8/26/22 Take Action: Demand the Release of Journalist José Ruben Zamora, Samari Gómez Díaz, and Flora Silva
In spite of widespread international criticism, the Guatemalan government has ramped up its efforts to criminalize those in the fight against corruption and impunity.
On July 29, police arrested one of Guatemala’s most prominent journalists. José Ruben Zamora–founder and director of the Guatemalan news outlet El Periodico–was arrested at his home in Guatemala City, following an extensive raid of his home and the newspaper’s offices. A prosecutor working with the Special Office of Crimes Against Impunity (FECI), Samari Gómez Díaz, was arrested on July 29, as well. The charges against them, according to the Public Ministry, are related to money laundering and leaking of information. The charges against Zamora also include blackmail and influence peddling. They have been held in pretrial detention since their arrest.
El Periodico, founded in 1996, has been internationally recognized for excellence in investigative journalism, and over the years, Zamora has faced threats, harassment, and intimidation. As explained by his son Ramón Zamora, however, the arrest of Zamora is part of a coordinated and escalating effort by the Guatemalan government to constrict civic space: “This is not a case against my father, it is a systematic attack against freedom of expression and democracy. They started with the activists, continued on to the prosecutors, and now they are starting to pursue journalists.”
On August 19, in spite of international outcry surrounding Zamora’s arrest, Guatemala’s Public Ministry ordered the arrest of Flora Silva, the finance director of El Periodico. Silva’s home was raided prior to her arrest. According to a statement released by El Periodico, Silva had been cooperating with Public Ministry authorities since the investigation began into alleged blackmail and money laundering by Zamora. Silva had a hypertension crisis during the raid and was hospitalized after her arrest. She was transferred to Mariscal Zavala prison following her discharge from the hospital on August 23.
GHRC/USA has issued an Urgent Action Alert, asking that messages be to the Guatemalan embassy demanding the immediate release of Zamora and those spuriously charged in connection with him, the development of a public policy to protect human rights defenders, and an end to persecution of journalists and defenders of human rights. See our Alert and take action here.
6/21/22 Land Defenders Arrested–Take Action!
On Monday, June 13, Cristobal Pop, President of the Fisherman’s Guild in El Estor Roque Sub, an Indigenous Authority in the same region were arrested in Guatemala City after denouncing human rights violations by the illegal Fenix Mine. Pop is one of the 12 defenders facing criminalization for his participation in the movement to stop mining in El Estor. He was arrested despite the fact that there is no evidence linking him to the crime he is accused of. Both men are currently being held in the prison in Puerto Barrios, Izabal.
Less than a week later, on June 19, Sofia Tot–human rights defender and community leader –was.arrested in Purulha, Baja Verapaz. As an indigenous representative before the Departmental Councils for Urban Development (CODEDE) and recognized leader of the Purulha resistance, she is being targeted for her work to recuperate land belonging to the Maya Poqomchi’ people. We are concerned, not only because her detention was illegal and arbitrary, but for her safety as an indigenous woman facing charges in Baja Verapaz. The last woman human rights defenders detained in Purulha faced horrific violence while detained, including sexual abuse.
We are concerned for the safety of all three defenders, especially that of Sofia, as women in Purulha have historically faced violence, including sexual abuse while detained by police. In addition, these arrests reveal a worrisome pattern of worsening criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala. In January, we met with the Fisherman’s Union in El Estor, including Cristobal who shared his fears with us. “The police wait for me wherever I go,” he explained, continuing, “I’m afraid they’re going to arrest me … or worse.” For many of the defenders in El Estor, Cristobal’s arrest is a nightmare realized. Join us to demand the release of these defenders today.
Click here to take action and send a letter to Ambassador Alfonso Quiñónez at the Guatemalan Embassy in DC to denounce the blatant criminalization of indigenous defenders in Guatemala and demand their freedom.
2/17/22 Protest the Targeting of Anti-Corruption Officials – Take Action Now!
The Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office since February 10 has intensified its targeting of independent judges, prosecutors, and attorneys involved in the fight against corruption. Over a 14-day span, the Attorney General’s Office has issued seven arrest warrants. Six defenders of judicial independence have been arrested.
Attorney Leyli Indira Santizo Rodas, former President of the International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG), has been arrested; Eva Xiomara Sosa, former prosecutor with the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), has been arrested; Willy Roberto Racanac Lopez, an assistant prosecutor with FECI, has been arrested; Paola Escobar, also an assistant prosecutor with FECI, has been arrested; Aliss Moran, a former assistant prosecutor with FECI who resigned in January, had her house raided on February 16 and was arrested, after presenting herself voluntarily, on February 17; and Rudy Manolo Herrera Lemus, a former FECI prosecutor, has an arrest warrant pending.
On February 23, Virginia Laparra, the head of FECI’s Quetzaltenango office, was arrested on charges of providing false testimony, abuse of authority, and encroachment of functions. She apparently fainted as she was informed of the arrest and was taken to a health clinic before being turned over to the court.
The female prosecutors/former prosecutors are awaiting their trials in prison, where they fear for their safety. Racanac Lopez, due to medical concerns, is awaiting trial under house arrest.
These arrests are occurring in the context of revelations in the Salvadoran daily El Foro that President Alejandro Giammattei funded his election campaign illegally, receiving $2.6 million in exchange for granting contracts to particular construction companies.
Please write to Ambassador Alfonso Quiñónez at the Guatemalan Embassy in DC. Express profound concern about the systematic targeting of judicial personnel working for justice and transparency in Guatemala. Urge the Ambassador to ensure that defenders of transparency, justice, and the rule of law be allowed to do their work without hindrance. Demand that the lives and physical integrity of those arrested be guaranteed, that due process is ensured, and that spurious criminalization of human rights defenders be brought to an immediate end.
At this link, you can send an email to the Guatemalan Ambassador. Feel free to tailor and sign your message.
9/24/21 Take action now to support human rights and the rule of law in Guatemala!
