Guatemala News Update: November 16 -22

Community leaders will be released after unjust imprisonment

Five community members from Mataquescuintla, Jalapa, who were illegally imprisoned for seven months, have succeeded in proving their innocence. On Thursday, a judge in Jalapa dismissed the charges against them due to lack of certainty and weakness of proof brought forth by the Public Prosecutor’s office. Communitaria Press calls this development “a victory for peaceful resistance,” as those imprisoned were criminalized for their resistance to the Escobal mine. Canadian-based Tahoe resources and it’s Guatemalan subsidiary San Rafael Mining have carried out recurring acts of violence against peaceful protesters, and the government has used its own institutions to support the company.

Meanwhile, Tahoe Resources recently announced that the company is ready to ramp up production at the Escobal silver mine. Though the company reported a net loss last quarter (the first quarter of production), its stocks rose following this announcement.

Public prosecutors want trial for military extrajudicial killings

The Public Prosecutor’s Office wants the Constitutional Court to revoke a prior decision to modify charges against eight military members, led by Col. Juan Chiroy Sal, involved in the killings of six people during the October 4, 2012 confrontation in Totonicapán. The eight men were originally charged with extrajudicial killing and attempted extrajudicial killing, but High Risk Court A Judge Patricia Flores reduced the charges. The lawyer for Chiroy Sal criticized both the prosecution for maintaining their original claim, as well as the protesters for committing actions of violence during the confrontation.

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News Update: October 28-November 1

Impeding or Furthering Justice in Guatemala

GHRC Assistant Director Kathryn Johnson and George Mason Professor Jo-Marie Burt discuss recent developments in the Rios Montt trial, focusing on how the decision will affect the future of justice in Guatemala.

IACHR affirms need for investigations of genocide

After the Constitutional Court opened the door for amnesty last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights reiterated today the need for a proper investigation of genocide, despite the Amnesty Law, and called on the country to put a stop to obstructions of this investigation. The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights also affirmed that amnesty should never apply to genocide.

Constitutional Court Paves the Way on Rios Montt Controversy

On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court rejected a measure by the Legal Action Center for Human Rights (CALDH) to clarify its ruling regarding the possibility of amnesty for Efrain Rios Montt. Now, the First Chamber of Criminal Appeals will have five days to rule why the application of Decree 8-86, which grants amnesty for crimes committed during the Rios Montt era, does not apply to Rios Montt’s case.

In a related article, Montt’s defense lawyer Francisco Garcia Gudiel discusses the recent request for amnesty in an interview with El Periodico.

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News Update: September 28 – October 4

Friday marks the one year anniversary of massacre in Totonicapán

A plaque in honor of the victims was unveiled today in commemoration of the killing of six protesters in Cumbre de Alaska one year ago. Family members have suffered greatly due to this tragedy, and one widow told Siglo 21 “sometimes I don’t have anything to eat.” Surviving family members express discontent for not receiving more attention from officials, and for the stalled status of the legal process.

High tensions arise around Santa Cruz Barillas

On September 28 , thousands of residents in the municipality of Santa Eulalia were brutally repressed by riot police, who came to arrest anti-dam activist Maynor Manuel López Barrios. This spurred an escalation of protests in the area, resulting in at least three injuries. One account reports police shooting, firing tear gas and throwing stones at civilians. 150 soldiers and 80 police officers were deployed to maintain control of the situation.

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News Update: September 7-20

Residents of San José Nacahuil say police responsible for massacre

On September 7, 11 were killed and 15 injured after gunmen opened fire at a cantina in the indigenous village of San José Nacahuil, San Pedro Ayampuc. Though officials blame the attack on gang violence, families of the victims report that police are responsible and call for officials to hold them responsible.

Analysis following this tragedy has indicated the possible connection to the peaceful non-violent resistance at “La Puya,” which community members of Nacahuil are involved in. One theory is that the massacre was carried out to justify militarizing the community and providing security to the mining project, which has been delayed for over a year because of the community’s peaceful resistance known as La Puya. Representatives of La Puya note that this event comes after their peaceful, non-violent resistance has been facing intimidation from police patrols since August 31, and that in the past events like this one have come before repressive measures against La Puya.

The Interior Minister is evaluating whether to place a police station in San José Nacahuil in the future. The police left the village around 2004 due to local sentiment that the patrol was causing more insecurity. 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.

