Friday, May 31, 2013

Rubén Herrera Released from Prison!

Rubén Herrera and Cecilia Mérida moments after Rubén was liberated.
Yesterday, Rubén Herrera, unjustly imprisoned since March 15 for his resistance to the Cambalam hydro-electric project, was released from custody and cleared of all charges in one of two legal processes against him. The second process (176-2011) dating back to 2009, was provisionally closed at the request of the Public Prosecutor's office. Judge Miguel Gálvez of Guatemala City's High Risk Court “B” agreed with the prosecutor's assessment that the evidence against Herrera was imprecise and contradictory, and granted the prosecution a six month time frame to build a better case or present closing arguments. 

Beginning with Herrera's first hearing in Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, the Public Prosecutor's office has maintained that the case lacks evidence linking Herrera to the crimes. Despite these arguments the presiding judge in Santa Eulalia, at the request of co-plaintiffs Ecoener Hidralia Energía/Hidro Santa Cruz S.A, ordered the case forward. 

At the beginning of trial proceedings on Thursday, the Public Prosecutor reiterated its request to provisionally close both cases against Rubén Herrera citing a lack of evidence linking him to the accusations. What followed was an unusual scene, during which the lawyers at the prosecution table argued against each other. Lawyers for co-plaintiff Hidro Santa Cruz denounced the Public Prosecutor's “surprising” request and “passive attitude”, and requested that Judge Gálvez proceed to trial. Joining the Hidro Santa Cruz's legal team was a familiar face from the genocide trial, César Calderón, defense attorney for former director of military intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. 

During the three hours that followed, the defense team representing Herrera argued the two separate cases, demonstrating both the political nature of the charges, the questionable behavior of representatives of the judicial system in Santa Eulalia, and the lack of concrete evidence against Herrera. 

In the 2012 case (65-2012), Judge Gálvez dismissed the charges outright. The case was permanently closed citing the fact that none of the testimonies provided by witnesses and victims in the case file even mention Rubén Herrera. In the 2009 case, Gálvez upheld the request from the Public Prosecutor to provisionally close the case stating that the accusations and arrest warrant were based on “two or three flimsy declarations”. Throughout the hearing, Judge Gálvez referenced his belief that social conflict in Barillas is the result of a lack of respect for international law protecting communities' right to consultation. 

In response to the provisional closure of the 2009 case, Cecilia Mérida, Rubén's life partner, stated that it will allow them more time to continue to disprove the allegations against Rubén; and more time to prove that he has been falsely accused by the company in order to undermine popular resistance to the hydro-electric project. Throughout the duration of his imprisonment, Herrera, Mérida and the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) have continued their struggle in defense of territory in the face of rising repression and criminalization. Rubén declared soon after his release: "In prison I learned that it doesn't matter where you are, you can continue to fight.”

While the 2012 case against Rubén is closed, three of the 11 men unjustly imprisoned for eight months for their peaceful resistance to the Cambalam project continue to be linked to the same the May 1, 2012 incident and continue to await the permanent closure of their case. Likewise, 20 additional individuals still have arrest warrants pending against them related to the same event. 

Dozens of supporters packed the courtroom yesterday in support of Rubén and the struggle for communities' right to self determination. More than 2,800 people from the international community demonstrated their solidarity by signing the petition demanding Rubén's release and the end to persecution of community leaders, which was delivered to Guatemalan authorities last week

Supporters filled the seats and lined the aisles in support of Rubén.
The role of international solidarity continues to be important for the individuals, communities and organizations defending the right to consultation, particularly as criminalization of peaceful protest continues to intensify in Guatemala. In the words of the ADH: “In a very special way, we want to thank the show of solidarity with our cause. We are confident that this solidarity encourages and strengthens us to continue fighting.”

 NISGUA works closely with the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) in their efforts to promote self-determination and alternative visions of development in the highland department of Huehuetenango. The ADH receives international human rights accompaniment from NISGUA through the ACOGUATE project and participated in NISGUA's 2010 tour.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

NISGUA in NYC with the Association for Justice and Reconciliation: Listen live to our special event

Live transmission of event in NYC with the AJR. Tramission will begin at approximately 7:15pm EST, May 30, and last for one hour.

