Monday, January 28, 2013

Judge Gálvez Orders the Opening of a Public Oral Debate | Statement by the AJR and CALDH


Today Guatemalan society is witness to a historic event. For the first time in our country, a judge has ordered the opening of a trial for the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity. Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ordered the opening of the public oral debate that allows the court to hear the respective evidence in this groundbreaking case. This step toward justice is of utmost importance for thousands of survivors of genocide in Guatemala.

The Judge of the High Risk Crimes Court has decided to take this step almost one year after linking General Efraín Ríos Montt to this process, more than one year since linking José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez to this process, and after 75 legal challenges (incidents, injunctions, objections, appeals, etc.) to this case.

We value the actions taken by the Judge of the High Risk Crimes Court B and we hope that if other appeals are made by the ex-generals' defense, that these former decisions will be taken into account and respected in observance of the law.

The resolution presented today sends a message of hope in justice to all those who still suffer the consequences of the internal armed conflict. It also sends a message to the material and intellectual authors of the genocide and crimes against humanity committed during this time period, that genocide, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearance, sexual violence and massacres, among other violations, will not remain in impunity.

This event represents the path walked by thousands of victims of genocide. It allows for the path of memory, truth and justice to continue, which offers a solid foundation for the construction of a more just country. We are hopeful that this case will continue on its course according to law and that soon there will be a final judgment against those who ordered genocide in Guatemala.

For the right to a just country!
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH
Guatemala, January 28, 2013

Juez Gálvez ordena la apertura de un debate oral y público | Comunicado de AJR y CALDH


La sociedad guatemalteca hoy es testiga de un hecho histórico, por primera vez en nuestro país se dicta apertura a juicio por los delitos de genocidio y delitos contra deberes de humanidad. El juez Miguel Ángel Gálvez ordenó que la apertura de un debate oral y público que permita dar a conocer a un Tribunal las pruebas respectivas en este trascendental caso. Este paso hacia la justicia es de suma importancia para las miles de personas sobrevivientes del genocidio en Guatemala.

A casi un año de haber sido ligado a proceso el general Efraín Ríos Montt y más de un año del general José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, y después de que el caso haya sido entrampado por 75 recursos (incidentes, amparos, recusaciones, apelaciones, etc.) el Juez de Mayor Riesgo decide dar este paso.

Valoramos positivamente lo actuado por el Juzgado de Mayor Riesgo B y esperamos que si la defensa del militar apela a otras instancias, éstas actúen apegado a derecho y tomando en cuenta lo ya resuelto.

La resolución presentada hoy encía un mensaje de esperanza en la justicia a quienes aún padecen las consecuencias del conflicto armado interno. También a los autores materiales e intelectuales de los graves delitos de lesa humanidad y genocidio que se cometieron en ese período, ya que no pueden quedar en la impunidad el genocidio, las ejecuciones extrajudiciales, la desaparición forzada, la violencia sexual, tortura y las masacres, entre otras violaciones.

Este hecho representa el caminar de miles de víctimas del genocidio. Posibilita continuar el camino de memoria, verdad y justicia, que ofrece bases sólidas para la construcción de un país más justo. Esperamos que el caso continúe tramitándose conforme lo establece la ley y pronto podamos tener el juicio contra quienes ordenaron el genocidio en Guatemala.

¡Por el Derecho a un País Justo!
Asociación para la Justicia y Reconciliación - AJR
Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos - CALDH
Guatemala, 28 de enero 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

Guatemalan Government Restarts Xalalá Hydroelectric Dam Project in Spite of Community Opposition

In response to the government’s announcement that it will restart the bidding process for the construction of the Xalalá hydroelectric dam in 2013, a delegation from the affected region traveled to the capital to present their concerns and speak out against the negative impacts that communities are already suffering downriver from existing hydroelectric dams. The delegation, made up of the Association of Communities for Development and the Defense of Territory and Natural Resources (ACODET), the “Ixcán Referendum Follow-Up Commission,” the Ixcán Front in Defense of Life and Territory (FIDET), and community representatives, met with state institutions, international organizations, and NGOs from October 23 to 26, 2012. They reasserted their right, protected by ILO 169, to free, prior, and informed consent, reminded the government that communities had already voted against the project in two community referendums, and called on international organizations to monitor the situation in case of possible human rights violations (read the delegation's press releases from October here). Despite community demands to suspend the project, the government has persisted, calling meetings with local government and community leaders and officially announcing the opening of bidding to contract the studies necessary for the dam’s construction.