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Weekly News Round Up Feb. 18-22

Genocide Trial date moved from August 14th to March 19th
The trial for José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Rodriguez has officially been rescheduled. The trial is now set to begin on March 19th 2013. Judge Jazmín Barrios rejected a recusal presented by Ríos Montt’s defense against the First Court of High Risk.

US Southern Command General John Kelly makes an official visit to Guatemala
The General arrived on February 20th for a two day visit to the country. According to diplomatic sources, the purpose of the trip is to analyze and discuss issues of bilateral security, such as drug trafficking and organized crime, with Guatemalan officials.

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Weekly News Round Up Feb. 12-18

Communities deny participation in new attack on Hidro Santa Cruz in Barillas
The Spanish-owned hydroelectric company is claiming that on the night of February 17, a group of 15-20 people closed off the entryway and entered the construction site where they damaged equipment. The community, which resumed peaceful protests against the hydroelectric project on the 15th, says that it had nothing to do with the attacks. Community leaders insist that, as of now, they do not know who is responsible for these events. Actions such as these have, in some cases, been carried out by people linked to a company in order justify a greater police or military presence to protect its economic interests.

Meanwhile, Otto Pérez Molina spoke to Spanish businesses about investing in Guatemala. In a speech before a group of Spanish businessmen and several government officials, President Pérez Molina emphasized the need for more foreign direct investment in his country. Highlighting the abundant hydroelectric and mining resources in Guatemala, and projects that like in Barillas, he claimed that conflicts around resource extraction projects are simply a product of misinformation put forth by environmental groups, which have been “fully identified and controlled.”

Eight soldiers and one colonel will go to trial for Totonicapán killings
Colonel Juan Chiroy and eight of his soldiers will not be tried for the crime of extrajudicial execution in the killing of six protesters in Totonicapán in October of last year. Instead, the colonel is charged with breach of duty while the soldiers are charged with breach of duty and “murder in a state of violent emotion.” Judge Carol Patricia Flores determined that the soldiers fired in self-defense. On February 19th, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented a recusal against Judge Flores. Continue reading

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

GHRC Condemns Massacre in Totonicapán, Guatemala

(español abajo)

1. The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC) condemns the military’s violent response to community protests on Oct. 4, 2012, and expresses solidarity for victims and their families. Early that morning, over 15,000 indigenous protestors of the 48 cantones of Totonicapan took to the streets, blocking traffic at five points on national highways. At the same time, community leaders waited to meet with President Otto Pérez Molina in the capital to carry forward a dialogue process. The communities were protesting excessive electricity rates, changes to the professional teacher training requirements, and proposed constitutional reforms. The National Civilian Police and the Military were sent to disband the protest and restore the flow of traffic. Despite the Interior Minister’s order to maintain distance, a military contingent of 89 soldiers under the command of Colonel Juan Chiroy Sal advanced at the Cumbre de Alaska and confronted the protestors. According to preliminary investigations, eight soldiers fired their weapons into the crowd. Six protestors are confirmed dead, and at least 33 others injured. Thirteen soldiers also reported injuries.

2. GHRC has been closely monitoring the situation, and has received reports from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala (UNHCHR), the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Guatemalan Embassy in Washington, DC, the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG), and NGO partners in Guatemala.

3. GHRC commends the thorough investigation by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF). The prompt arrest of Colonel Chiroy and 8 other soldiers for the crime of extrajudicial execution, among other charges, is an important departure from Guatemala’s long history of impunity for crimes committed by the armed forces.

4. GHRC supports the right of the 48 cantones to peacefully protest, and joins national and international organizations in emphasizing that the restoration of freedom of movement is not legitimate justification for the aggressive suppression of the freedom to protest. Moreover, we recognize that these protest measures (roadblocks, marches, etc) are only necessary because of the lack of political access and historic exclusion of the great majority of poor, agricultural and indigenous communities in Guatemala.

5. GHRC joins the UNHCHR in reminding the Guatemalan government that extrajudicial or arbitrary executions committed by members of the Armed Forces implicate the Guatemalan State for its lack of action to prevent such atrocities. The tragic violence on Oct. 4 highlights systemic problems, such as the erroneous assumption that the military is willing to play a subservient role to the police. The National Civilian Police is the only institution trained to provide citizen security; the continued use of the military in these operations creates the conditions for the repetition of such violence in the future.