A Dear Colleague Letter circulating in the House addresses the “rapid decline of human rights, democratic institutions, and rule of law in Guatemala” and asks Secretary of State Blinken to take decisive action against proponents of corruption and impunity in Guatemala and in support of human rights defenders.
Call or email your representative in the House.
7/9/2021 Urge your senators to appropriate funding wisely
The situation in Guatemala continues to be extremely concerning. (See the Action Alert related to the congressional appropriations process at the bottom of the page). Four judges of the High-Risk Court announced in a press conference on June 21 that they have been threatened and followed by armed men in vehicles without license plates. Among these judges is Miguel Ángel Gálvez, in charge of the Diario Militar case, a pivotal case of transitional justice. Yasmín Barrios, who presided over the genocide trial in which Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty, told reporters that her security team must now report all her movements on a daily basis to the Director of Police, a requirement that she said interferes with judicial independence and endangers her. Erika Aifán, who was honored by the US State Department as a 2021 Woman of Courage, and Pablo Xitimul also reported surveillance and harassment. The four judges also have multiple lawsuits pending against them, some filed nearly a decade ago, which they said the Public Ministry should either have found to have merit or dismissed, rather than leaving open.
- NGO Law is in Effect
A law that allows the Guatemalan executive branch to shut down nongovernmental organizations that “alter the public order” or are not considered to be contributing to the common good took effect on June 21.The UN and the OAS expressed alarm about the NGO law, saying it “violates international human rights standards and could criminalize human rights defenders and civil society in general.” Several appeals against the law have been filed with the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the law violates the Guatemalan Constitution. More than 200 Guatemalan organizations decried the law in a statement, and over seventy international organizations, including GHRC, denounced the threat to free association the law implies. The specifics of the law’s implementation are yet to be announced.
- Amnesty Bill Introduced
The latest proposal of a law to grant blanket amnesty to perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the internal armed conflict was introduced in the Guatemalan Congress by the Valor party in June. When a similar bill was introduced in 2019, the UN expressed concern it would “seriously affect victims’ rights to justice, truth, reparation, and guarantees of non-repetition. It could also lead to reprisals and attacks against victims, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, plaintiffs, witnesses, experts and others involved in human rights trials, putting at risk their own safety and that of their families.” Under this law, anyone already convicted of grave human rights violations during the internal armed conflict would be freed within twenty-four hours. Current criminal proceedings would be ended and future suits would be impossible.
The process of approval in 2019 was interrupted by a resolution from the Inter-American Court requiring the Guatemalan government to shelve the law, which interfered with rulings the Court had made in 14 cases. It is believed that this time, regardless of external pressure, the Constitutional Court could rule in favor of the law.The bill is likely to be debated in Congress in August. Survivors of grave human rights crimes have denounced the amnesty law and protested in front of the congressional building.
- Chicoyogüito Protesters Demanding Return of Land Face Charges; Three Remain Jailed
The first hearing in the case of 21 Mayan Q’eqchi men of the Chicoyogüito community who were arrested as they were beginning to demonstrate for the return of their land took place on June 18 in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. Eighteen of the men were released on a bail of Q5,000 each (approximately $645). All of those arrested were accused of aggravated land grabbing, although they were demonstrating on public property. Three were accused also of violent assault.Those three remain in prison. The next hearing is set for July 12. Several organizations have voiced deep concern about the arrests and violations of due process. The men were first brought before a judge nine days after their arrest, in violation of the law, which requires presentation before a judge within forty-eight hours. Representatives of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, as well as members of the media, were not permitted access to the courtroom.
On the positive side are two recent events: in Honduras, where patterns of extractive industries, corruption, and violence parallel those in Guatemala, one of the planners of the murder of a high-profile human rights defender was found guilty; and positive elements are included in the House Appropriations Bill. For more, and an Action Alert, see below.
- Conviction of David Castillo in Berta Cáceres Case is a Blow to Impunity
Guatemala City Office Director Isabel Solis, representing GHRC in the Expert Observation Mission of the Berta Cáceres case, has closely followed the trial of David Castillo, former general manager of the Honduran hydroelectric company Desarrollos Energéticos Sociedad Anónima (DESA). On July 5, Castillo was found guilty of participation in the planning of Cáceres’ murder. Evidence revealed that Castillo harassed and threatened Cáceres as she supported the indigenous Lenca community in asserting their right to resist DESA’s 2013 construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam. The Honduran court’s unanimous decision comes almost two years after the conviction of seven other men involved in Cáceres’ murder, all of whom are claimed to have been working on behalf of Castillo’s corporation. The court has yet to confirm the length of Castillo’s prison sentence.
The Dutch development bank FMO reacted to the guilty verdict with a statement: “We have taken notice of the verdict in the trial of David Castillo in Honduras. The assassination of Berta Cáceres was a tragedy. We have the deepest sympathy with all those affected by her death and hope this conviction brings some solace to her family and all those close to her. The verdict means we financed a company whose CEO has now been found guilty of being involved in murder. We are devastated by this.” USAID also funded DESA and, according to reports, quietly dissolved its contract after Cáceres’ murder. Additional intellectual authors remain to be prosecuted, including members of Honduras’ powerful Atalah family.
- House State Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill Includes Some Improvements
Also in positive news, the House Appropriations Bill for FY 2022 prohibits foreign military funding (FMF) to Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras and requires more Congressional oversight on the use of International Military Training and Education in Central America. The bill includes funding tor the UN High Commissioner’s Office in Guatemala and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. The bill also conditions a larger percentage of aid on certain benchmarks that must be met, stipulating that 75 percent (rather than the usual 50 percent) of the funding directed to the central government must be withheld if the State Department cannot certify that these conditions have been met.
The report accompanying the bill provides several positive, though nonbinding, directives to the State Department. No funds can be used for “assistance for major infrastructure plans, nor to finance infrastructure or energy projects that contribute to environmental damage, violate labor laws, disregard community land rights including indigenous land rights, or are opposed by local residents.” Also, the report directs the State Department to help implement Peace Accords in El Salvador and Guatemala: “The Committee recommends that assistance be made available to support peace accord implementation in El Salvador and Guatemala, including through coordination with civil society groups.” The Senate Appropriations Committee will soon mark up its version of the bill, while this coming Tuesday, the Defense Appropriations Committee will be considering the allocation of funding through the Pentagon.