Guatemalan Government announces a second call-for-bids for the development of the Xalalá hydroelectric dam

The dam, located at the confluence of the Copón and Chixoy Rivers, would flood lands in three municipalities in two departments: Ixcán and Uspantán, Quiché; and Cobán, Alta Verapaz. The plan was originally conceived in the 1970s as part of the Northern Transversal Strip (FTN), a political-economic vision for land use, industrialization, and natural resource exploitation in the northern part of the country elaborated by the military government of General Arana Osorio[i]. Currently, the Xalalá Hydroelectric Dam is connected with the goals of Plan Mesoamérica (originally Plan Puebla-Panamá) and its energy integration initiative, the Central American Electrical Interconnection System (SIEPAC). According to the National Electrification Institute (INDE), the Xalalá Dam's potential generation of 181 megavolts would make it the second largest dam in the country, after the infamous Chixoy dam (280 megavolts).

An independent study by the MadreSelva Ecologist Collective estimates that the dam would inundate some 15.6 square miles[ii]; according to another study by the Copenhagen Initiative for Mexico and Central America (CIFCA), this would flood the inhabited and/or cultivated lands of 58 communities[iii].

In recent years, the government has renewed its interest in the infrastructure and development goals outlined in the historical FTN Plan. As a signatory of the International Labor Organization’s (ILO) Convention 169, the government of Guatemala is obligated, among other things, to respect the right of indigenous groups to free, prior, and informed consent. On April 20, 2007 the communities of Ixcán exercised this right and held a referendum (consulta). Almost 90% of the more than 21,000 inhabitants voted to reject the construction of the hydroelectric dam and oil exploration in their municipality. Despite this clear rejection, the Guatemalan government opened bidding for the construction of the Xalalá dam in September of the same year. However, due in part to community opposition and in part to the economic crisis, bidding was closed a year later without any successful proposals.

In October 2010, three years after this first vote, communities in another municipality that would be affected by the dam, Uspantán, held a similar referendum. The results were similar. More than 90% of the inhabitants voted against allowing mining concessions and hydroelectric dams in Uspantán. Nonetheless, in late 2011 the government contracted the private company INTEG to study and “design a strategy to continue the process of planning and carrying out the studies, construction, and operation of a hydroelectric project in the area” . The government announced its plans in April 2012 to reopen bidding for construction of the Xalalá dam in June 2013. To minimize risks to the bidding companies, the government this time has assumed responsibility for the social impact study and dialogue with the affected population. Currently, through a formal agreement between INDE and the President’s Programming and Planning Secretariat (SEGEPLAN), eight personnel have been contracted to work on the social impact study, land zoning plan, and form the bargaining table.

Reasons for community opposition to the hydroelectric dam

The departments that would be affected by the Xalalá Hydroelectric Dam are the two poorest in the country based on measures such as access to healthcare, education, decent housing, and work, according to Guatemala’s National Institute of Statistics (INE). Local inhabitants depend directly on the land and the quality of their natural resources, such as water in the streams and rivers, for their sustenance, hygiene, and wellbeing. Losing their land, communities argue, means losing their way of life. The situation is made even more complicated by insecure land tenancy that has its roots in inadequate titling laws and the displacements of the years of the internal armed conflict[iv].

In the public forum held on October 24, 2012 by the delegation that visited Guatemala City, community representatives explained the reasons for the rejection of the hydroelectric dam:
  • The dam would interfere with their rights to food, health, and livelihood.
  • The dam would violate the right to protection of indigenous lands. 
  • The dam would have serious environmental impacts. 
  • 30 years after the construction of the Chixoy dam, affected communities still have not received reparations. 
  • There are alternatives to the construction of large dams to generate electricity. 
  • The generation and distribution of electricity is in the hands of large companies, and not managed in service to the poor of Guatemala.

