Situation of Human rights defenders
The context in Guatemala in 2013 continued being hazardous for human rights’ defenders where, up to October, there were 18 assassinations of human rights defenders and 608 attacks against them, which is almost double the figure registered for the same period in 2012 (305 attacks). This works out, on average, of more than two attacks daily. Those most threatened were those working on the theme of ‘truth’, which includes those persons involved in legal processes for crimes of the past. Also of concern is not only that the number of attacks against women has increased as they participate in greater numbers in the defence of human rights but rather that these attacks have a gender element.
Also in this period we have seen an increase in the defaming of the work of human rights’ defenders much of which is directed by the Fundación contra el Terrorismo, a group which describes the idea of there having been genocide in Guatemala as a farce.
Daniel Hernández-Salazar’s The Angel of Memory responded with SÍ HUBO GENOCIDIO – this from In the Dark Room.
In addition to defamation by non-state actors, there have been various comments made by a state functionary, notably the Interior Minister. In response to a hearing by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) on the criminalisation of human rights defenders, the Minister stated that the participation of these human rights organisations at the hearing was no more than blackmail and extortion, like what the gangs do. The Minister has also commented on the presence of foreigners in areas which have high levels of social conflict threatening to make them declared not welcome and to have them expelled. This was in clear reference to human rights defenders.
The Alice Zachmann Human Rights Defender’s Award recognises an individual, organization or community that has demonstrated a commitment to the defence of human rights through non-violent methods, and for which they have been exposed to threats, violence and/or other attacks.
The award serves as a means to highlight the struggle of the recipient on an international level and represents a commitment by Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) to provide ongoing support. The 2013 Human Rights Defenders Award was awarded to UDEGEGUA (Guatemala Human Rights Defenders Unit) and, in November, the co-ordinator of UDEFEGUA, Claudia Samayoa, accepted the award on behalf the organisation.
Crimes of the Past
Since the judgement against José Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity on May 10 last year, and the subsequent decision (with two separate opinions) of the Constitutional Court to roll back the process to April 19, effectively nullifying the judgment, there has been much uncertainty about the future of the case. It also places in a position of great vulnerability the people who gave their testimonies in the oral and public process, as well as those people who supported the case.
In spite of this decision and to reclaim the country’s historical memory, AJR and CALDH published the court’s sentence as well as the dissenting opinion of the Constitutional Court. In June, on the Day of Dignification for the Ixil Peoples, a convoy travelled to Nebaj to officially deliver the sentence to the indigenous mayors of the three Ixil municipalities.
In October, the Constitutional Court resolved an appeal presented by the defence in which it was alleged that during the intermediate phase of the trial, there was not given due recognition to the Law of Amnesty created in 1986 under the de facto government of Óscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, himself accused of genocide. This is in contrast to the Law of National Reconciliation which was created in 1996 with the signing of the Peace Accords, which explicitly excluded amnesties for genocide and crimes against humanity.
The defense argued that the judge had reasoned only in relation to the exclusion of the crime of genocide in the National Reconciliation Law, without giving their arguments for not applying the law 1986 Law that was requested in the appeal. The Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the defense, but with two separate opinions.
As seems normal in this case, the resolution of the Constitutional Court generated confusion, with reporters interpreting it as a signal of giving an amnesty. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated that there should never be an amnesty for genocide.
Sentenced for the forced disappearance of Edgar Fernando García
Colonel, and exdirector of the extinct Policía Nacional, Héctor Bol de la Cruz, and the former head of the Cuarto Cuerpo, Jorge Alberto Gómez López were sentenced to 40 years in prison for the forced disappearance of the student leader, trade unionist, and member of the Guatemala Workers Party (PGT), Edgar Fernando García. In sentencing, the court also ordered that the investigation continue against those army staff who were also involved. In 2010, two agents of the Policía Nacional were sentenced for their roles in the disappearance.
Identification of bones in the former military base in Cobán – burial in Rabinal
As part of the process of exhumations from the former military base in Cobán, the remains were identified of a victim of forced disappearance from Rabinal. Martina Rojas was disappeared during the massacre of Los Encuentros in 1982. In September, her remains were handed over to her family in Rabinal. She was the first person identified from Rabinal in the base and a mass was said in her memory. To date, 535 sets of bones have been exhumed and 22 have been identified.
The reclaiming of indigenous rights and territorial rights
The situation in Barillas remains tense and there have been several demonstrations against the hydroelectric projects in the region north of Huehuetenango. There have also been negotiations composed of government ministers, representatives of state institutions, local authorities, the Catholic church, businesses and civil society. However, meetings have been suspended several times and no agreement has been reached.
Cases before the judiciary included that of Ricardo Garciá, a security guard of the company Hidro Santa Cruz, who was sentenced for committing serious injury to Pablo Antonio Pablo Pablo. Two other security guards were found not guilty of killing Andrés Pedro Miguel primarily because the court could not prove who made the shots.
In September, Mynor López was arrested. After his detention blockades were carried out in all the municipalities in the north of Huehuetenango and there were armed disturbances in Barillas in which a soldier died. The cause of death had not been ascertained by the authorities.
In Canada, Choc versus Hudbay Minerals Inc.
In a case which is setting a precedent in Canada and internationally, a Canadian judge resolved that three cases against Hudbay Minerals Inc. could be heard in Canada. The cases relate to human rights violations committed by personnel of their Guatemala subsidiary. Hudbay had argued that they should not be held accountable for the actions of their subsidiary but the judge dismissed the argument. It is the first time that a Canadian mining company will be judged in Canada for crimes committed abroad. The resolution referred to complaints filed by 13 Maya Q’eqchi of El Estor and related to the killing Adolfo Ich Chamán, the paralysing of German Chub by gunshot, and the rape of 11 women in the community of Lote Ocho.
Xalala Hydroelectric project
Pressure has increased against communities and their leaders after the failed tender for the geological studies with regard to the construction of the Xalala Hydroelectric Project, declared a priority by the government.
An increase in militarisation has been evident across the country, and especially in areas of petrol exploitation as well as other extractives.
San Rafael la Flores
In May, the government declared a state of siege (estado de sitio) in four municipalities of Santa Rosa and Jalapa where the population has rejected mining activities. Some 8,500 agents were transferred to the area on the justification of criminality and narco-trafficking. Twelve members of an organisation which coordinated consultas in San Rafael, where the mine is located, were arrested. An order was also sent out to arrest the President of the Xinca Parliament, accusing him of instigating violence and being responsible for previous acts of violence. In November, the first consulta was carried out since the declaration of the state of siege and more than 90% rejected the mineral exploitation in El Escobal by the company Tahoe Resources Inc.