Killings of Human Rights Defenders

Press conference denouncing murder of community defenders

Last week Dania and I attended a somber press conference denouncing the recent murders of three community leaders who were defending the rights of  campesinos (family farmers) and indigenous Mayans in Guatemala.

Increasingly, community leaders, organizers and activists in Guatemala are coming under attack for defending their land, culture, and the environment.

The Guatemalan government, instead of guaranteeing these rights, has placed human rights defenders at greater risk by openly disparaging their work and their organizations.

Here are some additional resources:

U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says human rights defenders in the country are operating within a climate of fear, harassment and intimidation.

“We call on the authorities to promptly investigate these murders and other attacks and threats against human rights defenders, and to ensure that those found responsible are held accountable. We also urge the State to adopt all necessary measures to ensure a safe, enabling environment for human rights defenders to be able to carry out their work free from threats and attacks,” she said.

Human Rights Defenders Killed in Guatemala, by Lisa Schlein of the VOA (article, English)

“We call on the Government to address these issues as part of its efforts to strengthen the rule of law, the protection of the rights to freedom of expression and judicial independence, and the fight against impunity and corruption. We trust that the Government will honor its commitment to advance with the adoption of a Public Policy on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, with the participation of civil society at local and national levels. We also reiterate the High Commissioner’s call for the Government to strengthen the inter-institutional Unit on Analysis of patterns of attacks against human rights defenders”.

Press briefing notes on Guatemala, by Ravina Shamdasani – Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (English)

“There is a ongoing policy of repression, intimidation and violence directed at indigenous communities and peasant famers. Illegal, clandestine security groups are being armed and financed by powerful sectors that are fomenting land grabs, impunity and corruption in the region.”

Ante el Desalojo de Dirigentes Comunitarios, by Civil Society organizations (Press release, Español).

 

Criminalizing the LGBTI Community during Guatemala’s Internal Conflict

Criminalizing LGBTI
Report of the AHPN
Report of the AHPN – see link below

On Friday, Dania and I had the privilege of attending the presentation of a groundbreaking report entitled “Criminalization of the LGBTI Population in the Police Records, 1960 – 1990.”

The event was held at the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (AHPN), a warehouse where millions of official police documents had been unceremoniously dumped over decades.

Thirteen years ago, this treasure trove of historic documents was rediscovered by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and the process of preserving, digitizing, and cataloguing these institutional records began.

The archival work of the AHPN has played an important role in the prosecution of human rights violations and war crimes that occurred during Guatemala’s armed conflict. The information has also been essential in the reconstruction and recovery of Guatemala’s historical memory.

One of the least-discussed aspects of Guatemala’s recent history, however, has been the discrimination, exclusion, and repression of the LGBTI community at the hands of State actors and institutions.

Katia Orantes, one of the lead AHPN investigators, shared some of the chilling documents that revealed how men and women were targeted, arrested, and mistreated by the National Police simply because of their sexual orientation.

Fernando Us
Fernando Us

The director of the Archive, Gustavo Meoño, stated that documents confirm many instances where people were charged with the “crime” of being homosexual, despite the fact that homosexuality isn’t illegal.

Fernando Us, a gay rights activist, spoke eloquently about the challenges of being gay in Guatemala. “I think that reaffirming my cultural identity as a Mayan later helped me to assume my sexual identity… Our LGBTI community also faces discrimination, hate, and exclusion. More than struggling for the right to love who we please, we are fighting for the right to life itself.”

Links:

La criminalización de la población LGBTI en los registros policiales 1960-1990 (this is a very large pdf file, en español. 421 mb)

La persecución a homosexuales y el “álbum del terror” de la Policía, por Javier Estrada Tobar, de Nómada (article, español)

El Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional (website, español)

Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive (website, English)

Article: Sepur Zarco women lift impunity for sexual violence

The Women of Sepur Zarco

by Laura Cools & Brisna Caxaj, Impunity Watch

During the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996), in the military base of Sepur Zarco, 15 indigenous q’eqchi’ women were forced to clean the soldiers’ clothes, cook, and serve them without pay, while being subjected to physical and sexual abuse for months or sometimes years on end, receiving anti-contraceptive pills and injections to prevent pregnancies.

This week, on the occasion of the 2nd anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict, we gain inspiration from the Sepur Zarco women whose courage and determination culminated in the first ever condemnation by a Guatemalan court recognizing in 2016 wartime sexual violence and sexual and domestic slavery as crimes against humanity.

“The verdict has been obtained, justice has been achieved;
sadness is no longer.”

– Demecia Yat, President of the Jalok U Collective

Judicial processes: victims at the forefront

Breaking with tradition, whereby perpetrators are at the core of criminal proceedings and victims merely at the service of their conviction, the Sepur Zarco women undertook to make the process their own. In 2014, they organised to establish the Jalok U Collective and became plaintiffs in the case so they could claim justice, moving beyond victimhood.

The indigenous women participated in all phases of the trial, before a Western system functioning in Spanish, and were involved in a continuous dialogue with the Alliance Breaking the Silence and Impunity, composed of the civil society organisations ECAP, MTM and UNAMG which accompanied them, the latter two as co-plaintiffs.

Currently, the women’s leadership inspires other female victims of the armed conflict to pursue their own quest for justice. Their efforts thus highlight the significant potential of victim participation in judicial processes and strategic litigation to instigate both individual and broader societal transformation.

Read the entire article. 

Article: Lessons From Guatemala’s Commission Against Impunity

“No more corruption.” Photo by Jorge Dan Lopez/Reuters

by Matthew M. Taylor
Council on Foreign Relations

Guatemala has made notable gains in the fight against corruption and impunity in the last decade. President Otto Perez Molina resigned in 2015 and was tried and jailed on charges of corruption, alongside his vice president and several ministers. Several prominent criminal figures have been extradited to the United States, including another former president, Alfonso Portillo. Supreme Court justices and members of congress have been removed from office, drug lords jailed, and extortion rings dismantled. The overall impunity rate for homicides fell from 95 percent to 72 percent between 2006 and 2012.

Bodies such as CICIG can help combat deeply embedded criminal networks that threaten economic development, the rule of law, and the sustainability of fledgling democracies. But they are not a panacea, and their effectiveness will require a strategic approach that prioritizes the long-term development of home-grown capacity.

Central to these efforts is the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG), an independent body with investigative and prosecutorial powers set up by the United Nations and Guatemala. Headed by an appointee of the UN secretary-general with funding and staff from several donor countries, it has slowly grown in power and capacity, cooperating successfully with local prosecutors in cases against high-level political figures, as well as in drafting important criminal justice reforms. In an environment marked by weak institutions and extensive impunity, CICIG has been an extraordinary governance innovation.

Read the comprehensive report at the Council on Foreign Relations website.

A new beginning!

Co-directors Dania and RobIt is with tremendous pleasure that we announce the inauguration of our organization, the Human Rights Defenders Project! Our passion and purpose is to serve and support human rights defenders in Guatemala. We hope that you will join us and help us to build this dream together.

¡Con gran placer anunciamos la inauguración de nuestra organización, The Human Rights Defenders Project! Nuestra pasión y propósito es servir y apoyar a defensoras y defensores de los derechos humanos de Guatemala. ¡Esperamos que ustedes se nos unan para construir este sueño juntos!

– Dania Rodríguez & Rob Mercatante –