The communities around Xalalá argue that they have much to lose and little to gain from the construction of the hydroelectric dam. The delegation that traveled to Guatemala this October to meet with state institutions, international organizations, and non-governmental organizations reiterated their protests that over 30 years after the construction of the Chixoy dam in the 1980s, the more than 30 communities who lost their lands--and in the case of the community of Rio Negro, their lives-- have still not received any reparations[v].

The delegation also stressed that communities downstream of existing dams suffer impacts as well. Representatives from Ixcán communities downstream of the Xacbal and Palo Viejo dams reported sudden fluctuations of the river level and the presence of chemicals from turbine maintenance, dangerous for both the residents that use the river and the local fauna[vi]. They are concerned about the recent authorization, on October 15, 2012, of a second hydroelectric dam, Xacbal Delta, which is planned upriver from the same communities affected by Xacbal dam. Despite these observed impacts, the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) does not require that environmental impact studies consider downstream effects.

Development based on communities' needs

A common refrain from the government is that the communities are stubbornly against “development” of any kind and are simply unreasonable. During the public forum on October 24th, the community representatives responded to this accusation by stating their belief that the Xalalá dam would not bring development because it would flood their lands and their communities. True development, they stressed, means responding to the comprehensive needs of the community. “For us the land is sacred, and all that we have. Why should we have to pay with our land and our lives the cost of an unsustainable model of development that is bringing the planet closer to destruction?”[vii] A journalist for The Observer explained in detail how, in comparison to the community’s view of development, SIEPAC brings a liberal free market conception that focuses more on the exportation of energy on the Central American market than on local needs of the communities[viii]. The delegation echoed this view when they expressed their doubts that a public-private or fully private model would provide any reliable or affordable electricity for local use. Existing tensions and protests across the country against the high price of electricity support this concern[ix].

After the Community Referendum in Ixcán in 2007, 53 communities from the three municipalities that would be affected by the Xalalá dam formed the Association of Communities for Development and in Defense of Territory and Natural Resources (ACODET). The association’s objective is to monitor the process of the Xalalá dam, obtaining public information, sharing it with the affected people, representing the communities before national and international institutions, and taking preventative measures to ensure that human rights are respected.

Communities demand that the government respect their meeting results

On various occasions ACODET has requested information from the respective government offices regarding plans for the Xalalá dam. Their requests often receive no answer, and they have denounced this lack of information, communication, and consultation by the government before Congress. They specify that, from the early stages of the project, they have received neither official news nor an invitation to negotiate a common plan. As a result, they analyze the situation themselves, basing their understanding on independent studies and on information from other non-governmental organizations, media, and requests for information from corresponding public institutions.

The public forum, the meetings with state representatives, and informational meetings with human rights organizations were organized by the delegation in October in order to present the communities’ concerns and the problematic character of the new bidding process for the Xalalá dam in 2013.

The delegation presented their objections, signed by the 53 communities, demanding that the government:
  • respect the results of the referendums and the right to free, prior, and informed consent;
  • suspend the Xalalá Dam project in light of the serious threats it poses to the right to food, livelihood, a healthy environment, and the possession of property and land; 
  • that the government fulfill its commitment to provide reparations and indemnities agreed to with the communities affected by the Palo Viejo Quixal (Chixoy) Dam; 
  • and, that the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, before authorizing studies for new dams, conduct an independent evaluation of the social-environmental impacts of the existing dams in the watersheds of the Chixoy, Copón, and Xalbal rivers[x].

The delegation also called on national and international social organizations to be on alert for possible violations of the communities’ rights should the bidding process continue. They asked international groups to monitor the environmental impact caused by their companies in the name of “green” energy production.

Despite the demands and objections presented by the delegation, in November 2012 INDE requested that social organizations in the Ixcán help call the communities to meet and asked permission of the three municipalities to enter the area and begin work. In December, INDE continued calling meetings with local authorities and communities in the three municipalities and on December 27 2012 officially opened the process to contract a company that will conduct the geologic, geotechnical, seismic, and geophysical feasibility studies for the project.

