June 3 Human Rights Update
June 3 Human Rights Update

June 3 Human Rights Update

Congress Will Discuss Removal of Jordan Rodas as Human Rights Ombudsman

On May 31, the Human Rights Commission of the Guatemalan Congress voted in favor of a proposal to request a plenary session to discuss the removal of Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas. The proposal–originally proposed by Congressman Manuel Conde–was approved with 11 votes in favor. Congress will now decide if Rodas should be removed for alleged “irregularities” that have supposedly occurred in his tenure as Ombudsman related to his candidacy as Rector of San Carlos University (USAC).

Rodas was a candidate in the election for the new head of USAC, but lost to Walter Mazareigos Biolis on May 14. The election, however, has been denounced by many civil and public institutions as fraudulent and illegal due to irregularities and obstruction that occurred during the election process. Only those electoral bodies in favor of Mazaeigos were allowed to vote during a closed door election. Video evidence reveals that outside of the building where the voting took place, national civil police, and armed groups barred other voters from entering.

The Ibero-American Federation of Ombudsman expressed its “deep worry for the attempted removal” of Rodas by the Human Rights Commission and demanded “respect for the rule of law, human rights, and democracy.” Human rights organizations have regarded the PDH as the final remaining independent institution in Guatemala, including the International Federation of Human Rights, which identified it as “the last instance for the protection of rights.” Jorge Santos, of the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), told our team that “the attack on Rodas serves to expedite the process to replace Rodas and further destroy the integrity of the PDH.”  

President Giammattei Threatens the Removal of USAID from Guatemala 

In a conversation with the Heritage Foundation, President Giammattei spoke of plans to request the departure of USAID from Guatemala. “Giammattei told us that he has already decided to ask the US Agency for International Development to leave Guatemala due to its promotion of indigenism,” wrote authors Mike González and Mateo Haydar on the Heritage Foundation Website. In the article, Giammattei is cited as accusing USAID and the US State Department under the Biden Administration of working with Indigenous communities in an effort to destabilize and overthrow the government. 

Days later, President Giammattei responded, saying that there was some misinterpretation within the translation of his quotes, explaining that the phrases he used were given “different interpretations in the context in which they were expressed.” According to US Ambassador to Guatemala William Popp,“We have not received any such information [of a request for removal], we continue to work daily with this effort.”

Conditions in Indigenous communities, however, have worsened significantly under the Giammattei administration. According to the UN, the national poverty rate for Indigenous communities  in recent years has been “almost 30 points above the national average,” and that “even before the COVID-19 pandemic, eight out of every 10 indigenous girls, boys and adolescents, live[d] in poverty.” In its 2021 report, USAID reported rates of malnutrition of 70 percent in the indigenous areas of  Totonicapán, Quiche, and Huehuetenango. According to the Borgen Project, in 2021, “Poverty rates average[d] 79 percent among indigenous groups, with 35 percent suffering from food insecurity.” 

Moreover, in the last month, several violent evictions have taken place in Baja Verapaz, including an attempted eviction in San Rafael, Purulhá, Baja Verapaz, where at least three were injured by gunfire. Criminalization of indigenous defenders doubled in 2021. Sixty-four defenders have been killed in the last four years, the majority of whom were indigenous land defenders. “They pursue us, they lock us up, and they kill us,” explained Ixil Authority Miguel de Leon Ceto to our DC Team. “They speak of sovereignty, but they mean the sovereignty to steal from us. They don’t care about the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples to decide what happens to their communities.” 

Judge Sends Toribio Acevedo Ramirez in Death Squad Dossier Case

On May 23, following three days of initial hearings, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ruled to include Toribio Acevedo Ramírez in the criminal proceedings in the high-profile “Death Squad Dossier” case. He–along with 9 others–is accused of charges of crimes against humanity, forced disappearance, murder, and attempted murder. 

Acevedo Ramírez was head of military intelligence under General Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores from 1982-86, four of the bloodiest years of the internal armed conflict. Smuggled out of the Guatemalan army’s intelligence files and provided to human rights advocates in 1999, the dossier details 183 cases of death and torture at the hands of Guatemalan security forces. This case opens the way for justice to be served.

Acevedo Ramírez–who was apprehended by Interpol in Panama on May 10 responding to a 2021 arrest warrant that he had been evading–has denied the charges against him. He claims that it was not he but another “Toribio Acevedo” whose name appears in the dossier. He is  supported by Ricardo Mendez Ruiz, the leader of the right-wing Foundation Against Terrorism, who landed on the US’s list of undemocratic actors in 2021 and has recently threatened Galvez, as well as Cementos Progreso (CEMPRO), the politically influential Guatemalan company for which he was recently the chief of security. CEMPRO released a statement in support of Acevedo on May 12, saying that Acevedo Ramirez’s “profile doesn’t at all correspond with the charges he faces.” The company has been linked to imposing extractive investment projects without consultation. It has also been accused of human rights violations against communities that oppose its projects, including criminalization, illegal and arbitrary detention, and the undue use of states of siege. 

On May 6, Judge Gálvez ruled to send the 9 others accused in connection with the Death Squad Dossier Case to trial and has since received threats. “They send me messages, they call me on the phone, there’s vehicles following; all of that is happening,” said Gálvez. He fears that his judicial immunity will be withdrawn “as revenge for [his] decisions.” Juan Pappier–senior investigator for Human Rights Watch’s Americas division–called on Guatemalan authorities to prevent attacks against Galvez, asserting that the situation has “left Guatemalan democracy hanging by a thread.”

Comptroller General Files Criminal Complaint Against MEM Employees for Misconduct in El Estor  

The Comptroller General of Guatemala (CGC) has filed a criminal complaint against Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) employees Alberto Pimental Mata and Luis Chang Navarro in response to the illegal operation of the Fenix Mining Project in El Estor. In December 2021, the CGC obtained documents stating that the mine continued activity until December 31, 2021, in direct violation of a Constitutional Court (CC) ruling in 2019 that ordered a suspension of mining operations until a proper consultation could be carried out. Now, both Pimental Mata and Chang Navarro  face the CGC criminal complaint MP001 – 2021 – 5868, which is currently in the hands of the Public Prosecutor’s office for Administrative Crimes.

Chang Navarro and Pimental Mata have denied the allegations. Pimental Mata told auditors, ​​“As the highest authority of the Ministry of Energy and Mines, I was not aware of the decision issued by the Constitutional Court, and even less, that it had not been complied with by the ministerial authorities that were in charge at that time.” Chang Navarro argued that “there was no failure on my part to comply with the orders issued by the court of appeals, given that the timeline and the rules of the constitutional process of the appeal gave such obligation to another person.” The auditors, however, said that the noncompliance of the ministers in office in 2019 and 2020 had been verified, given that the ruling of the Constitutional Court wasn’t complied with.

The situation in El Estor, however, has not changed. Mining operations were officially reactivated in January following a highly contested “community consultation,” which took place in a context of repression of anti-mining protesters and the suspension of basic constitutional rights through a state of siege. Harassment, intimidation, and attacks against resistance members have continued in 2022. Earlier this year, one community member was detained by local police on trumped-up charges and 11 others associated with the anti-mining resistance face pending arrest warrants. On May 16, Indigenous Authority Adela Choc was attacked in her home and threatened with death when pro-mining community members accused her of witchcraft, held her against her will, and burned down her house. 

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