Please take action by contacting your representatives’ offices. Ask your senator to maintain the positive language in the House bill regarding foreign military financing [i.e., no FMF]. Ask also that International Military Education and Training funds be suspended. Finally, ask that the language in the House report, which specifies no funds can be provided for development projects that damage the environment, violate human rights or labor rights, or are undertaken against the wishes of the affected communities be incorporated into the Senate bill. Making these asks is also an opportunity to express concern about the closing of civic space in Guatemala, with the NGO law, the possible amnesty law, excessive use of force and arbitrary arrests by the National Civil Police, as demonstrated in the Chicoyoguito case, and criminalization of and threats to human rights defenders and judges.
Please see the Action Alert from the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) here.
2/23/21 ABELINO CHUB CAAL’S ACQUITTAL HAS BEEN APPEALED—COURT HEARS APPEAL TOMORROW
Tomorrow, at 10:00 AM, High Risk Court A will hear an appeal in the criminal case against Abelino Chub Caal. Abelino was acquitted of all charges in April 2019 and was freed after serving more than two years in pretrial detention.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office filed an appeal against the acquittal sentence (C-18002-2016-00328) handed down on April 22, 2019 by High Risk Court A, in Guatemala City. The appeal claims that the court’s ruling was faulty because it did not grant evidentiary value to two witnesses.
This action by the Public Prosecutor’s Office is quite worrisome; Abelino’s defense lawyers have reviewed the sentence and stress that the sentence is well founded.
It is not known exactly what the motives of the Public Prosecutor’s Office are for acting without a basis in regards to the sentence.
The imprisonment of Abelino Chub Caal and the continuing judicial persecution of Chub Caal appear to be linked to efforts by business interests to acquire land in the community of Plan Grande del Estor, Izabal.
Worrisome as well is the fact that there no information from the Public Prosecutor’s Office about any progress in the investigation of the illegal appropriation of Q’eqchi lands; the same High Risk Court A has “order[ed] the Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the irregularities detected in the public deeds” of the company that denounced Chub Caal. This same company insists on evicting the community of Plan Grande from the land.
In light of this situation, we fear for Abelino Chub Caal and call on the international community to monitor the hearing and denounce the undue use of the criminal justice system to harass Abelino Chub Caal.
Abelino Chub was arrested on February 4, 2017 after the CXI Corporation and Cobra Investments, banana and palm companies, charged that he had led a group of indigenous farmers to violently occupy the Plan Grande Farm in northeastern Guatemala on August 7, 2016. They accused him of burning trees in the palm farm during the occupation.
At the time of his arrest, Abelino worked with the Guillermo Toriello Foundation accompanying communities in northeastern Guatemalan working to ascertain legal title to ancestral lands as well as rural development community work. He is bilingual Q’eqchi and Spanish teacher who was finishing a degree at the Mariano Galvez University when he was arrested.
Tweet the US Embassy and state your concern for Abelino. Ask the Embassy to monitor the trial and his case closely. Call on the US government to insist that judicial persecution of human rights defenders like Abelino be brought to an immediate end.
#AbelinoChubCaal continues to be persecuted for defending Q’eqchi land. @USembassyguate Observe the hearing tomorrow in High Risk Court A that seeks to overturn his acquittal. False prosecution of defenders must end. #Ruleoflaw requires respect for the law.
#AbelinoChubCaal was acquitted. Why is the Public Prosecutor in #Guatemala appealing? #humanrights defenders must be free to do their work. @USembassyguate There is no #ruleoflaw without due process. Monitor the case and demand respect for the law. @State_DRL @HouseForeign
12/23/2019 CALL TO URGENT ACTION
As we gather with our loved ones, please remember the human rights defenders who will spend the holidays in prison on baseless charges to prevent them from defending human rights.
Below GHRC describes the situation of nine out of many indigenous rights defenders who will spend the holidays in prison. Most cases of malicious prosecution are based on complaints by powerful corporations attempting to take over water, land and forests communities need to survive. Increasingly we see patterns emerging that show collusion between organized crime networks and these extractive industries, but they are often financed by US government financed multilateral development banks, like the World Bank.
- Francisco Lucas Pedro, a Q’anjob’l man widely recognized for his work in defense of his community which opposed the Cambalam dam.
- Bernardo Caal, a Q’eqchi teacher who has been sentenced to seven and a half years on unsubstantiated charges related to a peaceful protest.
- Seven protesters wrongly imprisoned as a result of their defense of the Guapinol river in Colon, Honduras from contamination by a mine beginning operation in the core zone of a protected area. They and their families are facing a particularly terrifying holiday; prison massacres have killed at least 40 detainees in Honduras in three separate prisons on December 14, 21 and 22.
Even during the holidays, you can call or email your congressional representative. Ask that they express concern to the State Department and Treasury Department. The US government must end support for programs that lead to the mass wrongful prosecution of hundreds of Guatemalans, mostly indigenous people, on baseless charges clearly intended to stop their defense of human rights. See the sample letter, below.
Many more human rights defenders spend the holidays in conditional freedom, under the dark cloud of pending judicial processes they face in response to their important work. Among those is Orlando Lopez, the extremely successful lead prosecutor of the Special Prosecutors Office for Human Rights. Lopez led the prosecution of many high-profile cases of crimes against humanity during Guatemala’s genocide, including the CREOMPAZ, Molina Theissen, and Sepur Zarco cases. He was the prosecutor during the trial of Efrain Rios Mont. This made him powerful enemies. Early next year he will face proceedings for charges led by the Foundation Against Terrorism, an association of genocide era military officers.
Though Guatemala’s stunning national prosecutions of war crimes drew international attention, in Guatemala and Honduras the judicial system is still highly subject to illegal networks of influence led by organized crime networks and corporations.
Take Action: Call or Write Congress
Write to your congressional representatives, (202) 224-3121. Please target members of congress in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Sample letter/ call:
I am extremely concerned that human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras are spending the holidays in prison, particularly in Honduras where over 40 detainees have been killed in three separate prison massacres since December 14.