[i] For a detailed analysis of the FTN, see Luis Solano (Febrero de 2012). Contextualización histórica de la Franja Transversal del Norte,

[ii] Caracterización de la biodiversidad de la zona de influencia de la central hidroeléctrica Xalalá, Quiché-Cobán. Colectivo Madre Selva, 2008.Guatemala,p.7

[iii] Iniciativa de Copenhague para Centroamérica y México (CIFCA), 2008, Proyecto Xalalá ¿ Desarrollo para todos ?,

[iv] CIFCA’s report (see previous footnote) explains the wide variety of land tenancy situations of communities in the area of the proposed Xalalá Dam. Since 1970, when the FTN Plan was being elaborated by General Arana Osorio’s government, the right to supplemental land titling was suspended the lands of the FTN and other designated “rural development.” The decree 60-70, which suspended this right, is still in effect, complicating the abilities of families that have inhabited these lands for decades to request titles. Some of the communities in the affected area inhabit lands owned by the municipality of Chinique and are in negotiations to purchase their lands. Others were internally displaced during the armed internal conflict and resettled in the area, with irrefutable titles to their land and protected by agreements with the Government of Guatemala negotiated during the peace process in the 1990s.

[v] In September of 2012, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (IDH) condemned the Guatemalan State for having been the intellectual author responsible for the massacres committed by the army and civil defense patrols (PAC) in Rio Negro. INDE and the World Bank, the main promoters for the construction of the Chixoy Dam, have still not complied with the offers for compensation they made over thirty years ago to the more than thirty communities affected by the construction. Despite negotiations with the government, INDE, and the World Bank, the survivors of the massacre have not received reparations and the communities living next to the dam still do not have electricity. For more information, see the Jubilee Debt Report, “Generating Terror,” December 2012

[vi] Santiago Botón has produced a film (see link below) with some of these downstream communities, looking in more detail at these downstream impacts of hydroelectric dams. These communities were never included in the environmental impact assessments. Santiago Botón, 2012, Xalalá: Nuestra Tierra y Los Ríos No Tienen Precio (documental),

[vii] From the record of the forum: Asociación de Comunidades para el Desarrollo, Defensa de la Tierra y los Recursos Naturales, ACODET, 15 de octubre de 2012, Memorial

[viii] Gustavo Illescas (Centro de Medios Independientes), julio de 2012, Energía eléctrica en Guatemala: de servicio público a negocio privado,

[ix] In Totonicapán, for example, where eight indigenous protesters were killed and over thirty wounded by the army on October 6, 2012, when thousands of people from the area were protesting raises in the price of electricity, the installation of hydroelectric dams, the politics of mining contained in the mining code reform, and and changes in requirements in the teaching profession. Locally, many of those communities in the municipality of Ixcán which have been electrified suffer frequent blackouts which cause damage to electric appliances.

[x] Asociación de Comunidades para el Desarrollo, Defensa de la Tierra y los Recursos Naturales ACODET, 15 de octubre de 2012, Memorial

Friday, January 11, 2013

2012: Defense of Territory and Natural Resources

2012 was marked by a high level of conflict in Guatemala, especially related to the exploitation of natural resources. Here we summarize some of the cases in which ACOGUATE accompanies human rights organizations in defense of their territory. NISGUA is one of the eleven international organizations that form ACOGUATE's accompaniment project. See the original version of this article in Spanish on ACOGUATE's blog here.

Indigenous and Campesino Communities

The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, visited Guatemala from March 11th to the 15th of 2012. During her visit she expressed concern for the high level of insecurity and violence in the country, but she sees hope in the court sentences for the Dos Erres massacre and the ongoing investigations in the Ixil region [i].

