2014 State Department Human Rights Report Identifies Numerous Challenges for Guatemala

By Jason Mann, GHRC Summer 2015 Intern

rio_negro_04_smallOn June 25, 2015 Secretary of State John Kerry announced the release of the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014. This includes the Guatemala 2014 Human Rights Report, which details some of the many human rights violations and concerns that GHRC works to prevent and document. The report is broken down into seven sections, ranging from concerns for the respect of physical rights to the protection of workers’ rights, and provides a brief look into some of the many injustices that Guatemalans faced last year:

Militarization and security

  • The military was used for internal security purposes and was involved in serious abuses including kidnapping, drug trafficking, extortion, and femicide.
  • Members of the National Civil Police (PNC) were involved in various incidents of abuse and corruption, and were severely undertrained and underfunded.
  • In June 2014, former PNC Chief Erwin Sperinsen was sentenced to life in prison in a Swiss court for the killing of one inmate and involvement in six other homicide cases in 2006.
  • Also in June police arrested three PNC officers for the raping of a minor while she was being held in a juvenile detention facility in Quiche.
  • The Office of Professional Responsibility (ORP) accused nine PNC officers of homicide as of September 2014.
  • The PNC’s Office of Professional Responsibility reported 1,104 complaints of abuse filed against police forces in the first nine months of 2014.

Truth and Justice

  • Former Dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of genocide in May 2013, but the Constitutional Court overturned the conviction on procedural grounds, and as of the end of 2014 the case had not restarted.
  • Former army officers Esteelmer Reyes and Heriberto Valdez were arrested for murder, forced disappearance, and sexual abuse while they were in charge of the Sepur Zarco military base in the department of Izabal during 1982-1983.
  • Judicial branch workers had been the victims of 171 threats and acts of intimidation against them by the end of September of 2014.
  • Trials were almost always held in Spanish although many indigenous people charged with crimes do not speak the language.

Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: August 4-7

‘Obnoxious’ La Puya Members Will Not Make the Gold Mine Go Away, CEO Says

Vice News

Vice News

In a Vice News article, Jeff Abbott reports on the recent victory won by La Puya in a local Guatemalan court and his interview with Dan Kappes, CEO of mining company Kappes, Cassiday, & Associates (KCA), while on his recent trip to Guatemala.

Despite the court’s ruling that KCA had obtained an invalid construction license and its order for the company to suspend all construction at El Tambor within 15 days, Kappes stated in the interview that, “the construction license is a moot point.” In addition to claiming that the company had in fact carried out a consultation with the community, Kappes also asserted: “I guess the protesters think that if they are obnoxious enough, the mine will go away.”

Leading up to the 15-day deadline, GHRC delivered an open letter to KCA with over 2,200 signatures, demanding that the company comply with the court decision. Despite these actions, KCA has as of now decided to continue operations at the mine.

GHRC will continue to support La Puya, and urge KCA to abide by Guatemalan law.

5 Guatemalan Soldiers Detained Following Leaked Video

Police in Guatemala have detained five soldiers on abuse of authority charges after a video circulated on social media showing them beating two teenagers. The incident occurred on July 26 after an army patrol received a report from neighbors that the minors in the video were allegedly drinking and assaulting people, according to army spokesperson Hugo Rodriguez. The video shows the five soldiers repeatedly kicking the boys in the stomach, slapping them, and pulling them off the ground by their hair, among other forms of abuse. According to the article, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) opened an investigation of the two soldiers, and the Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that it will also initiate an investigation.

Land Rights Victory for Poqomchi’ Community in Alta Verapaz

Upside Down World

Upside Down World

Nearly 300 Poqomchi’ Maya families residing in the Primavera communities of Alta Verapaz have won a significant victory in their fight for land rights. On July 14, community representatives and the Guatemalan Land Fund signed documents to officially recognize three communities as the owners of the approximately 800 hectares of land where they have been residing for over 200 years.

The Secretary of Agrarian Affairs oversaw the titling of the land to the communities, after the land had been occupied by Maderas Filips Dias/Eco-Tierra, a logging company, and various other transnational companies harvesting palm oil and sugar cane without the consent of the community. Continue reading

Human Rights Convergence Denounces Intimidation Against CALAS

The Human Rights Convergence stands in solidarity with the Center for Legal Action in Environment and Social Issues (CALAS) in the wake of recent acts of intimidation toward the organization. On July 29, an unknown man fired a series of gunshots in front of the CALAS offices. The event occurred just one day before the organization was scheduled to participate in an evidentiary hearing in order to bring the former head of security for the San Rafael mine, Alberto Rotondo, to trial for violence against community members. The Convergence is calling for a criminal investigation into these acts, and holding mining company Tahoe Resources accountable for both acts of intimidation against CALAS and acts of violence against residents who opposed the mine.