I am particularly upset that in many cases US funded development banks, like the World Bank, are financing corporations that use corruption and illicit influence networks in the weak judicial systems to persecute human rights defenders protecting people and the environment when negatively impacted by the corporations activities.
Please contact the US State Department and the US Treasury to insist they do all in their power to gain the release of imprisoned human rights defenders like Francisco Lucas, Bernardo Caal and the Guapinol water defenders.
Francisco Lucas Pedro, community leader in Barillas, Huehuetengo opposed to the Cambalam dam
Francisco Lucas Pedro of Barillas, Huehuetenango is a well-known Q’anjoba’l human rights defender and journalist with the Prensa Comunitaria, which reports that he was arrested on December 21, 2019 on litany of charges filed by the Hidro Santa Cruz Corporation (HSC) in 2012. In a December 22, 2019 communique, the Plurinational Government of Akateca, Chuj, and Q’anjoba’l Original Nations (GPN) noted that over twenty people named in the same complaint have been acquitted after demonstrating that the accusations were not supported.
Though the HSC initiated the charges in 2012, Francisco Lucas was a mayoral candidate in Barillas for the Winaq party in 2015 and 2019. On both occasions he received documentation from judicial authorities that he was free of criminal proceedings, and in an interview published by Prensa Comunitaria, Lucas explains that just ten days ago for unrelated paperwork he had obtained a copy of his judicial history, which was free of charges. This could indicate that either HSC or prosecutors reinitiated proceedings very recently. His arraignment hearing is scheduled for December 26, though his lawyers are atttempting to advance the hearing to before Christmas.
His arrest occurred on the three-year anniversary of the HSC’s 2016 announcement that it would definitively withdraw from Cambalam hydroelectric project in Barillas, shortly after a petition signed by over 23,000 people was submitted to the Spanish corporation. He was also arrested days before the trial of two HSC sub-contracted security guards, Ricardo Arturo García López y Óscar Ortiz Solares, scheduled to begin December 26. The former guards are charged with the shooting death of Andres Pedro Miguel and grave injuries to Esteban Bernabé Mateo y Antonio Pablo Pablo, three Q’anjob’l opponents of the Cambalam project.
Francisco Lucas was The Cambalam project was financed by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector lending arm of the World Bank Group.
Bernardo Caal Xol, sentence of 7 without evidence, response to legal opposition to Oxec dam
ction in Guatemala’s Constitutional Court against the Oxec dam Q’eqchi community of Santa Maria Cahabon. There, Caal along with fellow Q’eqchi human rights defenders, promoted an August 2017 referendum in which the communities overwhelmingly rejected the Oxec project.
Caal was arrested January 30, 3018 on unsubstantiated charges related to a protest against Oxec. Despite the lack of evidence against Caal, he was sentenced to spend over 7 years in prison in a clearly biased ruling currently under appeal. The Constitutional Court’s ruling has yet to be complied with, and Oxec continues operation.
November 2018 Bernardo Caal was sentenced to more than 7 years in prison by Coban Judge Walter Fabricio Rosales Hernandez. Coban is a drug trafficking corridor, in these areas the judicial system is subject to a high level of influence by criminal networks. Though Caal’s lawyers are appealing the sentence, the Coban courts are particularly slow, so it is expected that the case will not reach courts in Guatemala City until the end of next year. The Oxec hydroelectric project was also financed by the IFC.
Guapinol Environmental Defenders, pending trial on unsupported charges
Another area where the judicial system is extremely compromised by the influence of organized crime networks the north coast of Honduras. There, in a region known as the Bajo Aguan, local human rights and development organizations, together with the Catholic Church social outreach programs, over the past five years have sought through administrative actions with local government to stop mining licenses in the Carlos Escaleras Montana de los Botaderos National Park, which is the source of water for tens of thousands of homes in the region.
In 2018 the communities who rely on the Guapinol River as a source of water protested when their water became unusable. The company, which has a history of violence against impacted communities, church workers and human rights defenders, responded by filing unsubstantiated charges against community members, and the local human rights, development and church related organizations. In March 2019, thirteen of the people falsely accused were released from prison after the lack of evidence was demonstrated in a highly observed indictment hearing.
A few months later, on August 29 seven more who had been named in the same charges, presented themselves voluntarily. They expected to have the charges dismissed as the case against them was based on the same faulty evidence as the previous case.With less attention on the case, the seven were charged and ordered to await trial in preventative detention. The judge even charged a man who had died years before the protests. Neither the judges who issued the arrest warrant nor the judges who charged the seven protestors and ordered their preventive detention have jurisdiction to review the case, which means they are currently the subject of arbitrary detention. Their lawyers have filed a habeus corpus petition, but have not received any response.
These wrongfully imprisoned protestors and their families are facing a particularly terrifying holiday season, prison massacres have killed at least 42 detainees in three separate prisons in Honduras in slightly over one week, on December 14, 21 and 22.
Today, Representatives Norma Torres (D-CA) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) presented the “Guatemala Rule of Law Accountibility Act” in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. The bills would combat corruption, money laundering, and impunity in Guatemala by requiring US President Trump to apply Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act sanctions to Guatemalan government officials. The sanctions would include freezing assets and the denial of visas to enter the United States. “This bill is a direct response to flagrant actions by officials in Guatemala to subvert the rule of law,” said Senator Leahy.
TAKE ACTION: Call your Congressional Representative and Senators. (202) 224-3121. Ask them to sponsor the Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act. While the bill’s focus is corruption, the corruption rings in Guatemala allow human rights abuses to occur with impunity.
This announcement comes just a day after the Guatemalan national congress approved the “Amnesty Law” for crimes against humanity in the second round of votes. The majority of Congress must vote to approve a bill three times before it becomes law. With just one vote remaining, the bill could become law as early as next week. These illegal reforms to the National Reconciliation Law provide amnesty for all crimes committed during the Guatemala’s 36 year armed conflict (1960-96). Those who committed massacres, torture, rape, forced disappearance and extrajudicial executions during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict would walk free.
