By Jason Mann, GHRC Summer 2015 Intern
On 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.
Hudbay Minerals/CGN Former Head of Security on Trial in Guatemala for Mining-related Violence
The criminal trial against the former security chief of mining company Hudbay Minerals/CGN, Mynor Padilla, began on April 8 in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. Padilla is charged with the murder of Aldofo Ich Chamán and the wounding of at least ten others who opposed Hudbay/CGN’s nickel mining project in El Estor.
Unfortunately, this is only one example of the violent encounters provoked by extractive projects in Guatemala. Hubday Minerals is already facing lawsuits in Canadian courts for other crimes related to their activities in Guatemala.
Human Rights Defender Assassinated Near Tahoe Resources Mine
On Sunday, April 5, Telesforo Pivaral — a community member from San Rafael Las Flores — was murdered. Pivaral had been a member of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace of San Rafael Las Flores, and was active in the resistance to the “El Escobal” mining project.
Oxfam’s office in Guatemala and 23 other organizations are joining together to call for the Guatemalan government to investigate the attack. Continue reading
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).
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
(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
IACHR Hearings on Guatemala
At hearings at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Tuesday in Washington, DC, Guatemalan organizations discussed access to justice and the legacy of the internal armed conflict, as well as the situation of human rights defenders, militarization and judicial independence.
In addition, the IACHR has expressed concern about the excessive militarization of Guatemala. The organization points to the presence of the military in schools, civilian security squadrons, and the use of martial law. In response, the Guatemalan government has denied the existence of militarization in the country and claims that the army only supports the police in security matters if the situation requires it.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights Finds Guatemala Guilty of Failing to Investigate Activist’s Death
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) announced that it found Guatemala guilty of failing to investigate the death of human rights defender Florentin Gudiel Ramos. The court also determined that the government failed to provide adequate protection for his daughter, Makrina Gudiel, who is also a human rights activist. The State has failed to comply with eleven similar rulings in other human rights cases, prompting the IACtHR to declare Guatemala in contempt of court in August 2014.
Makrina visited the US this year as part of GHRC’s Spring Speaker’s Tour. Read more about Makrina’s fight for justice here.
Guatemalan Officers Face Sexual Slavery Charges in Historic Trial
Guatemalan activist and feminist Luz Mendez writes about another historic case moving forward in Guatemala. On October 14th, Guatemala’s High Risk Court ruled that two army officers would be charged for sexual crimes perpetrated against Q’eqchí women at the military outpost of Sepur Zarco. These crimes were committed over a six-year period between 1982 and 1988. The trial is the first for sexual slavery during armed conflict that has been presented in the country where the acts took place, and could establish an important precedent in ending impunity for crimes of sexual violence.
Process for the Election of Judges in Guatemala in Question
At least 80 actions have been filed with the Constitutional Court related to the process of selecting the magistrates for Guatemala’s Supreme Court and appeals courts.
The United Nations, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and several national and international organizations have requested that the Constitutional Court (CC) order a repeat of the process from the very beginning, alleging that there were various violations of the law which governs the process. The CC also ordered that until it is able to rule on the actions, the appointment of the new magistrates is suspended, and the existing magistrates will remain in their positions.
In addition, one judge who was appointed to a court of appeals, Claudia Escobar, resigned in protest claiming that she had been pressured by a member of Congress, Gudy Rivera, to rule in favor of Vice President Roxana Baldetti and the ruling Patriot Party in exchange for the appointment to the court. In response, the CICIG requested the Rivera’s immunity from prosecution be removed.
In a separate process, two lawyers have been charged with abuse of power with the Third Appeals Court Judge, Erick Gustavo Santiago de Leon. The Public Prosecutors Office alleges that the attorneys offered Santiago de Leon Q16 million to reduce a fine for a company from Q93 million to Q3 million. Meanwhile, the magistrate was reelected to the appeals court. Continue reading
Lawsuit filed against Tahoe Resources
A lawsuit is being filed against Tahoe Resources in relation to the violence that occurred during a 2013 peaceful protest at the Escobal silver mine in San Rafael Las Flores. The mine’s security guards are being accused by seven Guatemalans of attacking them and critically injuring Luis Fernando García Monroy after shooting him three times, once in the face. The lawsuit also accuses Tahoe’s Chief of Security in Guatemala, Alberto Rotondo, of various crimes, including ordering the attack on the peaceful protestors, fabricating a story that the demonstrators attacked mine employees, and arranging the tampering of evidence. Continue reading