6. In light of these events, GHRC calls on the Guatemalan government to:

a. Follow through with the current investigation and prosecution of those responsible for extrajudicial executions, provide just reparations to the victims, and move forward with any agreements that came out of the dialogue process with community leaders.

b. Immediately institutionalize the removal of the armed forces from involvement in responses to protests, forced evictions, and other civil conflicts; provide a clear timeline for the prompt removal of the armed forces from all aspects of citizen security.

c. Revoke Congressional Decree 40-2000, which legalizes the use of the military to support police in combating organized and common crime.

d. Promptly move forward with the necessary reforms to the National Civilian Police, providing sufficient budget and institutional support for the reforms to be successful.

e. Fully respect indigenous rights and implement a comprehensive, participatory, and effective dialogue process.  We consider this to be a critical step toward ending the exclusion of indigenous communities and ensuring the peaceful resolution of conflicts.

………. Washington, DC – October 18, 2012

GHRC denuncia la masacre en Totonicapán, Guatemala

1. La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala en Estados Unidos (GHRC) denuncia la reacción violenta del ejército a las protestas de las comunidades el 4 de octubre de 2012. Ese día, en horas de la madrugada, más de 15.000 manifestantes indígenas de los 48 Cantones de Totonicapán bloquearon el tránsito en cinco puntos de la carretera interamericana. A la vez, líderes comunitarios esperaban una reunión con el Presidente Otto Pérez Molina en la capital para avanzar en un proceso de diálogo.
Las comunidades protestaban contra el alto costo de la energía eléctrica, cambios en la carrera magisterial y las reformas constitucionales propuestas por el ejecutivo. La Policía Nacional Civil y el ejército se desplegaron para poner fin a la protesta y reestablecer el flujo de tránsito. A pesar de la orden del Ministro de Gobernación de mantener su distancia, un contingente del ejército, de 89 soldados, bajo el comando del Coronel Juan Chiroy Sal avanzó en la Cumbre de Alaska y se enfrentó a los manifestantes. Según las investigaciones preliminares, ocho soldados abrieron fuego contra la multitud. Se ha confirmado la muerte de seis manifestantes y lesiones en por lo menos 33. Trece soldados también se reportaron heridos.

2. GHRC ha estado monitoreando de cerca la situación, y ha recibido informes de la Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos (OACNUDH), del Ministerio Público, de la Embajada de Guatemala en Washington, DC, de la Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG) y de organizaciones de la sociedad civil en Guatemala.

3. GHRC felicita la investigación rigurosa del Ministerio Público y el Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses (INACIF). La rápida detención del Coronel Chiroy y ocho soldados más por el crimen de ejecución extrajudicial, entre otros cargos, es una ruptura significativa en la larga historia de impunidad en Guatemala para los crímenes cometidos por las fuerzas armadas.

4. GHRC apoya el derecho de los 48 Cantones a la protesta pacífica, y se une a los pronunciamientos de organizaciones nacionales e internacionales que enfatizan que, garantizar la libre locomoción no es una justificación legítima para la represión y agresión a la libertad de reunión y manifestación. Además, reconocemos que estas medidas de protesta (bloqueos, marchas, etc.) son necesarias por la falta de acceso político y por la exclusión histórica de la gran mayoría de comunidades pobres, campesinas e indígenas en Guatemala.

5. GHRC se une a la OACNUDH en recordarle al gobierno de Guatemala de que las ejecuciones extrajudiciales o arbitrarias cometidas por miembros de las fuerzas armadas podrían comprometer la responsabilidad del Estado de Guatemala por su falta de acción para prevenir tales atrocidades. La violencia trágica del 4 de octubre resalta problemas sistémicos, así como la suposición errónea de que el ejército está dispuesto a jugar un papel de subordinación a la policía. La Policía Nacional Civil es la única institución capacitada para brindar la seguridad ciudadana; el continuar con la utilización del ejército en estas operaciones puede dar paso a que este tipo de violencia pueda repetirse en el futuro.

6. A la luz de esos acontecimientos, GHRC hace un llamado al gobierno de Guatemala para que:

a. Dé el seguimiento necesario a la actual investigación y proceso judicial contra los responsables de ejecuciones extrajudiciales; provea reparaciones justas a las familias de las víctimas mortales y cumpla con todo acuerdo surgido del proceso de diálogo con los líderes comunitarios.

b. Institucionalice de inmediato la prohibición a las fuerzas armadas para participar en la dispersión de manifestaciones, desalojos forzados u otros conflictos civiles; presente una calendarización clara para el pronto retiro de las fuerzas armadas de las tareas de  seguridad ciudadana.

c. Derogue el Decreto 40-2000, el cual autoriza el uso del ejército para apoyar a la policía en el combate al crimen organizado y la delincuencia común.

d. Avance sin demora en las reformas imprescindibles a la Policía Nacional Civil, brindando todo el apoyo institucional y el presupuesto necesario para que las reformas sean exitosas.

e. Respete los derechos indígenas en su totalidad e implemente un proceso de diálogo que sea amplio, efectivo y participativo. Consideramos que este es un paso crucial para poner fin a la exclusión de las comunidades indígenas y para asegurar la resolución pacífica de los conflictos.