On March 13th, the High Commissioner met with more than 3,000 representatives and indigenous and ancestral Maya, Xinca, and Garifuna community leaders in Totonicapán. The demands of the assembly were based on four themes: i) autonomy and self-determination, ii) megaprojects, iii) criminalization and remilitarization, and iv) discrimination and racism toward the indigenous population in Guatemalan society. In an interview after the meetings, Pillay said that the indigenous groups "shared her discomfort of being constantly stigmatizes as criminals and terrorists: this happens when they present legitimate grievances in consultations around the exploitation of their resources". Pillay concluded, "There are serious problems. I consider valid their claims that they are treated as if they're invisible. The Constitution of this country speaks of equality for all"[ii].

ACOGUATE observed the meeting in Totonicapán, invited by accompanied organizations who were present (the Association for the Integral Development of San Miguel Ixtahuacán and the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango). Read NISGUA's account of the High Commissioner's visit here.

Two weeks after the visit by the High Commissioner, on March 27th, more than 5,000 campesinos arrived in Guatemala City after marching 217 kilometers from Cobán, Alta Verapaz over the course of 9 days. The campesinos made suggestions before the President of the Republic, Congress, the Judicial Body, and the Public Prosecutor's Office. Their demands span four topics: i) the agrarian issue, ii) the violation of indigenous and campesino communities' individual and collective rights, iii) mining, hydroelectric dams, monocropping, and megaprojects, and iv) the approval of laws in favor of rural farmworker communities. The executive's response recognized the structural and historic nature of the suggested demands, giving a direct response to some. ACOGUATE observed the arrival of the march in the capital and activities in front of the National Palace at the request of the coordinators of the march.

Megaprojects and the exploitation of natural resources

On May 18th a sentence was given in the case known as "the eight women"[iii] in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, in the Department of San Marcos, home of the Marlin Mine, operated by Montana Exploradora, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Goldcorp Inc. It was resolved to annul the arrest warrants, remove the electric pole from the land of Gregoria Crisanta Pérez Bámaca, and cancel the supposed lease[iv]. At the request of the Movement of Indigenous Women, Tz'ununija[v], ACOGUATE observed the public act of removing the pole from Pérez Bámaca's land on May 31st. See the Tz'ununija' Indigenous Women's Movement's communique from May.

On July 14th and 15th in San Miguel Ixtahuacán, San Marcos, the International People's Health Tribunal saw the participation of people affected by mining from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, where GoldCorp Inc. continues to operate. In the symbolic verdict, the judges of the People's Tribunal condemned the actions of GoldCorp in the countries from which the participants came[vi]. ACOGUATE observed the International People's Health Tribunal at the request of the Association for the Integral Development of San Miguel Ixtahuacán, who we have accompanied since 2007. See NISGUA's coverage of the tribunal in these articles, Tribunal 2012: "We are defending the life of all humanity with our struggle" and Verdict of the International People's Health Tribunal.

Opening bidding for the construction of the Xalalá hydroelectric dam in the Ixcán was announced by the government as a priority for 2013. The Association of Communities for Development and in Defense of Territory and National Resources (ACODET) argues that the dam would threaten their way of life and the subsistence of the communities. Given this threat, the organization met with national and international actors in October with the goal of asking them to take into account the negative impacts on the affected communities and demand that their community consultations, which have demonstrated a majority opinion against megaprojects in the region, be respected. ACOGUATE accompanies ACODET and observed these meetings. Read more in NISGUA's article Communities Denounce Xalalá Dam and Oil Exploitation.

These aren't the only conflicts between companies and communities regarding the issue of exploitation of natural resources. In the last number of months there is growing tension especially in the areas of San Jose del Golfo and San Rafael Las Flores.

Social Conflicts and Militarization

On May 1st, three community leaders were attacked in Santa Cruz de Barillas, resulting in the death of one and two seriously injured. The survivors stated that their attackers were personnel of the hydroelectric company Hidro Santa Cruz and with this, the population, seeking justice, reacted in anger. To regain control of the situation, the government declared a state of siege.

Campesino and human rights organizations expressed their rejection of this measure, alterting to the abuse of authority during raids and the detention of individuals without being heard by a judge[vii]. The use of the state of siege as a way to resolve conflicts was criticized and the present, and past, government's failure to respect the results of a community consultation conducted in 2007, which rejected the megaprojects in the region, was cited as a source of local people's frustration. Despite the consultation, the government gave permission for the construction of the hydroelectric dam.