Transmisión en vivo de la actividad en la ciudad de Nueva York con la AJR. Transmisión de 1 hora, 30 de mayo, empezando a las 7:15pm EST (aproximadamente).

Alternate link: here

Thursday, May 23, 2013

International community calls for Rubén Herrera's immediate release

More than one year after President Molina declared a state of siege in Santa Cruz de Barillas, repression continues against community leaders resisting the Cambalam hydroelectric project, operated by Spanish owned Hidro Santa Cruz. Violence and criminalization against leaders defending territory and the right to self determination has been on the rise in Barillas since the 2007 community consultation rejecting large-scale development projects in their territory.   

Since March, NISGUA has reported on the detention of Rubén Herrera, community leader and member of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango for the Defense of Natural Resources (ADH). Herrera has been unjustly imprisoned for more than two months on trumped up charges related to resistance to the Cambalam project. Despite requests by Guatemala's Public Prosecutor to dismiss the case due to a lack of evidence, the judge ordered the case forward.

In response, NISGUA together with the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, gathered more than 2,800 signatures from 52 countries demanding Rubén's immediate release and an end to the criminalization of human rights defenders.  
Rubén Herrera, unjustly imprisoned since March 15
The signatures were delivered to Guatemala's Public Prosecutor's office in anticipation of  Rubén's May 30 pre-trial hearing. Originally slated to be heard in Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango, Rubén's hearing was recently transferred to Guatemala City.

“The decision of the Supreme Court to transfer Rubén Herrera's case to Guatemala City is a favorable resolution because it is an opportunity for the case to be heard in a specialized court, which gives us greater confidence that the false accusations presented by the Hidro Santa Cruz will be disproven,” stated Alba Cecilia Mérida, Herrera's life partner and human rights activist. “It means that Rubén will have a greater possibility of due process in the application of justice.”

May 1 march in Huehuetenango: "No More Repression, Liberty for Rubén Herrera"
In April, the persecution of leaders resisting the Cambalam project continued with the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pedro Mateo, cultural leader and prominent defender of the 2007 community consultation in Barillas. Community members from eight municipalities in northern Huehuetenango mobilized during three days in order to locate Pedro Mateo's remains.

Just a few weeks later, terror once again gripped residents of Barillas when community leader Mynor López was detained by plain clothed men, later determined to be police officers, and forced into an unmarked vehicle. Some residents, believing López was being abducted, mobilized to ensure his release. In response anti-riot police already in the community fired at the crowd with tear gas. In a press release, the ADH denounced the irregular detention of Mynor López as well as the ongoing criminalization of leaders.

The state's pattern of systematic criminalization and persecution of community leaders defending territory was demonstrated again in early April when President Molina implemented of another state of siege in four municipalities surrounding Tahoe Resources' Escobal project, located in San Rafael Las Flores, Santa Rosa. As in Barillas, leaders demanding the right to consultation have been targeted; 12 members of the committee organizing community referenda in San Rafael Las Flores had their homes raided and searched during the weeks long state of siege.

"Instead of listening to the legitimate demands of the people, the state and the companies have implemented a strategy to discredit and delegitimize peaceful community struggles in defense of life and territory," said Francisco Rocael Mateo of the ADH. "This criminalization is a strategy to demobilize community resistance."

Read NISGUA's full press release in English and Spanish.

NISGUA works closely with the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) in their efforts to promote self-determination and alternative visions of development in the highland department of Huehuetenango. The ADH receives international human rights accompaniment from NISGUA through the ACOGUATE project and participated in NISGUA's 2010 tour.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

AJR Declaration to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

The Association for Justice and Reconciliation addressed the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York City today. We are honored to provide the exclusive English translation of the declaration. Read the Spanish version here.