Message from our partner organizations regarding the massacre in Totonicapán

Indigenous leader Carmen Tacam speaks on repression in Totonicapán
The Independent Media Center published on its Facebook page last night the statement of Civil Society regarding the homicidal repression carried out by the government of Otto Peréz Molina in Cuatro Caminos, Totonicapán, which to date has left seven dead and the hospital saturated with wounded.
The organizations listed below denounce the following:

1 — On the afternoon of Thursday, October 4, the Committee of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapan, a traditional structure considered the legitimate representative of the people, suffered a violent attack by Guatemalan army forces at kilometer 170 of the Inter-American Highway.  The army was responding to a demonstration the people were carrying out to show their rejection of constitutional reform, the reform of teachers’ educational career trajectory, and the high cost of electricity.  As a result of the attack, seven people have died, at least thirty have been reported wounded, and a number of others are suffering the effects of teargas.

2 — When the attack occurred, the leaders of the 48 Cantons were in Guatemala City, waiting for President Otto Perez Molina to attend a meeting they were having with government representative Miguel Angel Balcarcel.

3 — The use of combined forces (police and army) with firearms at a citizens’ demonstration in which they were exercising universally recognized and nationally guaranteed rights is a show of violence by the state, which is showing itself incapable of acting in a way that corresponds to a democratic culture, within the framework of a lawful state.

4 —  The use of soldiers and the use of firearms in evictions or to intervene in demostrations or public meetings, according to resolutions of the United Nations Committee Against Torture, constitutes torture—a fact for which the State of Guatemala has been repeatedly criticized by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
5 — The authoritarian act and the refusal to sustain an effective dialogue to find real solutions to the population’s problems, the historical abandonment, and the demagogical discourse violates fundamental rights related to the dignity of peoples and persons.
In response to this situation, we demand:
1 — That the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office investigate the incident thoroughly and issue an immediate resolution that permits the identification of those members of the security forces responsible for human rights violations.
2 — That the Public Ministry initiate immediate criminal proceedings against those responsible for these bloody acts, as well as the arbitrary and violent actions of members of the civilian and military security forces.
3 — That the government of Guatemala provide the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the Public Ministry with the names of the officials in charge of the forces involved; their operational plan; and details of instructions transmitted from Guatemala City to those commanders, from the Ministry of the Interior as well as the Ministry of Defense.  Also, we demand that the government temporarily suspend the officials who by action or omission are implicated in the events.
4 — That President Otto Peréz Molina immediately demilitarize the security forces and withdraw military forces from public security functions.
5 — That Guatemalan Congress repeal decree 40-2000, which allows joint patrols and that Congress adhere to the legal character of the Peace Accords, in particular the Accord on the Strengthening of Civil Power and the Function of the Army in a Democratic Society.
6– That the National Institute of the Forensic Sciences (INACIF) conduct autopsies, expert reports on ballistic arms, and an investigation of the scene of the crime, in adherence to proper norms.
7 — That the political, legislative, and private sector authorities cease these authoritarian practices and assume the norms of true democratic rather than demagogic society.
8 — To the communities and leaders of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán, to the families of the dead, the wounded, and those others affected by these events, we pronounce our profound solidarity and our commitment to accompany you in the search for justice for these painful events.
Guatemala, 4 of October, 2012

Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos
Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos -CALDH-
Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos -CIIDH-
Fundación Sobrevivientes
Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala -ICCPG-
Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala -ODHAG-
Seguridad en Democracia -SEDEM-
Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos-Guatemala -UDEFEGUA-
Asociación Familiares de Desaparecidos de Guatemala -FAMDEGUA-
Centro de Estudios de Guatemala -CEG-
Equipo Comunitario de Apoyo Psicosocial -ECAP-
Educa Guatemala
Sector Mujeres de Sociedad Civil
Unión Nacional de Mujeres de Guatemala -UNAMG-


Source: Washington Post

Source: Washington Post