Threats to the rule of law in Guatemala are getting serious

Sanne Weber and Marlies Stappers recently wrote in Open Democracy about the ongoing challenges facing the rule of law and the protection of human rights from the corrupt elites.

This year, which marks the 25th anniversary of the peace accords that ended decades of civil war in Guatemala, should have been a cause for celebration. Instead, the country is roiled by protests – the largest and most widespread since 2015 – as tens of thousands demand accountability from their government.

Guatemala’s attempts to prosecute corruption and combat impunity may be at risk after the dismissal of a respected prosecutor who was investigating allegations against several government officials, including the president, Alejandro Giammattei. The sacking on 23 July of Juan Francisco Sandoval, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), is seen as yet another attempt to undermine the fight for rule of law in Guatemala. The US, which has championed Sandoval’s work, has expressed concern at his removal. Europe must now follow suit.

In the past few decades, international support for Guatemala and its civil society organisations has empowered the country’s human rights movement. There has been a strong push for justice by survivors of the 1960-1996 armed conflict, during which many atrocities were committed. Human rights organisations and survivors have served as a powerful coalition for truth and justice.

An example of the crucial role played by such coalitions is the Ixil genocide case against Guatemala’s former dictator, Ríos Montt. Soon after Montt came to power through a coup in 1982, the army and paramilitary forces launched a ‘scorched earth’ operation against the country’s Ixil Maya population, annihilating more than 600 villages. Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013 but the judgment was annulled just days after the verdict, which only serves to show the challenges of ending impunity in Guatemala.

The Diario Militar (“death squad diary”) lawsuit may prove to be another test. The military intelligence dossier, which was discovered by chance in 1999, documents the abductions, torture, disappearances and executions of 183 people during the armed conflict. It provides essential evidence about military and police terror against union leaders and student movement organisers. Decades of struggle by the victims’ families seemed to have paid off when 12 retired military officers were recently arrested and a judge ordered a trial.

But after the breakthrough came the backlash. The right-wing political party VALOR, led by the former dictator’s daughter, Zury Ríos, has proposed a law that would grant amnesty to 50 military officers convicted of human rights violations during the armed conflict, and prevent investigation and prosecution of new cases.

You can read the full piece, including links, here, Threats to the rule of law in Guatemala are getting serious.

Categories: Corruption, Criminalisation, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Justice, Legal, Lobbying, Solidarity in Action, Violence

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