 Association for Justice and Reconciliation
Declaration to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, 12th Session
New York, NY, May 22, 2013

Brothers and sisters of the indigenous peoples of the world and members of the Permanent Forum:

We, as indigenous peoples, stand on the threshold of a new era of shared struggle. In this spirit, we come to ask that the Assembly recommends to the state of Guatemala that justice for our people prevails and that a strong foundation be built to construct new, more just, and harmonious relations for all.

On May 10, Guatemala set an example for the world by being the first country to emit a sentence for genocide against a former head of state in a national court.  We, the plaintiffs and members of the Association for Justice and Reconcilation, have seen this process as an opportunity to recuperate the truth that has been denied to our families and to Guatemalan society in general. It is an opportunity to confront the past and address the root causes of the discrimination we suffer as indigenous peoples in Guatemala today.

However, the sentence has just been annuled by the highest court in the country. This takes place in a context where business elites and groups linked to the military who carried out the extermination rejected the sentence and sought to create terror by encouraging social polarization and calling for society to deny the truth. What happened this week in Guatemala is not coincidence, but part of a political structure that denies us justice. We have spent 12 years preparing evidence and arguments, dealing with all manner of obstacles. The moment we begin to move forward, the legitimacy of judicial processes is questioned and we hear officials threatening lawyers and judges. Despite all of this, our cause does not end here.

Today, more than ever, it is imperative we continue to demand justice and face the past to ensure acts of genocide never again take place in Guatemala and the Guatemalan state respects, protects and promotes the rights of indigenous peoples. As long as this does not happen, the state will continue to deny our rights and facilitate the dispossession of the lands and natural resources that are fundamental to the material and spiritual life of indigenous peoples. Brothers and sisters: we must stop the continuation of genocide in Guatemala.

Not in Guatemala nor any other place in the world: Genocide, never again

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Genocide trial sentence overturned; CALDH press conference called sentence, "An opportunity for peace"

The Guatemalan Constitutional Court emitted a resolution late Monday evening to annul the genocide trial verdict and revert proceedings back to April 19. Judge Barrios of the First Court for High Risk Crimes "A" has 24 hours after being notified of the resolution this morning to comply with the Constitutional Court. The full impact of this decision is yet to be determined.

Yesterday morning, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action called a press conference to publicly share the genocide trial sentence. A cross-section of Guatemalan society gathered to celebrate the sentence as a fundamental step in achieving peace.

See our full translation of yesterday's press release below.

"Yes, it was genocide. Guatemala walks firmly toward peace"

The Genocide Sentence
An Opportunity for Peace

Today Guatemala has a new opportunity for peace, an opportunity that is constructed on the foundation of memory and truth of the Maya Ixil people and on the foundation of justice and strengthening the rule of law.

The First Court for High Risk Crimes "A" has condemned General José Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. The sentence against Ríos Montt verifies that the crime of genocide was committed in Guatemala and situates his participation in grave human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict.

With this historic sentence, the Court has given evidentiary value to the brave testimonies of the Ixil men and women, who after 31 years have been heard and had their suffering recognized by the Guatemalan justice system.

Through these testimonies, as well as scientific and documentary evidence, the court proved the evidentiary value and demonstrated the intention to destroy the Ixil who were identified as the internal enemy, "the violent actions committed against the Ixil weren't spontaneous but rather the concretization of previously elaborated plans that formed part of state policy aimed at eliminating a specific ethnic group… Having proved to society that they were civilians, dedicated to agriculture."

The sexual violence was a systematic attack against women, which contributed to the destruction of the social fabric and whose objective was to eliminate the Maya Ixil ethnic group. Women suffered intentional violence and humiliation, not only as a means to inflict mental and physical harm, but also as a means to impede the physical and cultural reproduction of the group.

The prevailing racism in Guatemala was "the machinery of extermination," and was the foundation for genocide. "Racism expresses itself in the conduct, imagery, and racist practices and ideologies that occupy distinct spaces and reach society as a whole… Racism profoundly affects, provokes, collaborates and contributes to the genocide that occurred in Guatemala." Historically, a stereotype of an "indian" has been constructed as an inferior, as "a bad person, thief, ugly and who smells bad." The elites have historically presented the idea of "their elimination" or the necessity to "improve the race". This was what was put into practice in the Genocide.

