The Tragedy Of The Hogar Seguro: Revealing The Situation Of Guatemalan Children

“Guatemalan childhood is not the future but the present of Guatemala. It should matter to all of us.”

ACOGUATE have posted a piece on the upcoming hearings relating to the fire at the Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, in 2017, which claimed the lives of 41 young women and girls, and ruined the lives of many more.

Errors in translation are mine.

During the last four years, mothers and survivors have led a tireless struggle for justice in the case of the Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, a process that has culminated in the opening of an oral and public hearing for two of the three groups of defendants accused of failing to fulfil their responsibilities and duties of protection towards the children, who were under the guardianship of the State at the time of the events, and for the culpable homicide of the girls.

Challenges on the road to justice

Since March 7 and 8, 2017, the road travelled by survivors and family members towards a conviction has been marked by intimidation, the disappearance of several young witnesses, as well as successive changes in the judges in charge of the case and by notable delays in the judicial process. Of the 15 public servants arrested and charged for breach of duty, and for the culpable homicide of the girls and adolescents under guardianship, mistreatment of minors, and abuse of authority, only two remain in pretrial detention.

Esteban Celada Flores, a human rights lawyer, accompanied by ACOGUATE since 2019, and the representative of Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM), an organization that accompanies three families of the victims, confirmed that the four-year delay in the opening of the oral and public hearing phase involves numerous impacts for the young women, and their immediate environment. First of all, he points out that there are still many challenges at the legal level, since, he stresses, keeping witnesses is complex, due to the long time that has already elapsed since the events. From the point of view of the victims and their families, Esteban Celada points out that the issue of impunity, and the approach to reparation, are problematic and still have profound psychosocial effects for them. Particularly because, in the words of Mr. Celada, the effect that impunity has had on the sheltered children, without seeing justice, remains latent, and the effects on the young girls will be lifelong, he believes. Feelings such as dissatisfaction, a feeling of a of lack of protection, anxiety and a lasting fear of what might happen, are the most frequently mentioned feelings among the young survivors. Finally, Celada states that, at a social and collective level, the impact that this sentence may generate in the country will undoubtedly be of great relevance, since he believes that Guatemala should not become a country without memory. On the contrary, he points out the need to counteract the tendency to forget such important issues from one day to the next, as happens and has happened in so many other cases.

The State’s responsibilities

Prior to the events that marked the tragedy of Hogar Seguro, there were complaints regarding the safety of the minors under the care of the institution. In fact, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concluded, on March 12 of that same year after the fire (2017), and at the request of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH), that it was the responsibility of the State of Guatemala to guarantee the lives of the children under its care at Hogar Seguro. In the days following the tragedy, the then president of the Republic, Jimmy Morales, confirmed, in an interview granted to CNN, that the State exercised its responsibility through institutions such as the Attorney General’s Office, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, and the Judicial Branch, charged with investigating the facts. However, the former president declared his refusal to assume additional responsibilities for the tragedy.

According to Esteban Celada, there was, and still is, a “total lack of protection for children in Guatemala”. He also points out that, although the State’s responsibilities in the Hogar Seguro case have yet to be fully determined, the young women claimants have their demands and, in this sense, they should be heard.

Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (MTM) also lodged a request asking a hearing into the then president, Jimmy Morales, so that his responsibility in the events could be investigated, due to the numerous reports, and previous complaints, relating to the living conditions of the minors under guardianship in the Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción. However, the Constitutional Court, in 2021, rejected this arguing that it was a spurious action for political purposes, a resolution that was supported by the Constitutional Court.

Expectations for the hearing

Esteban Celada does not have high hopes for the oral and public hearing that will begin on March 29, 2022 nor the verdict that will be issued at the end of it. According to the lawyer, it is a “requirement for the State to say that it has complied with its commitments although, in concrete terms, it has not complied with anything since the beginning of the legal process”.

In this context of the upcoming opening of the trial in the Hogar case, Esteban Celada states that this is a decisive moment for justice: “society in general and, in particular, the human rights movements must guarantee a settlement for the victims, [and that] regardless of the resulting sentence […] there will be social justice for them and, above all, for the memory of the 56 [both the 41 girls who died and the 15 survivors], and [also to expand] the knowledge of what Guatemalan children suffer. In the end, “Guatemalan childhood is not the future but the present of Guatemala. It should matter to all of us.”

You can read the original piece, in Spanish, with references, here La tragedia del Hogar, reveladora de la situación de la niñez guatemalteca.

Categories: Accompaniment, Gender, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Justice, Poverty, Solidarity in Action, Solidarity in Action/Guatemala, Violence

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