Tomorrow marks two years since a state-run girls home “Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asuncion” for at-risk girls was left to burn with 56 girls locked inside; as authorities refused to unlock the door; forty-one eventually died of injuries. State functionaries responsible for the care of the girls have been investigated and arrested, but the legal process has been marked with delays. Testimonies from families of the victims and survivors show patterns of physical, psychological and sexual abuse that the girls endured before the tragedy in 2017. Social movement organizations, legal firms and grassroots networks are working for justice and healing for the victims and their families.
2/26/2019 Call Congress Now!
End the wrongful incarceration of Honduran environmental defenders.
On Saturday, February 23, twelve recognized Honduran human rights defenders were imprisoned because of their legitimate defense of the drinking water of fourteen communities. Community leaders and organizations who have demanded that the Municipal Government carry out the legally mandated consultation of projects that impact the protected area have been the target of threats, violence, defamation, hate campaigns and now, false imprisonment.
A hearing scheduled to take place on Thursday, February 28 will determine if the environmental defenders will be forced to remain in prison for up to 2.5 years as they await trial for unsubstantiated and politically motivated charges. Background information is below, after the Take Action section.
This is part of a growing trend across Central America of false prosecution of human rights defenders. In Guatemala, the Indigenous Peoples Legal Clinic documented over 900 arrest warrents for land and resource rights defenders just in the department of Alta Verapaz. Just yesterday 2018 Alice Zachmann award winner Jovita Tzul, a lawyer with the Indigenous Peoples Legal Clinic, was visiting communities impacted by Inter American Development Bank supported dams in northern Huehuetenango, when police grabbed her in the main town after she returned from community visits, claiming she had an arrest warrent. After showing identification that proved she was a lawyer, they released her. We will send more information soon about response to this attack.
Call your congressional representative. (202) 224-
Write Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Marco Rubio office: Bethany_Poulos@rubio.senate.go
Attempts to consolidate the technical coup promoted by President Jimmy Morales’ administration continued this week, as you can see in the detailed update of events below. If President Morales’ administration succeeds, human rights defenders, indigenous authorities, community leaders, environmentalists, and opposItion politicians will all be in much greater risk.
As we fight to stop the conditions that are forcing Central Americans to flee their communities, we must support the rights of refugees. This week, President Trump threatens to enact a state of emergency to build a border wall, the Pentagon announced a new deployment that could add 2,000 additional troops to the US Mexico border, and on January 28th, the U.S. government began a new policy of deporting refugees who seek asylum at the US-Mexico border, forcing them to await review of the request in Mexico. This marks a tidal shift in US immigration policy. We ask you to take two actions.
First, please keep calling congress. (202) 224-2131. Ask for the staff person who works on Foreign Policy. Tell them, “Please call the State Department and tell them that if the US wants to stop migration, conditions in Central America must improve. The US must impose financial and other sanctions on the Guatemalan government and corrupt officials who violate the rule of law. It is critical that Attorney General Consuelo Porras is held to her responsibility to sanction those that disobey the Constitutional Court. The US must also show strong support for Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas.”
Second, please join the International Mayan League in protesting the killing and deaths of Mayan children and youth refugees on the US Mexico border.
- Protest: January 31, 6pm – U.S. Department of Homeland Security; 3801 Nebraska Avenue, Washington, DC
- Find other ways of supporting the International Mayan Leagues’ efforts at www.mayanleague.org or Facebook: International Mayan League/USA
Stop the Moralazo:
Update on the constitutional crisis in Guatemala January 21-29
January 29, 2019
The Executive branch continues to disobey Constitutional Court (CC) rulings in Guatemala. By refusing to comply with constitutionally imposed limits on power, a technical coup has already taken place. Clear and decisive actions by Guatemalan justice, human rights and anti-corruption advocates alongside State officials committed to the principles of democracy and rule of law are combatting the coup, but the situation remains tenuous.
On January 7, President Morales announced the unilateral and immediate cancelation of the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), disregarding the procedures established by Guatemala’s congress to end the CICIGs mandate. On January 9, the Constitutional Court ruled to suspend the decision. The CC resolution ordered authorities to facilitate CICIG’s work until its mandate ends in September 2019. The Executive branch has since taken a series of actions in disobedience of the Constitutional Court order, a technical coup. On January 16, Vice-President Jafeth Cabrera confirmed that the Morales Administration would not obey the CC’s orders to reinstate CICIG.
- January 22: Congressional Committee for Human Rights convoked, initially provoking concern over possible attempts to remove the Human Rights Ombudsman
- January 23: Interior Minister Degenhart withdrew police assigned to CICIG and FECI
- January 23: Attorney General Porras reports the Prosecutor’s office and tax agency personnel assigned to CICIG have been reassigned
- January 23: The Constitutional Court [CC] overturns the Supreme Court decision to initiate an impeachment request against three CC magistrates
- January 23: The Congressional Inquiry Commission to evaluate impeachment of Constitutional Court magistrates was convoked then later disbanded
- January 24: The Supreme Electoral Court rejects Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel’s request to end it’s cooperation agreement with CICIG
- January 25: The Human Rights Ombudsman requests the dismissal of the Foreign Minister and Interior Minister
- January 27: Attorney General announces investigation of criminal disobedience of the Constitutional Court rulings in response to human rights organizations’ request
- January 28: Anti-corruption organizations present legal complaint against top officials
Updates from the week of January 20-28
Fear of possible attempts to remove the Human Rights Ombudsman
January 22, Representatives were named to this year’s Congressional Committee for Human Rights, Among other functions this commission has the ability, when cause exists, to propose to Congress the cessation of the functions of the Human Rights Ombudsman. The current ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, has actively denounced human rights violations committed by the Jimmy Morales Administration and taken an active role in defending the constitutional limits on State institutions during the current crisis. There is concern that in the current attack on human rights and state institutions, networks supporting president Jimmy Morales could advance complaints before the Human Rights Committee with the objective of firing Rodas. Currently a slim majority in the committee support Rodas. Rodas will present his 2018 report on January 30.