Through this trial, networks of impunity have been uncovered which are still deeply entrenched in the justice system. There are also powerful groups that continue to deny the possibility of living in a full democracy with true rule of law. We've witnessed illegal resolutions; malicious litigation and the attempt to discredit actors within the justice system through various means. It is important to reiterate, that during this trial, it is the public oral debate which determines if the means of evidence reached their evidentiary value. This is what gives force and credibility to the rule of law and not the hundreds of appeals submitted to delay and obstruct justice.

The survivors of the genocide have taught Guatemalan society a lesson; It is possible to move forward and resolve controversies through established democratic means. Those who invoke hate and violence or those who are afraid of democratic processes are those who have never believed in peace or democracy.

We call upon Guatemalan society to not be convinced by these violent, racist and discriminatory messages of those sectors that threaten actions, and even violence if the ruling is not revoked.

We share the idea that this sentence is part of a watershed moment in the history of Guatemala, as it opens up the opportunity for us to once again ask ourselves as a society what it is we desire for the present and future of our country. Guatemala has a new opportunity, shaped by the long path toward justice that the victims undertook decades ago. This path symbolizes the claims and recognition of true reality, not only for the Maya people but also for the thousands of the victims arbitrarily executed, disappeared and massacred in our territory.

Association for Justice and Reconciliation, AJR; Ancestral Maya Authorities of the Ixil Region, Victims Movement Association for the Integral Development of Northern Quiche; Departmental Youth Association of Sololá Kaji Batz; Association for Development and Recovery of Alta Verapaz, AJODER; Caja Lúdica Association; The Association of Family Members of the Detained and Disappeared of Guatemala, FAMDEGUA; Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team, ECAP; Center for Human Rights Legal Action, CALDH; Collective We the Women; National Coordination of Guatemalan Widows, CONAVIGUA; Coordination of Ixil Women "Baxil B'atz"; Committee of Victims of the Ixcán; Coordination of Youth for Guatemla, CJG;  Coordination Genocide Never Again; Coordination and National Convergence Waqib Kej; the Guatemalan Religious Confederation, CONFREGUA; Relatives in Search of Truth and Justice for the Victims of the Military Diary; Rigoberta Menchú Foundation; HIJOS Guatemala; Institute for Comparative Studies in Criminal Science, ICCPG; Institute for Sustainable Development Teaching, IEPADES; Julio Solorzano Fopa; Women Transforming the World, MTM; Movement of Maya Youth, MOJOMAYAS; Archbishop's Office on Human Rights, ODHAG;  Pastoral Youth Ministry of San Marcos, Network of Ixil Youth "Chemol Txumb'al"; Security in Democracy, SEDEM; Women's Sector; Civil Society for Youth Development/ Foundation for the Youth; National Unity of Guatemalan Women, UNAMG

Read the complete sentence here:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Sentence of Dignified Reparations for the Ixil People

On May 10, Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, in an historic ruling that sentenced him to 80 years in prison. As ordered during the verdict, yesterday Judge Yassmín Barrios heard the reparations requests of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action. Below we have translated a summary of the petitions granted to the plaintiffs.

The representatives of the survivors put forth an extensive list of petitions and made special mention of the women who suffered sexual and gender violence. In a trial filled with moving and powerful moments, the day in which women bravely spoke to an open courtroom stands out for many. Read more about their courage here

In a notable link between the crimes of the past and violence occurring in Guatemala today, the plaintiffs asked the government be ordered to respect Convention 169, the International Labor Organization convention stating indigenous peoples have the right to free, prior and informed consent on any projects taking place in their territories.
This and other petitions were not granted because the crimes and subsequent verdict relate to an individual –Ríos Montt- and not the state. Therefore, Judge Barrios highlighted, while certain mechanisms of the state will be used to carry out reparations, these are not state reparations.

Another denied request was the restitution of land taken from displaced Ixil victims, the only economic petition made by the plaintiffs. CALDH lawyer noted, 
Defense lawyers and social media hate speech have repeatedly accused the victims of being involved in this case for the purposes of financial remuneration.

