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-driectors 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 –

Council stands with human rights defenders

Michel Forst - UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

From The International Service for Human Rights:

The Human Rights Council has united to adopt a consensus resolution on the protection of human rights defenders. The resolution, extending the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur, comes at a time when the work of defenders has never been more important nor more threatened.

The UN Human Rights Council – the world’s peak human rights body – has today adopted a resolution which affirms the vital and legitimate work of human rights defenders and extends the mandate of a UN expert tasked to support and protect them.

‘Through this resolution the Council has sent an important signal that human rights work is legitimate, and that human rights defenders must be respected and protected by States and non-state actors,’ said ISHR’s Director of Human Rights Council Advocacy, Michael Ineichen.

Source: Council unites to stand with human rights defenders | ISHR