Leer el cominicado en español:

La Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos Frente a la intimidación a CALAS Manifiesta

El Centro de Acción Legal Ambiental y Social de Guatemala –CALAS–, organización de la Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos, el 29 de julio de 2015 fue objeto de actos de intimidación, en tanto que en horas de la noche, un hombre desconocido en motocicleta realizó una serie de disparos frente a la sede de dicha organización.

Este acto intimidatorio contra de CALAS se da un día previo a que se celebrara la audiencia de ofrecimiento de prueba con el objeto de llevar a juicio al señor Alberto Rotondo, quien en su calidad de gerente de seguridad de la Mina San Rafael violentara la integridad física de comunitarios del municipio de San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa, Guatemala. Continue reading

Victory for La Puya: Guatemalan Court Orders Suspension of Construction Operations at the El Tambor Mine

GHRC applauds the July 15 resolution by a Guatemalan appeals court which ruled in favor of the right of residents to be consulted about projects that affect them and ordered the suspension of construction activities at the mine.

The ruling is a positive sign for community members from San Pedro Ayampuc and San Jose del Golfo who have joined together in non-violent resistance to oppose what they see as a deeply harmful mining project.

The movement, known as ‘La Puya,’ has maintained a 24-hour presence at the entrance to the site for over three years. During that time, La Puya has denounced intimidating or illegal actions on the part of the Guatemalan company that holds the mining license, EXMINGUA, as well as by its parent company, Reno-based Kappes, Cassiday & Associates.

This legal complaint, however, filed in October 2014 by authorities from two of the affected communities, El Carrizal and El Guapinol, targets the government for its failure to act on behalf of its citizens.

The complaint accuses the Municipal Advisory Council of San Pedro Ayampuc – where the mine site is located – of failing to act to stop construction activity at the mine site and for its failure to defend the interests of the affected communities. They argue the Council had the responsibility to act given their knowledge that the company had broken the law by operating without a construction permit, having documentation regarding concerns about water quality and contamination, and not carrying out valid prior community consultation.
Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: March 16-27

Criminalization of Land Rights Leaders Persists in Huehuetenango

On March 24, two indigenous and land rights leaders from Santa Eulalia — Rigoberto Juárez Mateo and Domingo Baltazar — were detained in Guatemala City. The arrests were related to a community struggle to defend a local radio station which had reported on planned hydroelectric projects as well as corruption of local authorities, and was shut down by municipal authorities in January.

In a separate case, GHRC staff member Dania Rodríguez attended a hearing on March 26 for six leaders from Barillas who have been opposing another hydroelectric dam project in the area — the Hidro Santa Cruz dam. Although the company has retracted many of the original accusations, the leaders remain charged with the crime of kidnapping. The case is set to conclude on April 8.

These events are part of a larger pattern of repression and increasing criminalization of activists by the Pérez Molina administration in order to support large-scale development projects. In this context, two activists have been killed, and GHRC is calling on Guatemala’s Attorney General to initiate an investigation into the deaths. Sign the petition now.

Hearings on Guatemala During IACHR 154th Session

Last week, during the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) 154th session, a hearing was held on the impacts of extractive industries in Latin America. During the hearing, members of the Catholic Church presented emblematic cases of human rights violations resulting from extractive projects in the region. More information on the hearing is available here.

Petitioners from the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF) and the Myrna Mack Foundation also addressed the IACHR regarding judicial independence in Guatemala. Continue reading

Guatemala Closes Spaces of Action for Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples

This press release by the Guatemalan Human Rights Convergence argues that the Pérez Molina administration has responded to human rights demands with violence, censorship and prohibition of freedom of speech. The Convergence highlights the wave of repression against both indigenous and mestizo communities in northern Huehuetenango — in particular, those living in Barillas, Santa Eulalia, and San Mateo Ixtatan and resisting large-scale development projects — and looks at cases of criminalization of community leaders.


EL ESTADO DE GUATEMALA CIERRA ESPACIOS A LA SOCIEDAD CIVIL Y A LOS PUEBLOS INDÍGENAS

La firma de los Acuerdos de Paz supuso un compromiso y una ruta para la construcción de una sociedad democrática. Sin embargo, ante el aumento importante de personas que exigen y defienden derechos; la respuesta del Gobierno es cada vez más violenta en contra de grupos sociales y pueblos indígenas que le piden a este  que cumpla con su obligación de garantizar el libre ejercicio de todos sus derechos. Esto se da, además, en temas de derecho de la niñez y la juventud, derechos de las mujeres, derecho de salud, educación y vivienda, derecho a un salario digno, inversión económica, auditoría social; así como en demanda de seguridad, justicia y equidad.