Below we share the “dignified reparations” granted to the Ixil people, as mandated under the Guatemalan penal code.

Sentence of Dignified Reparations for the Ixil People

Today, May 13, three days after having issued the historic sentence condemning Ríos Montt, the High Risk Sentencing Tribunal A held a hearing to listen to petitions for reparations. The petitions were for dignified reparations for the victims of genocide and crimes against humanity for the Ixil people. The judges ruled the following:
  1. That the Executive Branch, through the Ministry of Culture, make a request to the Congress of the Republic that a law declare Mach 23 as the National Day Against Genocide. In addition, the Executive Branch must develop a program to disseminate the verdict, as well as respect for cultural diversity.
  2. The President, Minister of Defense, Presidential Secretary for Women’s Issues and others, must publicly apologize to the victims, in particular to the women who were victims of sexual violence. The apologies will be written on a parchment to be submitted to each of the municipal mayors in the Ixil region.
  3. Monuments honoring and remembering the victims of genocide will be erected in Santa María Nebaj, San Gaspar Chajul and San Juan Cotzal, in particular for the women victims of sexual and gender violence and the children who were victims of the genocide.
  4. Respect and recognition of cultural diversity, training on human rights and international human rights are to be incorporated into the training programs  of all prevention and security [institutions], such as military and police. 
  5. Create schools and study center in all three municipalities of the Ixil region. 
  6. The Attorney General’s office, in the form of a mural, will reaffirm their commitment to creating a system of justice that is respectful of cultural diversity.
  7. The Ministry of Education will create a moving museum that promotes respect for all peoples and peaceful coexistence. 
  8. Create a cultural center for the promotion of Maya Ixil culture. 
  9. The study of the Ixil genocide will be incorporated into education curriculum. 
  10. The National Reparations Plan will incorporate in their programs the category of genocide and crimes against humanity, so that victims may access [financial] reparations.
  11. It is ordered that the plaintiff’s institutions will follow-up on the content and compliance of the [reparations] sentence.
 Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ríos Montt: Guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity

Today in Guatemala, Judge Yazmin Barrios found former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. The court ratified all the elements of genocide described by witness and expert testimony, concluding that Ríos Montt had both command authority and "full knowledge of what was happening and did nothing to stop it."  Ríos Montt was sentenced of 80 years in prison and is now in police custody. Former intelligence director Rodriguez Sánchez was acquitted of all charges.

The historic sentence was greeted by cries of "Justice!", the singing of hymns, and emotional displays of appreciation by Ixil witnesses and other members of the public. "After so much struggle, we've finally achieved our goal," said a member of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation.

Although the court's ruling is sure to be subjected to ongoing challenges, now is not the moment for doubt. Now is a moment to fill our hearts in celebration of the years of dedication and toil that have led to this victory. It is a time for solemn remembrance of the many who have not lived to see justice, but in whose names this struggle has been carried forward.

Today proves that the bonds of solidarity and memory can triumph over violence and forgetting, that the humblest commitment to truth and justice can in time tear down the wall of impunity.

From the bottom of our hearts we thank you for your constant vigilance and accompaniment of the survivors, witnesses, and human rights defenders that have made today possible. We ask you to deepen your support in the coming weeks, months, and years as struggles for justice and self-determination in Guatemala continue in the face of threats both new and old.

Above all, we ask that you join us in celebration, in raising our voices worldwide in a chorus of justice.

In enduring and grateful solidarity,

The entire NISGUA team, now and over three decades in solidarity with the people of Guatemala.

Genocide on Trial, Day 27: Genocide trial closes and moves to deliberations

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Read our previous summaries: Day 1, 2, 3, 4/5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-14, 12, 13/14, 15/16, 17/18, 19, 20-1, 20-2, 21, Constitutional Court decisions, trial suspension, Day 22, 23, 24/25, 26-1, 26-2 and our full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

The final day of the genocide trial began at 8am, as Judge Yassmín Barrios convened earlier in order to accommodate a hearing in Judge Carol Patricia Flores’ court at 8:15am.