Interior Minister Degenhart withdraws police assigned to CICIG and FECI
On January 23, Minister of the Interior Degenhart informed CICIG that the National Civil Police agents who were assigned as part of their security detail would be immediately removed. That same day, National Civil Police officers arrived at CICIG’s offices to formally notify that the mandate of CICIG was over. On January 24 Juan Francisco Sandoval, the Special Prosecutor Against Corruption (FECI) who presides over a special unit that is distinct from, but closely collaborates with CICIG, reported that the 20 National Civil Police investigators assigned to FECI had been ordered immediately removed.
Attorney General Porras reports the Prosecutor’s office and tax agency personnel assigned to CICIG have been reassigned
In a January 24th press conference, Attorney General Consuelo Porras asserted that CICIG had suspended operations, and in light of that all personnel that the Public Prosecutor’s office [Ministerio Publico] had assigned to CICIG were being reassigned within the Public Prosecutors office, noting the same had occurred with personnel assigned to CICIG from the Special Investigative Agency (IVE) and the Superintendent of the Administration of Tribute (SAT). “All of the human resources which had been lent to CICIG were reintegrated into their dependencies,” she stated.
CICIG’s spokesperson Matias Ponce quickly responded, “CICIG at no time has suspended its operations in Guatemala. To the contrary, according to the indications of the Constitutional Court and the statements of the General Secretary of the United Nations, the Commission continues its work in Guatemala until September 3, 2019.”
The previous day, January 23, CICIG Commissioner Ivan Velasquez had told the BBC that CICIG’s international personnel had been temporarily withdrawn from Guatemala following President Jimmy Morales’ January 7 illegal closure of its mandate due to security concerns. However, he went on to explain that CICIG’s international personnel have slowly returned to Guatemala and currently CICIG is fully functioning in compliance with its mandate.
On January 25, Attorney General Porras issued a public statement claiming that Public Prosecutor’s office personnel assigned to CICIG, under the instruction of CICIG Commissioner Ivan Velasquez, had presented themselves to the Attorney General for reassignment on January 8. She also explained that without the support of the police, Public Prosecutor’s office personnel assigned to FECI are not able to undertake their activities. Porras requested that the National Civil Police reassign the police agents who were removed from the FECI to continue inter-institutional coordination and investigations.
The Constitutional Court [CC] overturns a Supreme Court decision to initiate an impeachment request against three CC magistrates
On January 23, the Constitutional Court overturned the Supreme Court decision to remove immunity from three Constitutional Court magistrates, Bonerge Amilcar Mejia Orellana, Gloria Patricia Porras Escobar and Jose Francisco De Mata Vela. The decision was based on an appeal presented by the Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordan Rodas. The Constitutional Court is comprised of five magistrates and three alternate magistrates. A plenary of five magistrates is required to preside over hearings. Magistrate Dina Ochoa, named president of the CC by president Jimmy Morales in April 2018, excused herself from the process, forcing the court to randomly assign Magistrate De Mata Vela to act as one of the five magistrates participating in the proceedings. None of the other magistrates named in the Supreme Court’s impeachment proceeding participated in the hearing. The unanimous decision left without effect “all actions leading to the prosecution and pre-trial proceedings against the Constitutional Court Magistrates.” On January 28, against the will of its membership, the directors of the Association of Dignitaries asked the CC to reconsider its decision, asserting it was unconstitutional. There are six additional legal challenges that must still be resolved regarding the the CSJ decision, as well as additional impeachment requests.
The Congressional Inquiry Commission to evaluate impeachment of Constitutional Court magistrates convened then disbanded
On January 23, the President of the Congressional Inquiry Commission formed on January 17 to review the impeachment of Constitutional Court magistrates Bonerge Amilcar Mejia Orellana, Gloria Patricia Porras Escobar and Jose Francisco De Mata Vela, convoked a meeting of the commission on January 29. The following day the Congressional Director of Legal Affairs notified the inquiry Commission’s president, Representative Jose Alberto Hernandez Salguero, of the January 23 Constitutional Court ruling that left the impeachment process without effect and instructed the Inquiry Commission to cease functions. On January 28th members of the Inquiry Commission announced it would no longer continue to meet, noting that it would be unconstitutional to do so.
The Supreme Electoral Court rejects Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel’s request to end it’s cooperation agreement with CICIG
On January 24, Foreign Minister Jovel sent a letter to the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) indicating that it should take the necessary measures to end its cooperation agreement with CICIG. The following day, the TSE issued a statement clarifying that it would not comply with Jovel’s request. Since the TSE opened the national electoral process on January 18, 12 parties have officially presented their candidates for president and vice-president; 15 more are expected by mid-March. The general elections, which will decide all elected positions in Guatemala, are scheduled for June 16, 2019.
The Human Rights Ombudsman requests the dismissal of the Foreign Minister and Interior Minister
On January 25, Human Rights Ombudsman Jordan Rodas filed a petition to the Constitutional Court, asking them to immediately dismiss Foreign Minister Jovel, Interior Minister Degenhart and the head of the National Civil Police for not complying with Constitutional Court orders in relation to CICIG.
Attorney General announces investigation of criminal disobedience of the Constitutional Court rulings in response to human rights organizations’ request
On January 27, the Convergence for Human Rights, a network of more than one hundred organizations, including GHRC, sent a letter to Maria Consuelo Porras, explaining that the disobedience of Constitutional Court rulings by the President, Vice President, Ministers of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the Nation’s Solicitor General have serious implications and put democratic institutionality at risk. The letter points out that disobeying Constitutional Court rulings constitutes a crime and urged the Attorney General to take immediate action to investigate and prosecute functionaries engaged in this ongoing criminal activity. It urges Porras to take action to defend the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Guatemalan people in light of arbitrary decisions, abuse of power and disobedience that the Executive branch officials.
