GHRC presented the 2014 Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender Award to the Guatemalan Human Rights Law Firm. GHRC also presented a special posthumous award to Dr. Cesar Barrientos for hist contributions to the justice system. The awards were formally presented on October 28, 2014.
GHRC selected the Human Rights Law Firm for its unparalleled defense and promotion of human rights through its work accompanying victims and challenging injustice. The mission of the firm, founded by Edgar Pérez in 2009, is to provide professional and dignified legal representation and to promote human rights.
The legal team works almost exclusively with Guatemala’s most vulnerable and marginalized communities; most of the cases are done pro bono, using funds from the international community to support human rights cases for victims who would never be able to pay their own legal fees. They have worked, first and foremost, to prosecute those responsible for egregious human rights violations during Guatemala´s internal armed conflict. The Firm has also represented victims of sexual violence, labor violations, forced evictions and others who have suffered persecution. They have also begun to provide legal defense for individuals facing trumped up charges due to their human rights work.
In a country where justice often seems unattainable, Edgar and the Firm have proven time and again that it is possible. In 2009, they achieved the first sentence issued by a national court for the crime of forced disappearance during the internal armed conflict. In August 2011, they won a historic verdict in the Dos Erres case, in which four former Special Forces agents (kaibiles) were sentenced to 6,060 years – 30 years for each victim assassinated. And, in March 2013, after a decade of work on Guatemala’s Ixil Genocide case representing the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), they helped bring Generals Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sánchez to trial for genocide and war crimes.
When justice has been denied in Guatemala, the Firm has brought a number of cases to the Inter-American legal system. They also use public education and international advocacy to raise awareness and complement their strategic litigation.
Along with their legal support for victims of injustice, the Firm also seeks to promote the rule of law in Guatemala through a strengthening of the justice system, judicial independence, and ethical legal practices. As his firm grows, Edgar has mentored a new generation of lawyers that, in turn, become defenders of the rule of law. Their legal work continues to be a key contribution to the human rights movement.
Dr. César Barrientos Pellecer was a Supreme Court Justice, as well as a respected academic, who worked tirelessly to advance justice and the rule of law in Guatemala. He was a major force behind the creation of the High Risk Tribunals, which have successfully litigated formerly “untouchable” cases from Guatemala’s internal armed conflict and against organized
Dr. Barrientos also implemented numerous important procedural and administrative reforms of the criminal justice system. He was a staunch advocate of respecting Guatemala’s commitments and obligations under international law, and worked to ensure Guatemalan courts implemented rulings of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
At the time of his death on March 2, 2014, Dr. Barrientos was a Justice in the Criminal Chamber of Guatemala’s Supreme Court, and had previously served as President of the Chamber. His passing was felt deeply by GHRC, and was a tragic blow to justice in Guatemala.