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.

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016

The U.S. State Department has just released its annual report documenting the human rights situation of countries around the world.

Unfortunately, the current Secretary of State has decided to downplay the importance of this yearly event, revealing the Trump administration’s apparent disregard for human rights observance and reporting.

Nonprofit Quarterly writes:

Given that the 41st annual Human Rights Reports were issued by the Trump administration, the rollout naturally included some controversy, which centered on the decision by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson not to hold an official unveiling.

Critics argued that his absence gave the report less attention, as Reuters reported, with only an anonymous U.S. official answering reporters’ questions by phone instead of the usual press conference.

The administration’s commitment to human rights was already under fire, after news recently emerged that the U.S. is considering leaving the United Nations’ Human Rights Council under new Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley.

The 2016 U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices for Guatemala, with a fairly conservative analysis of the human rights situation, states that:

Local human rights NGO Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders reported 14 killings of human rights defenders through November 30, compared with 12 killings in all of 2015. The NGO also reported 205 attacks against human rights defenders through October, compared with 493 attacks in all of 2015.

According to various human rights NGOs, many of the attacks related to land disputes and exploitation of natural resources.

Here is the Guatemala 2016 Human Rights Report:


Parliament Mobilizes for Guatemala Human Rights Defenders

Parliament Mobilises for Guatemala Human Rights Defenders

The European Parliament in Strasbourg has approved an urgent resolution on the situation of human rights defenders in Guatemala. Deputies expressed their concerns and acknowledged the work carried out by human rights defenders, urging the Guatemalan government to adopt measures aimed at protecting HRDs from assaults and dangers they are confronting regularly.

The figures are alarming. Parliamentarians recalled that between January and November 2016, 223 assaults were registered against Human Rights Defenders s as well as 14 killings and 7 attempted murders.  Since the beginning of the year, 2 Human Rights Defenders were killed in Guatemala. The majority of these crimes were the final act of a long and repetitive cycle of violence.

The EP also underlined the hostile environment in which justice officials have to work. They face harassment, criminalization, coercion, discredit and intimidation campaigns, which undermine the independence of the judiciary system in the country.

The resolution also supports the new justice reform initiative, which has been presented recently in the Guatemalan Congress. It aims at undertaking legal reforms to strengthen the Rule of Law in the country.

According to Beatriz Becerra, vice-chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament and member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), “human rights defenders are the most powerful asset in the achievement of a more independent justice, however, they are defamed, harassed and ultimately assassinated. For these reasons the Guatemalan government have to protect them with ambitious public policies”.

Read the entire article

IACHR Condemns Murders of Human Rights Defenders

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)
With regard to Guatemala, Laura Leonor Vásquez Pineda, a former activist in the movement of peaceful resistance against the San Rafael mining project, was killed on January 16, according to the information available. She was reportedly found dead in her home, with gunshot wounds to the head. The Commission was also informed that indigenous land rights defender Sebastián Alonso Juan was killed on January 17 in Huehuetenango, during a peaceful protest against the hydroelectric projects Pojom I and II. (…)

The Inter-American Commission reiterates that States have the obligation to prevent any attempt on the life and physical integrity of human rights defenders, and to guarantee in all circumstances that rights defenders can carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of any restrictions. States have the duty to guarantee the safety of groups of defenders at particular risk and to adopt specific measures of protection tailored to their needs, for example through special protocols. (…)

The Commission also reiterates that acts of violence and other attacks against human rights defenders not only affect the guarantees afforded to all human beings but also undermine the fundamental role that human rights defenders play in society and contribute to the vulnerability of all those whose rights they champion. In the case of indigenous communities, such acts carry additional serious consequences because they damage social and cultural cohesion.”

Read the press release

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