In a statement released on January 28, the Attorney General stated that in response to the letter from civil society, and as a legal responsibility, the Public Prosecutor [Ministerio Publico] was opening investigations into to actions of public officials accused of disobeying Constitutional Court orders. The statement also said that the Congressional Inquiry Committee created to examine the impeachment of three magistrates of the Constitutional Court should immediately cease functions or face legal actions. Later that day, the President of the Inquiry Committee, Jose Hernandez informed the press that the committee would not continue to meet. Lawyer Raul Falla, representing Guatemala Immortal, urged the Inquiry Committee to disobey the law and CC orders.
Anti-corruption organizations present legal complaint against top officials
January 28, Acción Ciudadana (the Guatemala chapter of Transparency International) and Centro de Asistencia Legal Anticorrupcion filed a legal complaint with the Public Prosecutor’s office accusing Minister of Foreign Affairs Jovel, Minister of the Interior Degenhart, and senior National Civil Police officials Sergio Carias Barrera and Carlos Tohom Escobar with disobeying Constitutional Court orders when they removed the police officers assigned to the FECI and CICIG. They had previously filed a legal recourse with the Constitutional Court on January 8, requesting the dismissal of Minister Jovel and President Morales.
1/21/2019 Stop the Moralazo!
Yesterday, in New York, President Jimmy Morales’ Foreign Minister, Sandra Jovel, informed the United Nations Secretary-General that the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) will close down in 24 hours. This is a clear violation of the procedures established when the agency was created through an act of the Guatemalan congress. President Morales cannot legally cancel the mandate of the CICIG on his own.
President Jimmy Morales’ administration is undertaking a series of actions openly violating Constitutional Court rulings and fundamental democratic principles, including the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government. The President’s actions, just a few days before campaigning will begin for the June 2019 elections, have the markings of a technical coup or self-coup similar to the last coup Guatemala suffered, the 1992 Serranazo, promoted by then president Jorge Serrano Elias.
Morales’ illegal maneuvers to consolidate unilateral control of governance in the Executive branch reflects a trend in the region also observed in Honduras and Nicaragua.
Write or call – (202) 224-3121 – your congressional representatives and senators. As that they call the new leadership in the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs committees expressing deep concern that the State Department has not spoken out against President Morales’ abuses.
Write to Support CICIG: Guatemala’s only anti-corruption court is on the bring of losing US funding
On May 7, Senator Marco Rubio, together with Representative Chris Smith, Senator Roger Wicker and Senator Mike Lee, reiterated their April 23 suspension of US funding of the International Commission Against Impunity, CICIG, making the outrageous assertion that “CICIG acted as the operational agents of Kremlin insiders.”
Please see the background information below the sample letter and send a letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to demand support for CICIG and/or call Senators offices.
While congressmen Rubio, Smith, Wicker and Lee claim they act in support of a Russian family fleeing persecution from the Kremlin, they are aiding criminals perpetrating a coordinated attack against the existence of CICIG. Some of the very people who contributed to the Bitkov family’s plight are trying to stop criminal investigations against them by shutting down CICIG, men who form a state supported mafia that destroys the lives and livelihood of thousands of Guatemalans, forcing them to flee in conditions similar to what the Bitkov family explain forced them to flee Russia.
Dear Senator X,
I am outraged that funding to the most successful effort to dismantle the criminal networks that have forced tens of thousands of Guatemalans to seek refuge in the United States is being suspended precisely as Guatemalan public officials implicated in corruption seek to end CICIG’s mandate. The timing of Senator Rubio’s hold request makes it appear that the sad situation of the Bitkov family is nothing more than a pretext to attack CICIG.
This is made even more outrageous by evidence that those leading the charge against CICIG, President Jimmy Morales and Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart, have contributed to the family’s plight. Morales refused to grant the family asylum and Degenhart has been implicated as leading the Migration office corruption ring that ensnared the Bitkovs. Rubio’s suspension of CICIG’s funding until the Bitkovs are released is illogical, CICIG has no control over their release. That is in the hands of the Supreme Court.
Please, do not play into the hands of criminals destroying the lives of our neighbors to the south. Release funding to CICIG. Tell Senate Appropriations Committee Chair, Senator Richard Shelby that this hold is unacceptable.
[your name here]
Please contact members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, particularly the Sub-Committee on the Western Hemisphere:
Bob Corker (R – TN) (202) 224-3344, https://www.corker.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/emailme
Marco Rubio (R – FL) (202) 224-3041, www.rubio.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact
Ron Johnson (R – WI) (202) 224-5323, https://www.ronjohnson.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/email-the-senator
Jeff Flake (R – AZ) (202) 224-4521, www.flake.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-jeff
Tom Udall (D – NM) (202) 224-6621, www.tomudall.senate.gov/?p=contact
Jeanne Shaheen (D – NH) (202) 224-2841, www.shaheen.senate.gov/contact/contact-jeanne
Tim Kaine (D – VA) (202) 224-4024, www.kaine.senate.gov/contact
Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-AL) (202) 224-5744, https://www.shelby.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/e-mail-senator-shelby-landing
Urgent Action Background
As CICIG explains, in 2016 a Russian family was swept up as users of a Migration office corruption ring. The Bitkovs were 3 out of 39 people convicted in a prosecution that forms part of CICIG’s work to stop human trafficking. Years later the case is championed in the US congress as a means to attack CICIG precisely when CICIG’s existence is at risk.
Twice over the past nine months, CICIG sought the impeachment of current Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales. On April 19, days before Jimmy Morales appointed of a new Attorney General, outgoing AG Thelma Aldana and CICIG Commissioner Ivan Velasquez made public results of their latest investigation demonstrating corruption by the president. The next day, Morales announced an investigation aimed at ending CICIG’s mandate in Guatemala, and on April 24 Interior Minister Enrique Degenhart announced similar investigations.
In a disturbing twist, while President Morales has refused to grant the Bitkovs asylum, Minister Degenhart has been implicated in running the migration corruption network that lured the Russian family to Guatemala. On April 24, after Degenhart believed CICIG had sent investigators to his neighborhood, Degenhart ordered the illegal detention and interrogation of four police agents assigned to CICIG. They were held against their will over at least four days. The government human rights ombudsman was able to contact one of them, and the agent told them he feared for his life. Guatemalan investigative reporters found that Fidel Pacheco, the Migration office union leader who gave information necessary for CICIG’s successful prosecution of the Migration corruption ring had named Degenhart, Migration office comptroller
at that time, as the ringleader. A few months before Pacheco’s murder, he told Guatemala’s human rights ombudsman that Degenhart was planning to kill him.
