Two recent items from NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) highlight the genocide cases and also the recent attacks against the Attorney General – the latter being part of a campaign against human rights defenders in general through the judicial system.
Regarding the genocide cases, ‘Lawyers representing the retired Generals Héctor Mario López Fuentes and Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores have adopted strategies which could delay or prevent further advances in the cases.’
As regards the attacks on the Attorney General, ‘Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, whose father was minister of the interior under Efrain Rios Montt, has made no attempt to mask the politicized nature of his legal complaint: "Of course it’s politically motivated. It’s against the Attorney General, for the love of god, I’m aiming at her"’.
Genocide Cases Move Forward, Face Resistance
Legal cases for genocide and crimes against humanity are underway against three members of the military high command of Efraín Ríos Montt’s military regime, with trials expected to open early next year. Lawyers representing the retired Generals Héctor Mario López Fuentes and Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores have adopted strategies which could delay or prevent further advances in the cases.
The defense of López Fuentes challenged the impartiality of Judge Carol Patricia Flores, arguing that she had made prior statements revealing a bias on behalf of survivors and victims. A panel of judges found that while Judge Flores had not acted inappropriately, she should be removed from the case in order to avoid any doubts as to the legitimacy of the process. A replacement judge has been named, and the AJR and CALDH have the opportunity to appeal the decision or continue the case with the new judge. Lopez Fuentes’ lawyers have also requested that the case be transferred to a military tribunal.
Mejía Victores’ lawyers have argued that he is medically unfit to stand trial, and have requested that he be detained under house arrest instead of in the Military Hospital in Guatemala City, where they claim that he has received sub-standard care. The court has commissioned medical studies by the National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF) and an independent expert nominated by the Public Prosecutors’ office. The court has made no definitive decision regarding changes to Mejía Victores’ detention or his fitness to stand trial.
Meanwhile, the Guatemalan Congress narrowly defeated legislation that would have allowed those more than 80 years old or with terminal illnesses to serve prison terms at home (read article in Spanish). The bill, introduced in the midst of a contentious and busy legislative session, would have benefited those accused of crimes against humanity. Human rights organizations denounced this as an attempt to protect López Fuentes and Mejía Victores, and called for investigation of irregularities in the legislative process. In a press conference, human rights analyst Iduvina Hernandez stated, "The lack of a clearly stated policy to defend human rights and the justice system by the president-elect opens doors for structures that feel protected by President Pérez Molina’s military past."
Reactionary Campaign Launched against Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz
"If she is doing her job and getting results, there is simply no reason to remove her. That’s how it works with other ministers and public officials, and how it will work with the attorney general" (as quoted in Insight Crime). President-elect Otto Pérez Molina has expressed reserved support for Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey, Guatemala’s first female Attorney General and a respected jurist with a background in human rights law. During Claudia Paz y Paz’s first year at its head, Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office has undertaken an internal reorganization to fight corruption, carried out arrests of several prominent drug-trafficking bosses, and prioritized precedent-setting human rights cases on crimes of the past. Yet in the weeks since the November 6 election, Paz y Paz has faced extreme pressure from groups closely associated with the military.
Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, whose father was minister of the interior under Efrain Rios Montt, has made no attempt to mask the politicized nature of his legal complaint: "Of course it’s politically motivated. It’s against the Attorney General, for the love of god, I’m aiming at her" (read complete interview in Spanish). Méndez Ruiz filed a complaint in early November against 26 alleged members of guerrilla organizations, who he names as the intellectual authors of his kidnapping in 1982. Among the accused are two cousins of Claudia Paz y Paz, President Álvaro Colom’s sister Yolanda Colom, and other former revolutionaries, many of whom have become respected members of Guatemala’s civil society, having spent decades working for human rights and social justice. Some of the accused have recently passed away or were disappeared, killed, or exiled during the conflict.
In an interview with the newspaper El Periodico, Méndez Ruiz said that his case "was not improvised. We developed it together with retired military officials from intelligence and other specializations, as well as active service members." Méndez Ruiz has also labeled human rights organizations, such as the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), as "terrorist" and accused Claudia Paz of promoting "Marxist ideology" (
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read article in Spanish). Méndez Ruiz’s case has received wide media coverage and has provoked heated public debates. His accusations of "attempted forced disappearance" are contrasted with the news that two of Guatemala’s urban disappeared were discovered and identified. The bodies of Amancia Samuel Viallatoro and Sergio Saul Linares Morales were exhumed at the military base in Comalapa, Chimaltenango. These are the first two Death Squad Diary victims to be found.
In coordination with Méndez Ruiz’s case, the military veterans’ organization AVEMILGUA has undertaken a public campaign on behalf of military officals accused of genocide, staging public demonstrations in support of Lopez Fuentes, Rodriguez Sanchez, and Mejia Victores. AVEMILGUA, which has been responsible for acts of intimidation in previous cases against military officials, has also begun a "re-branding" process through the formation of the new organizations "FAMILIAS" and "ASOMILGUA," which represent family members and widows of military veterans. A representative of ASOMILGUA recently presented another legal complaint against former members of the guerrilla organizations for a series of acts carried out during the conflict, including bombings and kidnappings. Among the accused in the latest complaint are Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz’s deceased father, Enrique Paz y Paz, and Gustavo Meoño, director of the Historical Archive of the National Police.
In response to these complaints, Claudia Paz y Paz has ordered the formation of a special prosecutors’ unit within the human rights branch of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, dedicated to the investigation of crimes committed by non-state forces during the conflict. While the move is unlikely to silence her critics, it demonstrates her clear commitment to justice and the rule of law. Miguel Ángel Albizures, a labor and human rights leader accused in Méndez Ruiz’s case, has similarly upheld the importance of adherence to the rule of law, noting the significance of the military pressure groups’ use of legal mechanisms to protect their interests, rather than resorting to violence (read article in Spanish). Human rights organizations, however, have denounced the cases as attempts to delegitimize the legal complaints filed against the military high commands of the 1980s, and to maintain impunity.