The proceedings were short, as expected. José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez was given the opportunity to make a request to the court and he made a brief statement. He
stated his innocence, reiterating his defense attorney arguments that he did not have the position or power of command to be responsible for the acts of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Judge Barrios then declared the public oral debate of the genocide case trial conclude
d, marking the end of proceedings with a resounding pound of her gavel. She announced the verdict would be given at 4pm MDT today. Judges Barrios, Pablo Xitumul and Patricia Bustamante then left for deliberations. Many members of the press and observers in the public gallery decided to remain in the courtroom throughout the day, in order to be assured of seating for the 4pm verdict.

As the judges began their deliberations, Judge Carol Patricia Flores held a parallel hearing at 8:15am, in accordance with a Constitutional Court resolution ordering her to reconsider her April 18 decision. She affirmed her prior decision
to roll-back the genocide trial process to November 2011. Representatives of CALDH stated the ruling would not have an impact on the scheduled verdict.

Right now, approximately two hours before the scheduled verdict, the courtroom is already filling up with survivors, supporters, media and human rights observers, all awaiting the outcome of this historic trial. Join us for live tweeting as we broadcast the play-by-play of the verdict: 3pm Pacific, 4pm Mountain, 5pm Central and 6pm Eastern.

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates

Genocide on Trial, Day 26: Benjamin Jerónimo on behalf of AJR, "I ask that justice be done... so the survivors can feel peace"

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Read our previous summaries: Day 1, 2, 3, 4/5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-14, 12, 13/14, 15/16, 17/18, 19, 20-1, 20-2, 21, Constitutional Court decisions, trial suspension, Day 22, 23, 24/25 and our full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

Benjamin Jerónimo, plaintiff on the genocide trial, was given an opportunity to address the court and make a request to the judge on behalf of the survivors and as President of the Association of Justice and Reconciliation. We are honored to provide the complete unofficial transcript. You can listen to the recording (in Spanish) of his full statement here.
See our full coverage of day 26 conclusions here.

Benjamin Jerónimo makes statement in genocide trial. Photo: Xeni Jardin 
Good afternoon honorable court. Madame Judge, thank you for the space you’ve given me to speak. The truth is I want to express the following; I want to say to you, in name of the victims, in name of the survivors, in name of Guatemala, I also want to say I'm a survivor of [the massacre of] 256 members of my community in the time of Efraín Ríos Montt.

In name of the Association [for Justice and Reconciliation], I want to express that during this trial, we have seen much opposition on behalf of the defense of the accused. We have seen the opposition that they have not had the courage to [inaudible]. The truth is, God created man and woman in his own image to multiply in the world.

And this image, in the first two articles of the Constitution of Guatemala it is established that the state has the obligation to guarantee and protect life, freedom, security, the peace of those created in God’s image. Nonetheless, honorable tribunal, things were done in the opposite manner by the military. Although they came here to say they were not responsible, that they were coming to the communities to protect the population, this is false. These are lies. I saw them with my own eyes. I didn’t come here to lie. As the witnesses said, one of them said it wasn't only in the Ixil that massacres were committed but in five regions of the country, against the Maya Ixil people.

I want to say to you honorable tribunal, please issue a condemning sentence against those responsible. We ask that a sentence be issued to create precedent for the people of Guatemala. In that time, in 1982, we the indigenous were accused of being terrorists, communists, subversives and genocide was committed. Defenseless children, pregnant women, elderly were killed.
Genocide was committed, crimes against humanity were committed and today, 100 witnesses came to tell the truth, to ask for justice for all that we suffered, publicly.

Even our lawyers are being threatened, for being subversives, terrorists, communists. However, honorable tribunal, a terrorist never comes to ask for justice through and in accordance with the law as we have in this tribunal. Never. The military were terrorists because they committed genocide and crimes against humanity. 100s of women and children were disappeared.

The defense lawyers say there is no document that says that it was done intentionally. Nonetheless, honorable tribunal, no one sets fire to their own house. And that’s why it doesn’t appear in any document.

In this manner I supplicate you to do justice, for the murdered victims, so the survivors can feel peace, can feel trust and that they can have a renewed trust in the authorities.