The state of siege was lifted on May 18th and since then 15 people have been detained for their supposed participation in the events[viii]. As of January 9, 2013, all of the detained have been released, following the release of three prisoners in September and November. ACOGUATE observed the audiences in Santa Eulalia at the request of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH). On May 26th, two workers of the company have been charged with the death of the community leader on May 1st[ix]. ACOGUATE has also observed the hearings of this case. See this communique State of Siege in Santa Cruz Barillas Lifted and NISGUA's coverage on the Political Prisoners Liberated in the Santa Cruz de Barillas Case.

Given the events on May 1st, ACOGUATE also accompanied, at the request of the feminist collective Actors for Change, the Festival for Life, the Body, and Territory of Women, which was held in September.

On June 30th, the official date of observance for the National Day of the Guatemalan Army, thousands of people marched from their communities in San Juan Sacatepéquez to the central park in Guatemala City in protest of the installation of a Military Brigade in their community[x]. The military base in San Juan Sacatepéquez is one of many that were installed during 2012[xi]. ACOGUATE observed the march.

In July, the Association in Defense of Human Rights in the Ixcán published a statement expressing their concerns following the entrance of the military in Cuarto Pueblo in April and July, which according to their statement brought memories of the internal armed conflict and the massacre in their community, in which almost 400 people were killed[xii]. Read NISGUA's article Cuarto Pueblo Denounces Military Presence.

The event which has generated the most worry about the militarization in the country at a national and international level was the death of eight campesinos in Totonicapán on the 14th October. They were protesting the rising prices of electricity and education reform; the demonstration also left many people injured and poisoned by tear gas. (See NISGUA's coverage of this incident Indigenous protesters killed in Totonicapan, Guatemala.) Investigations by the Public Prosecutor indicate that at least six of the campesinos died by gunfire from members of the army. Eight soldiers and a colonel have been charged with the killing. The deaths provoked reactions by human rights organizations against increasing militarization, and members of the diplomatic corps expressed concerns around the presence of the armed forces at protests. ACOGUATE observed the hearing of the first statement of the accused military personnel.

[i]Prensa Libre, March 15, 2012, Alta comisionada de la ONU concluye visita a Guatemala,

[ii] El Periódico, March 18, 2012, Los indígenas se quejan de ser tratados como si fuesen invisibles, (entrevista con Navi Pillay),

[iii] Documentary, Eight Mayan Women,

[iv] In 2005, high tension cables were installed among three communities of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, in the Department of San Marcos, close to the Marlin Mine, operated by Montana Exploradora, a subsidiary of the Canadian company Goldcorp Inc. Various people claimed that they did not ask permission to use their lands. One of them was Gregoria Crisanta Pérez Bámaca. Goldcorp Inc. for its part claimed it had a lease with her from 2004, something that Pérez Bámaca denies having signed. In June 2008, Pérez Bámaca caused a short circuit in electricity lines that passed over her house, causing a break in the power to the mine. Some 150 citizens in the neighbouring villages united to protest the activities of the Marlin Mine and to show support for Pérez Bámaca. Eight orders of capture were sent against her and seven other women of the community Source:, November 30, 2008, Minería en San Miguel Ixtahuacán: Conflictividad y criminalización,

[v] Communique: Movimiento de Mujeres Indígenas Tz’ununija, 31 de mayo de 2012.

[vi] See the People's Health Tribunal website,

[vii] Ibid. / CPO, Communique, May 2, 2012, Ante los últimos acontecimientos sucedidos en el municipio de Santa Cruz Barillas Huehuetenango,

[viii] Prensa Libre, May 18, 2012, Presidente levanta estado de sitio en Santa Cruz Barillas,

[ix] Prensa Libre, May 26, 2012, Capturan a dos hombres por la muerte de un campesino en Barillas,

[x], July 1, 2012, Queremos Lapiceros, No Fusiles: San Juan Sacatepéquez rechaza instalación de Brigada Militar,
Siglo XXI, June 30, 2012, Seis mil personas rechazan la instalación de una brigada militar,

