Guatemala News Update: Jan. 30-Feb. 5

Oscar Mejía Víctores, former head of state accused of genocide, dies under house arrest
Oscar Mejía Víctores died Monday morning at the age of 85. He was the head of State of Guatemala between 1983 and 1986, taking power through a coup d’état that ousted his predecessor Jose Efraín Ríos Montt. Under his leadership, the government forcibly disappeared over 600 people and killed thousand of indigenous. He had been under house arrest since 2011 for accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity during his tenure as the head of State.

Guatemala Supreme Court Rules Against Lifting Congressman’s Immunity
The Guatemalan Supreme Court has denied prosecutors’ request to lift the immunity of Congressman and presidential advisor Edgar Justino Ovalle, on the basis of insufficient evidence. As a public official, he has immunity from prosecution. He has been accused of human rights abuses during his tenure as a military officer during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict war.

First Week of Sepur Zarco Trial Underway
The trial against a military officer and a military commissioner began Feb. 1. The men are charged with crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence, sexual and domestic slavery, as well as forced disappearance of indigenous villagers during Guatemala’s internal conflict. International observers have been blogging daily about the trial at the International Justice Monitor and Breaking the Silence.

Nickel company announces new mining project in Baja Verapaz
The Canadian company CVMR Corporation and Central American Nickel Inc. have announced a partnership to mine 3 million tons of mineral ore each year in Santa Anita located in Baja Verapaz which is considered to be one of the largest, untapped reserves of Nickel in existence. From Guatemala, the ore will be shipped to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to be refined. The project is not far from Rio Negro and the 33 communities displaced and massacred during the construction of the Chixoy Hydroelectric dam project. Another nickel mine operating in the neighboring department of Izabal is responsible for acts of violence, including a murder and the gang rape of 11 women by security forces.

New Law for Missing Women Passed in Guatemala
A law was passed on January 29th that establishes the ability to immediately search for missing women. At least 4,500 women have been reported missing over the last two years, and according to Congresswoman Sandra Moran, law enforcement often does not respond immediately when a woman goes missing. This law, the result of the combined efforts of many women’s rights organization, hopes to curb the incidence of kidnapping women for forced labor or prostitution.

Growing concern over treatment of Central American refugees
On Feb. 4, 34 Members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Attorney General Loretta Lynch to express concern over the treatment and safety of deported Central American families in response to the recent raids.Many of these families may qualify for special accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, protections that were not taken into account during the raids. The Members of Congress call for a suspension of raids, more careful review and screening of cases, among other changes to DHS protocols.

Bill in support of Community Radio up for vote in Guatemalan Congress
The Community Media Bill 4087 aims to legalize community radio within Guatemala. Current telecommunications laws do not allow for the municipalities to create or have access to non-profit licenses for community radios. Without a public radio system, communities cannot easily distribute important news and educational programming information such as emergency disaster relief, voter registration, and public health campaigns broadcast in their native language. Originally introduced to the Congress in 2009, the bill had been stalled up to February 2 when the first reading of the bill took place. The vote on Bill 4087 could take place as soon as February 9th.

International organizations applaud the initiation of the Sepur Zarco trial

[Abajo en español]

International organizations applaud the initiation of the first trial for sexual slavery and violence during the armed conflict in Guatemala: the Sepur Zarco Case

Guatemala, Washington D.C. and San José, February 1, 2016.- Today the trial begins in the “Sepur Zarco” case of acts of sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery committed from 1982 to 1986 by members of the Guatemalan army against Maya Q’eqchi’ women and the forced disappearance of several men. The accused in the case are former soldier Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig.

This will be the first time in the world that a national court has tried a case of wartime sexual slavery case – other cases have been heard in international criminal tribunals – and the first time in Guatemala that crimes of sexual violence have been tried as international crimes. “The Guatemalan judicial system has been a pioneer in investigating complex crimes, demonstrating to other countries that confront similar challenges that it can be done,” stated Leonor Arteaga, a program officer with the Due Process of Law Foundation (DPLF). Continue reading

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: March 30 – April 10

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

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).

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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

Commemorating the 2015 Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict

(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

Guatemala News Update: October 27 – 31

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.