Not only does our Constitution establish justice, respect but there are also international conventions and treaties that obligate respect for the life of human beings. All who died, all the family members that we lost, we were not animals, they were not dogs or beasts or other type of animal, they were human beings who had the right to life, the right to freedom, right to peace, to security. Nonetheless what is established was not complied with.

Also, the bible says, A bad person knows their fellow bad person. Hypocritical people also know their fellow hypocrites. And that’s why much has been discussed in this tribunal so as to not accept the truth. After hearing the witnesses, the experts, once again they accuse us of being guerrillas, subversives, communists.

In this way, I ask you once again, honorable tribunal, that you do justice in accordance with the law, in accordance with our Guatemalan constitution, in accordance with international treaties & conventions. Also, that those responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity be investigated and prosecuted.

I also ask you, we should no longer have the military in communities, continuing to threaten the Ixil people, the Maya people, the Achí people. It’s no longer time for that; this is why the Peace Accords were signed, to respect rights.

Also, the family members, those linked to them, the veterans’ association, they come to this tribunal, they say publicly that this justice endangers the peace accords. This is false, honorable tribunal.

We are not looking for vengeance, we are looking for a true peace with justice, with respect, with equality, with dignity, that is why we are here.

So I ask you once again, the moral reparations to the victims, the protection of the witnesses, of our lawyers, that all of the Maya people be respected and protected. It is written that it's easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich genocidal person (un rico genocido) enter into the kingdom of heaven.

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates

Genocide on Trial, Day 26: Concluding arguments, "You cannot deny the undeniable"

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Read our previous summaries: Day 1, 2, 3, 4/5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-14, 12, 13/14, 15/16, 17/18, 19, 20-1, 20-2, 21, Constitutional Court decisions, trial suspension, Day 22, 23, 24/25 and our full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

News broke on day 25 that the genocide trial would move to conclusions that same day. After nearly three weeks of delays, public spectators and press rushed to fill the courtroom gallery Wednesday afternoon as word spread that Judge Barrios had in fact ordered closing arguments.

Public Prosecutor Orlando López set the stage for prosecution closing arguments with an in-depth multimedia presentation summarizing all trial evidence. Public prosecutor López systematized eyewitness testimonies exposing the quantitative conclusions from witnesses accounts of torture, murder, and violence.

Public prosecutor López's systematization of testimonial evidence reveals patterns. The atrocities committed were not isolated events. Of 94 eyewitnesses, 94 declared at least one member of their family was killed by the Guatemalan military. López faced the judges confidently, "I don't think anyone can doubt the declarations we heard."

López further analyzed military documents incorporated as trial evidence. Citing Plan Victoria 82, Plan Sofía, the National Development Plan and Quilo Ayuso's expert testimony he concluded the military defined the Ixil people as an internal enemy, accused of supporting the guerrilla and thus considered subversives. The Guatemalan National Development Plan describes the military's strategic planning with the objective to destroy the Maya Ixil. Respectively, the planning and operations are elaborated as elimination and extermination, and annihilation and control. López focused on the evidence as it reveals the purpose and intention to commit the crime of genocide.

The public prosecutor concluded his closing arguments requesting Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez be found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and be given the maximum sentence for these crimes: 75 years.

Prosecution closing arguments continued on day 26. Prosecution lawyer Edgar Pérez opened the morning reflecting on the importance of the genocide trial, "This process is historic."

Pérez elaborated on the right to access justice and referred to Guatemala's "dark history," a history of criminalization and persecution of human rights defenders,

This [trial] shouldn’t be looked at as a threat to the state or a restart of the violence of the war. In those times, speaking in the manner that I am today would have been equal to be calling a communist, a guerrilla. No more. It is the obligation of the state to invest in an established process. ...These times cannot happen again in Guatemala. It’s time to respect…the dignity of all Guatemalans.

This history is relevant in understanding the polarized context in which the crimes of the accused took place. Pérez explained, "Genocide has a process of gestation. The seed of discrimination and racism is important to understand." Pérez reminded the courtroom of racist acts which took place during the very trial. He maintained, "The level of racism in this country is deep."