[xi] For example, see: El Periódico, September 3, 2012, Abriran bases militares en frontera con México,

[xii] ADDHAI Communique, Jul 16, 2012, Denuncia

2012: The Search for Justice and Against Impunity

2012 was a very active year for ACOGUATE and the cases in which we accompany witnesses and plaintiffs in search for justice. Human rights defenders working for truth are amongst the most threatened groups, according to the Human Rights Defenders' Protection Unit of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA)[i]. Here are some of the highlights in the search for justice from 2012. NISGUA is one of the eleven international organizations that form ACOGUATE's international accompaniment project. See the original version of this article in Spanish on ACOGUATE's blog here.

Since February, exhumations have been undertaken at CREOMPAZ, the former military base in Cobán. To date, more than 60 mass graves and almost 500 skeletons have been exhumed and there are still 13 grave sites waiting to be exhumed.

Cases of the Past

In the genocide case, in January 2012, after losing immunity as a Congressional representative (2000-2012), José Efraín Ríos Montt was summoned to make his first statement. Four other ex-generals had been processed for genocide and crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, on January 15th 2012, the judge provisionally suspended criminal prosecution against Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores because of his state of health and ordered that he complete periodic medical evaluations[ii]. Héctor Mario López Fuentes' lawyers have also argued that his own weak state of health means he should not be prosecuted. In addition to these motions, others have been presented as obstacles. Defense lawyers have filed challenges against the two judges in charge of the investigation, Carol Patricia Flores and Miguel Ángel Gálvez. Currently, in Ríos Montt's case, the resolution of various legal motions is being awaited before the judge can decide if the oral and public debate will open in the first case for genocide to be heard in a national court in Latin America. See NISGUA's articles Ríos Montt to Testify, Mejía Victores Unfit for Trial and Efraín Ríos Montt to Stand Trial for Genocide.

ACOGUATE accompanies the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and members of the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH)'s legal team, both organizations serve as plaintiffs in the case.

On March 20th 2012, in another case with origins in the internal armed conflict, a former military commissioner and four ex-members of the Civil Defense Patrols were sentenced to 7,710 years for their participation in the massacre of Plan de Sanchez. The sentence was in recognition of each of the 256 assassinated victims. In addition, as part of the sentence, the Ministry of Culture and the Ministry of Education were required to produce an educational documentary about the massacre in order to memorialize the victims. The Public Prosecutor is also required to continue its investigations into other perpetrators of the massacre. On September 26th, the public defense appealed the sentence, arguing that those sentenced had been obliged and under threat and that the intellectual authors of the massacre should be investigated. ACOGUATE has accompanied the witnesses since the year 2000 and observed the hearings. See NISGUA's article Paramilitaries Sentenced to Thousands of Years for Plan de Sánchez Massacre.

In the case of the massacre of Dos Erres, after a first sentencing against four former military personnel in August 2011, on March 12th 2012, a former Kaibil (special forces) sub-instructor, Pedro Pimentel Ríos, was sentenced for his involvement in the massacre. The sentence against Pimental Ríos was the maximum possible, 30 years for each of the 201 people killed and 30 years more for crimes against humanity – a total of 6,060 years of which 50 years are non-commutable. Also, the court ordered that compensation should be provided to the plaintiffs in the form of housing and that the sentence should be transmitted on the national TV and radio channels so that the history of the community is better known. ACOGUATE accompanies FAMDEGUA, the plaintiff in this case.

On May 21, José Efraín Ríos Montt was processed for genocide as intellectual author of the Dos Erres massacre. Ríos Montt has attempted to appeal for amnesty under the National Reconciliation Law from 1996, even though the same law takes into account, in article 8, "the extinction of the criminal responsibility doesn't apply to the crimes of genocide, torture, forced disappearance, or other crimes with regard to those which doesn't exist a prescription or that don't admit the extinction of criminal responsibility, of conformity with internal legislation or international treaties ratified by Guatemala."

