new technology is being used in a second phase of investigations seeking to charge the intellectual authors.  DNA and fingerprint analysis, as well as reconstruction of the crime scene, are used to find new information on the suspects.
  • 201 crimes attributed to Ríos Montt.  The Public Prosecutor charged ex-head of state Efraín Ríos Montt for his role in sending the Kaibiles to Dos Erres, an act which resulted in the massacre of 201 men, women, and children on December 7, 1982. Five ex-Kabilies were already charged with 6,060 years in prison for their role in the massacre.  Ríos Montt’s defense attorney claims that his client is being targeted simply because he was the head of state.
  • Rosalina Tuyuc receives Peace Award.  Rosalina Tuyuc received the Niwano Peace Prize for her work as a peace activist and human rights defender.  This is the first time an indigenous woman has received the award.

International News

  • US announces aid program to Guatemala The United States Southern Command announced yesterday a 3-month aid program which will be developed in the departments of Coban, Alta Verapaz, Ayutla, Malacatan and San Marcos. In addition to providing medical assistance, the US military will participate in construction programs of public buildings and health facilities.
  • International Rights Advocates released a video denouncing the United States medical experiments on Guatemalans during the 1940s.  The victims of these tests still have not been compensated.