La violencia y el cierre de espacios es la respuesta del gobierno de Otto Pérez Molina, para proteger intereses personales y empresariales.  La censura, los asesinatos y atentados en contra de periodistas y comunicadores sociales son una muestra. Asimismo las comunidades indígenas que ejercen su derecho constitucional a la petición y a la consulta reciben como respuesta actitudes racistas y represoras por parte del funcionariado público y de quienes trabajan para las empresas que se quieren instalar en sus territorios. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: March 2-6

Vice President Biden Visits Guatemala

Joe Biden met with the presidents of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to discuss in detail the Alliance for Prosperity Plan. Following an initial meeting, Biden and the presidents of the Northern Triangle countries payed a visit to the Ixchel Museum to meet with members of the private sector, where Biden stressed the need for business owners to invest in their own countries.

Biden also urged Guatemala to continue the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), and met with CICIG Commissioner Velazquez to underscore the importance of the commission’s work. In a response to Biden’s comments, President Pérez Molina rejected the notion of using the extension of the CICIG as a precondition for receiving US funding.

“Smaller than David”: The Struggle of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala

Human rights groups The Observatory and UDEFEGUA have launched a report and documentary film about the vulnerability of human rights defenders in Guatemala. The report highlights the targeting of land rights defenders via criminalization, threats and physical violence. Continue reading

Commemorating International Women’s Day

In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, women human rights defenders from the Alliance Against Criminalization held a press conference today in Guatemala City, commemorating the historic struggle of women’s resistance movements in Guatemala and calling for greater protections for female land and human rights defenders. Read their statement below (the original Spanish version is also available below).

AAC

Women from the Alliance Against Criminalization at a press conference on Friday, March 6

The Alliance Against Criminalization: Commemorating International Women’s Day

We, women defenders of human rights and natural resources — from a diversity of identities and member organizations of the Alliance Against Criminalization — come together today to commemorate the historic struggle of our mothers and grandmothers. Supported by their resistance throughout the ages, we have the strength to confront all forms of domination over our bodies and over nature.

The issue of violence against women defenders is a patriarchal, historic, social and complex phenomenon that affects all aspects of our daily lives, whether we live in rural areas or urban cities. It also impacts the relationships we establish with our family, our community, our organizations and our State. Continue reading

Human Rights Group UDEFEGUA: 2014 the “Most Violent Year” for Defenders

According to the annual report from the Guatemalan Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA), 2014 was the most violent year for human rights advocates in Guatemala, with an average of 2.2 attacks reported daily. Violence against individuals and organizations that promote human rights has been on the rise since 2013, when those opposed to the genocide trial formed what human rights groups have called ¨an alliance to promote impunity, limit freedom of expression and criminalize defenders.¨ The year also saw a sharp rise in physical attacks against defenders, where in past years, verbal or written threats had been more common.

The majority of attacks (82% of the total) were perpetrated against defenders of land and environmental rights — both against individuals and communities, as well as against reporters covering these events. It is also important to note that women activists and defenders of women’s rights have been among the most vulnerable this year. Women were victim to 54% of overall attacks against defenders, including acts of sexual harassment, an increase over previous years.

Despite the rise of violence, the government’s response has been inefficient and insufficient, and levels of impunity in Guatemala remain high. For these reasons, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights — in the case of Florentín Gudiel et al vs. Guatemala — ordered the creation of an institutionalized Protection Program for Human Rights Defenders, which could serve as a future model for the protection of human rights defenders.


UDEFEGUA 2014 Annual Report

UDEFEGUA-informe12014 was undeniably the most violent year for people and organizations that promote human rights. The wave of violence against them has been increasing since 2013 when opposition to the genocide trial coalesced in an alliance between government actors (including the President’s office), business interests from the agriculture and extractive industries, groups of former members of the military involved in human rights violations, and right-wing extremists. This alliance was strengthened through a series of “pacts of impunity” which included strategies to criminalize public protest and limit freedom of expression. Continue reading

Families Violently Evicted from the Polochic Valley Demand Rights

More than 3 years have passed since 769 families were violently evicted from the Polochic Valley at the hands of the sugar cane company Chabil Utzaj, in conjunction with Guatemalan police and military forces. Since then, the Polochic case has become one of the emblematic land rights cases.

Today, over 30 representatives of affected families, alongside members of several organizations, demonstrated in front of the presidential offices in Guatemala City to continue to demand their ancestral land rights. They also delivered a letter to President Otto Perez Molina — signed by over 100 organizations including GHRC — in support of the 75% of families who remain without land, homes, and basic services. Although the government agreed to return land to all families affected by the eviction, the process has been stalled since October of 2013, when only 140 of the 769 families were relocated.

Polochic-protest-12.2.14The letter to President Molina calls for an urgent solution for all families. It also draws attention to a changing rural landscape where economic policies that promote monoculture agriculture and extractive projects have led to the displacement of families and entire communities.

To accompany this action virtually, you can find suggestions for tweets and Facebook posts at this link (in Spanish): https://acaparamiento.titanpad.com/5.