In August 2012, the former chief of the National Police, Pedro Garcia Arredondo, was sentenced to 40 years for the forced disappearance of the student leader, Edgar Saenz Calitos, and to 30 years for crimes against humanity. ACOGUATE observed the audiences. See NISGUA's article on the sentence, Pedro García Arredondo Convicted and Sentenced to 70 years in prison.

In September hearings began on a case of women victims of sexual slavery during the internal armed conflict in Sepur Zarco, Panzos, Alta Verapaz[iii]. ACOGUATE accompanied Women Transforming the World (MTM) in this first case of its kind in the word to be heard in a national court.

On September 4th, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights passed sentence in the case of the massacres of Rio Negro and requested that the state of Guatemala investigates and brings to justice those responsible and also requests symbolic reparations to the victims[iv]. ACOGUATE accompanies the survivors.

Present Day Cases

The human rights defender Emilia Margarita Quan Staackmann was kidnapped on December 7th, 2010 in Huehuetenango, and her remains were located in the mountains of Huehuetenango the next day. On June 6, 2012 Jordy Paolo Cruz Bailon was sentenced to six years in prison for the crimes of femicide and unlawful association. Given its capacity, ACOGUATE observed some of the case's hearings. UDEFEGUA congratulated the result, as "one more material advance in the search for justice for violations against human rights defenders and an example that when there is willingness and commitment the investigative body can clarify any criminal offense"[v].

On August 24th, the ex-mayor of Cotzal, Quiché, José Pérez Chen, was sentenced to 82 years of prison for crimes of extrajudicial execution, torture, illegal detention, kidnapping, abuse of authority, and discrimination. The case principally addressed the lynching of the police officer Pedro Rodríguez Toma on November 1st, 2009, and it has been an exemplary case not only regarding the abuse of authority but also in making the link between structures of power of the past and the present. ACOGUATE observed the hearings.

In June, the Austrian judicial body announced that it would investigate Javier Figueroa, the ex-subdirector of the National Civil Police (under the government of Oscar Berger, 2003 to 2007). Figueroa is accused of the crime of extrajudicial execution in the case of the killing of prisoners in the prisons Pavón and Infiernito in 2005 and 2006. The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is investigating the case. The others accused are: the ex-Minister of the Interior Carlos Vielmann (currently in Spain), and the ex-director of the National Civil Police Edwin Sperisen (currently in Switzerland). In June of 2011, Amnesty International published a statement demanding that Figueroa and Sperisen be investigated[vi]. Sperisen was captured on August 31st and sent to preventive prison. Two requests for Sperisen's release were denied due to the danger of escape. The process is in the investigative stage and Sperisen should be held prisoner until at least February 2013. Given his double nationality, Sperisen's case is being heard in Switzerland[vii].

Vielmann remains at liberty after having paid a sum of 100 thousand Euros to Spain in December 2010. At the end of October 2012, Vielmann presented himself and gave testimony[viii] before the Spanish National Court, the body hearing the case.

These ex-State functionaries and members of the leadership of the PNC were in their positions when the massacre of Finca Nueva Linda was committed in 2004. In 2011 investigations began in Switzerland against Sperisen for his involvement in the case[ix]. ACOGUATE has accompanied the 200 families from Finca Nueva Linda since 2006.

[i] UDEFEGUA, October 2012, El Acompañante,

[ii] Prensa Libre, January 6, 2012, Juzgado suspende proceso,

[iii] Prensa Libre, September 21, 2012, Juez oirá a víctimas de esclavitud sexual,

[v] UDEFEGUA Communique, June 7, 2012, Condenan a uno de los responsables de la muerte de la defensora de derechos humanos, Emilia Margarita Quan Staackmann (08 de diciembre de 2010)

[vi] Amnesty International Communique, June 8, 2011, Debe procesarse a ex altos cargos guatemaltecos por homicidios

[vii] La Hora, December 3, 2012, Sperisen continúa en prisión preventiva en cárcel de Suiza,

[viii] El Periódico, November 4, 2012, Suiza y España siguen casos contra exfuncionarios guatemaltecos,

[ix] El Periódico, May 24, 2011, Suiza investiga a Sperisen en paquete de seis casos,