In marked contrast to the conspicuously silent Trump administration, 47 members of Congress, led by representatives Norma Torres and James McGovern, have signed a letter condemning the Guatemalan government’s “pattern of anti-democratic behavior.”
Warning that, absent a strong U.S. response, “Guatemala will descend into lawlessness”, the lawmakers implore the Trump administration to immediately take the following actions:
Publicly condemn the Guatemalan government’s blatant disregard for the rule of law and urge the government to change course;
Suspend assistance for, and equipment transfers to, the central government of Guatemala. The suspended assistance should be redirected to non-governmental programs that directly benefit the Guatemalan people.
Utilize the authority provided in the Global Magnitsky Human Rights and Corruption Accountability Act to hold corrupt Guatemalan government officials accountable through travel and financial sanctions;
Strongly and publicly support human rights defenders and civil society organizations throughout the country in their exercise of fundamental rights.
GENEVA (24 May 2018) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today welcomed the ruling issued unanimously by the High Risk “C” Tribunal in Guatemala yesterday against four high-ranking former military officials for crimes against humanity, aggravated sexual violence and enforced disappearance.
“This is a milestone judgement for Guatemala and beyond with regards to the investigation, prosecution and punishment of serious human rights violations committed by senior military officers during an internal armed conflict,” High Commissioner Zeid said.
The High Commissioner said that this ruling, together with the jurisprudential precedents established in other transitional justice cases, such as Sepur Zarco, Dos Erres, Plan de Sánchez and Myrna Mack, sends a clear message that it is possible for Guatemala to advance in the fight against impunity of the past, which in turn, strengthens the fight against the impunity of the present and the consolidation of the rule of law.
“I pay tribute to the Molina Theissen family for their courage and perseverance to fight for over three decades for their right to justice and the truth,” Zeid said.
Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen was detained at a military checkpoint on 27 September 1981 and transferred to the “Manuel Lisandro Barillas” Military Brigade in Quetzaltenango, where she was held captive, interrogated, subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as well as sexual violence. She escaped on 5 October 1981.
The following day, her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio was taken by force from the family’s home in Guatemala City, put into a nylon sack and taken to an unknown destination in a vehicle with an official Government license plate. He has never been found.
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.
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.”
A healthy and functioning civil society is vital for human rights and democracy everywhere. Civil society organizations (CSOs) play a crucial role in realizing the rights protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They educate individuals about their rights; document human rights abuses; monitor the behavior of governments, including police and security forces; and advocate for the rule of law. CSOs also contribute to development, provide disaster relief, and deliver humanitarian aid in war zones.
But in recent years, civil society has been under threat. The legal “space” in which civil society is permitted to operate is being systematically “closed.” More and more countries are passing restrictive laws that hamper civil society organizations by limiting or even criminalizing the receipt of foreign funding, imposing onerous administrative requirements, or defaming CSOs as terrorists or foreign agents. Even worse, advocates for human rights and political reform face torture, disappearance, and assassination. These repressive policies are no longer confined to authoritarian states or countries in transition, but are occurring in established democracies, including in close U.S. allies like India, Egypt, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
Vanessa Tucker, Vice President for Analysis, Freedom House
Margaret Huang, Executive Director, Amnesty International USA
Douglas Rutzen, President & CEO, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
Maria Stephan, Senior Policy Fellow, United States Institute of Peace