Why are US congressmen seeking retribution against CICIG for shutting down a corruption ring that was creating false passports, which could even have been used to enter the US? Senator Rubio’s actions put at risk the results of decades of efforts by dedicated Guatemalan human rights advocates intent on purging clandestine security forces – the military intelligence networks that morphed into organized crime networks – from Guatemala’s justice system. These networks, linked to the genocidal violence of the 1980s, are what continue to exact extreme violence against Guatemalan communities, destroying the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Guatemalans in ways so similar to what the Bitkovs describe.
Write to World Bank and US State Department to demand protection for the defenders of the Jilamito River
Write to World Bank and US State Department to demand protection for the defenders of the Jilamito River
The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ) denounced the April 10 murder of lawyer Carlos Hernandez who was defending the mayor and development committee of the Honduran town of Arizona, Arnoldo Chacon, from charges promoted by a hydroelectric company building a dam on the Jilamito River. They are not only being maliciously prosecuted, they are subject to death threats.
In September 2017 Chacon told police that men had threatened the lives of those close to him if he continued to obstruct the plans of the INGELSA corporation to build a dam on the Jilamito river. In March 2018 he told reporters a reliable source had informed him hitmen had been hired to kill him.
MADJ fears for the lives of all the defenders of the Jilamito river being maliciously prosecuted, as well as that of their one remaining lawyer, Victor Fernandez. Victor is also the lawyer representing the family and organization (COPINH) of the indigenous rights defender Berta Caceres, murdered on March 2, 2016, in the prosecution of her murder, executives from a company building a dam similar to the Jilamito project are currently charged in that murder.
Neighbors defending the Jilamito river from an apparently illegal hydroelectric dam suspect World Bank financing may be involved; World Bank consultants visited the area last year, and the INGELSA company has hired a Washington DC based law firm. Write to the World Bank and the US State Department to express your concern that development banks in the Jilamito dam case may again fuel violence as they did in the Agua Zarca dam case.
URGENT ACTION- SAMPLE LETTER
Please write to the World Bank Group’s private investment wing, the International Finance Corporation, and the US State Department:
Dear Mr. LeHouerou,
It has been two years since the murder of Berta Caceres, the most well known indigenous rights defender in Honduras. When Berta Caceres objected to the construction of the Agua Zarca dam without the consent of the indigenous Lenca communities whose livelihood and quality of life were damaged by the project, she faced libelous insults in the media, malicious prosecution, threats against her life and ultimately murder. Though the Prosecutor’s investigation has shown that top executives in the company building the dam were responsible, we fear the World Bank Group has not learned from this case, and that communities across Guatemala and Honduras continue to suffer the consequences of willful negligence by international development finance institutions.
Just two weeks ago, April 10, 2018, a lawyer representing the mayor and four municipal development committee members facing malicious prosecution by a hydroelectric company very similar to the DESA corporation, was murdered in his office just weeks after his client, the mayor defending the legally binding municipal referendum banning hydroelectric development on the Jilamito River, was threatened with death if he did not let the project proceed. We have reason to believe the IFC or its financial intermediaries are financing or structuring financing for this project promoted by the INGELSA corporation.
On April 23, a ruling that brazenly disregarded fundamental precepts in the Honduran law found the mayor of Intibuca, where construction of the the Agua Zarca dam was initially planned, innocent of abuse of authority charges while recognizing the Lenca communities had rejected the dam. Honduras’ legal system is not independent and does not protect indigenous communities’ rights. The Agua Zarca dam continues to hold an illegally granted construction license even as the president of the company is charged with murder.
The IFC must suspend investment in high risk projects in Honduras and Guatemala and undertake an exhaustive review of investments by their financial intermediaries in these project.
[your name here]
Support La Puya: Sign onto a solidarity letter to support and congratulate the activists at La Puya on the 4th Year Anniversary of their struggle.
The residents of La Puya affected by the mining project have been peacefully protesting at the entrance of the El Tambor mine since 2012, and have been the victims of intimidation and abuse, including an assassination attempt against Yolanda Oquelí in June 2012. Others have faced trumped-up criminal charges filed by individuals associated with the company. In May 2014, after two years of peaceful struggle, the communities in resistance of La Puya were violently evicted from the entrance to the mine. However, community members continue to oppose the project and on May 2, 2016, celebrate four years of constant presence at the entrance to the mine. The celebration comes just after the Guatemalan Supreme Court upheld the ruling to suspend KCA’s mining licence at the El Tambor mine.
Over the course of one week, environmental activist Rigoberto Lima Choc was murdered and three others kidnapped in northern Guatemala for denouncing environmental contamination allegedly caused by African Palm company Reforestadora de Palma de Petén (REPSA).
On September 18, Rigoberto Lima Choc — a 28-year-old schoolteacher and indigenous activist — was shot outside of a local courthouse in Sayaxché by two men on a motorcycle. His murder occurred just one day after a court ordered REPSA to suspend its operations for six months in order to investigate the company’s role in the contamination of the Pasión River. Lima had been one of the first to take videos and report the deaths of fish in the polluted water.
On that same day, three human rights activists — Lorenzo Pérez, Hermelindo Asij and Manuel Pérez Ordóñez — were kidnapped by unknown assailants. They were held for almost 12 hours, threatened with being burned alive, and finally released the following day. During this time, local police did not respond to residents’ calls for help; representatives from the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office only responded directly several hour later, due to concerns about the personal safety of their staff.
GHRC is supporting community demands for an immediate investigation into these violent incidents and the adoption of measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in the region. With the help of our partners, ActionAid USA and Friends of the Earth, our petition — with nearly 50,000 signers — was delivered to Guatemala’s Attorney General Thelma Aldana on Nov. 30, 2015.