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

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

Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative Recognized with International Human Rights Award

GHRC congratulates the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative for being chosen as the 2014 recipient of the Letelier-Moffitt International Award for Human Rights [1], presented by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS).

Co-founded in 2010 by Just Associates (JASS) Mesoamerica, the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative is a collaboration of five organizations, including GHRC partner UDEFEGUA.

The Initiative works to strengthen and protect female human rights activists in Mexico and Central America who are attacked and even killed for their work. It does this by providing women defenders with rapid-response networks, training in human rights, security and self-care, assistance in documenting cases of attacks and publishing in-depth gendered analysis of the violence the women defenders face.

Read more about the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IM-DEFENSORAS) here.

[1] The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) created the Letelier-Moffitt International Award for Human Rights to honor the memory of Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffitt, IPS colleagues murdered in Washington D.C. in 1976 by a car bomb denoted by agents of Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet. While paying homage to Letelier and Moffitt, the award celebrates “new heroes of the human rights movement from the US and the Americas.”

GHRC Partners Testify at Inter-American Commission Hearings

Last week, GHRC supported organizations participating in two Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearings.

Commission members take notes as petitioners present case on human rights in Guatemala

Commission members take notes as petitioners present their case on human rights and social protest in Guatemala

The first case presented to the IACHR focused on the criminalization of social protest in Guatemala.* A panel that included community leaders from the country’s indigenous and campesino (peasant farmer) movements, as well as legal experts, detailed a slew of human rights violations that have occurred against protesters attempting to peacefully defend their territories against destructive mining and natural resource extraction projects.

Marlen Car, representing 12 indigenous communities from San Juan Sacatepéquez, denounced harassment of women and the illegal imprisonment of fellow community members who opposed a cement factory in the region. “The message to the business community is that these are our lands,” she stated. “No one is going to take them away because our ancestors left them to us.”

Top: Panel of petitioners; Bottom left: Marlen Car; Bottom right: State representatives

Top: Panel of petitioners; Bottom left: Marlen Car; Bottom right: State representatives

Continue reading

Weekly News Roundup

May 24th – May 31st

  • Elections for Human Rights Ombudsman temporarily suspended. On May 24, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court (CC) temporarily suspended the election for Human Rights Ombudsman after formally recognizing attorney Gustavo Martínez’s appeal to halt the election. Martínez filed the appeal because candidate Jorge De León Duque’s license to practice law was supposedly not up-to-date when the election shortlist was created, violating the Nomination Committee’s licensing requirements for the position. However, on May 30, the CC verified De León Duque’s qualifications and voted unanimously to allow the election to resume. The Standing Committee of the Legislature has scheduled the election for May 31.
  • UN Women to open an office next month in Guatemala to promote gender equality. On May 24, UN Women, an international organization created in 2010 to combat discrimination against women, announced that they would open an office in Guatemala this June. UN Women representative Ana Guezmës believes that there is an imperative for the organization to be in Guatemala in light of the high rates of sexual assault, femicide, and other types of gender-based violence that affect three out of every seven Guatemalan women. The new office will also work to address the economic hardships facing women in Guatemala.
  • Authorities capture men allegedly responsible for May 1 attack in Santa Cruz Barillas. On May 25, authorities captured two men suspected of murdering Andrés Pedro Miguel and seriously injuring Pablo Antonio Pablo and Esteban Bernabé on May 1 in Santa Cruz Barillas. The two men captured have been identified as Ricardo García López and Armando Ortíz Solares, and the investigation into the attack has revealed that although López and Solares did not work for Hidro Santa Cruz SA directly, they were subcontracted to work for the company as security guards. However, Hidro Santa Cruz still denies that it is affiliated with the men in any way, and on May 26, the company warned that it would take legal action against anyone who spread false information about the company’s relationship to the two men in custody. The question still remains as to whether Hidro Santa Cruz consorted with the bodyguards to murder Miguel, or whether the men had their own motives.
  • Quiché opponents of Hidroxil, SA hydroelectric company come before Constitutional Court (CC). On May 28, representatives from Nebaj, Quiché urged the CC to annul Agreement 99-2011, created by the Ministry of Energy and Mines under former President Álvaro Colom. The agreement authorized the Spanish company Hidroxil, SA to build the La Vega 1 hydroelectric dam on the rivers of Suchum and Xajbal in Quiché. In the meeting with the CC, the representatives stated that they did not oppose the function or operation of the hydroelectric dam, but instead opposed the Spanish company’s disrespectful conduct towards the indigenous communities.
  • UDEFEGUA records a 72.24% decline in number of attacks against human rights activists in Guatemala. On May 29, UDEFEGUA released a report that found that in the first quarter of 2012, there were 68 reported attacks against human rights activists, a 72.24% decline from the 245 attacks registered in the first quarter of 2011. Udefegua also found that 40% of the 68 attacks were directed at female activists. Verbal threats, defamation, persecution, and illegal detentions are among the several types of attacks UDEFEGUA recorded.
  • Peace Archives slated to close. On May 31, Secretary of Peace Antonio Arenales Forno announced the closure of the Peace Archives, a resource created in 2008 to digitize and analyze evidence of human rights violations that occurred during the internal armed conflict. The facility’s two million documents include information on military personnel involved in the internal armed conflict as well as chains of command that specify the dates of specific massacres. Researchers from the archives have served as expert witnesses in several human rights cases, including the ongoing case against ex-Head of State Efraín Ríos Montt. Forno predicts that once the facility closes, the digitized files will go into the General Archives of Central America in Guatemala City.
  • Guatemalan government intervenes in election for Guatemalan director of FLACSO. On May 31, the Guatemalan government intervened in the election for director of the Guatemalan headquarters of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO). The government vetoed FLACSO Guatemala’s unanimous decision to elect Dr. Óscar López Rivera, whom FLACSO Guatemala was preparing to present that day at the institution’s General Assembly meeting in Quito, Ecuador. Earlier this week, the Guatemalan government told the General Secretary of FLACSO to remove Dr. Rivera as the Guatemalan director and to expect to receive the name of a government-sanctioned replacement candidate soon thereafter. The government did not offer an explanation for its actions. Although governments are technically allowed to intervene in these elections, only in Mexico and in Chile has a governing body exercised that right in recent years. The academic institution has made a public statement denouncing the intervention.