Edgar Pérez recalled the nearly 100 eyewitnesses who came to the genocide trial to share their stories of witnessing violence, abuses, and murders. Pérez extensively quoted eyewitness testimonies and gave special attention to Tiburcio Utuy's testimony from day 7, "We should remember everything Tiburcio said."

Finally, lawyer Pérez referred to Ríos Montt's absolute power in government using the exemplary quote taken from video footage of a 1982 interview with Ríos Montt himself saying, "'Because if I can't control the military, then what am I doing here.'" Pérez concluded, "He couldn't have been more clear."

Lawyer Pérez echoed Public Prosecutor López's request for a strong sentence. Amongst his final words in the genocide trial, Pérez stated, "Justice without strength is tyranny."

Francisco Vivar rounded out the prosecution team's closing arguments. Vivar emphasized the eyewitness and expert testimonies on sexual violence. He respectfully chose to emit names when quoting women survivors' testimonies of sexual violence, horrific accounts the courtroom heard on day 8.
Lawyer Vivar also drew conclusions from the military plans used as evidence to prove the chain of command and intentionality to destroy the Maya Ixil people. He closed asking for a firm sentence of the accused and chose to invoke the power of eyewitness testimony one last time, quoting Pedro Pacheco, "I have kids but they ask why don't I have grandparents? I tell them what happened. It's not written but its in my heart. I tell them so that it isn't repeated."

Following Vivar's closing arguments, the genocide trial took an unexpected turn. Defense lawyer Francisco García Gudiel announced that his client, Efraín Ríos Montt, wished to invoke his constitutional right to make a statement. Prosecution objected and Judge Barrios denied the request. Defense followed suit with an objection. After deliberations, Judge Barrios announced she would allow Ríos Montt to make his statement although she noted the conclusions phase is not the appropriate procedural moment to do so.
Former Dictator Ríos Montt spent nearly an hour recalling his short 13 months in power, which he characterized as trying to fix a broken state, to renovate Guatemala and unite ethnic diversity, "to create a state together." His statement was punctuated by a shaking fist and bursts of shouting, recalling a younger general we know from archival video footage used as evidence in the trial.

After Ríos Montt denied nearly every argument against him, Barrios intended to moved swiftly into defense closing arguments. Her request was met with resistance by defense lawyer Francisco García Gudiel, who insisted on a lunch break and said he had not had any breakfast. He proclaimed his "human right to food" what being violated and said his gastritis was being provoked. The outburst was met by laughter in the courtroom, which Judge Barrios quickly reprimanded. This is not the first medical ailment García Gudiel has brought to the courtroom; he claimed to be severely ill on day 24, forcing the trial to be suspended for the day. 

The defense team also presented a scheduling conflict, a 2PM hearing in Judge Carol Patricia Flores' courtroom in response to a Constitutional Court ruling. Barrios insisted that Flores' hearing cannot suspend the trial. Word later spread that Judge Flores's hearing was rescheduled for Friday morning at 8:15am.

"Against his will," Lawyer García Gudiel withstood his gastritis and delivered his closing arguments. His conclusions dismissed the integrity of eyewitness and expert testimony, stating the testimonial evidence "includes award-winning performances but not proof." Further, García Gudiel managed to include unnecessary racist and snide remarks. He referred to the United Nation's Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as "chinito", insulted the prosecution lawyers ("Didn't these poor people learn anything in university"), disparaged the work of "NGO-ers" and attacked the presence of foreign observers of the trial.

José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez' lawyer, César Calderón, delivered his closing arguments after the genocide trial broke for a late lunch. Calderón, like García Gudiel, rejected the majority of evidence presented in the trial for being subjective and not scientific. Both Calderón and García Gudiel concluded their clients are not guilty of their accused crimes. Calderón claimed, "[The trial] is a poem, a poem in poor taste, an invention, using the law and twisting that my client rots in a hospital."

Benjamin Jerónimo, plaintiff on the genocide trial, was given an opportunity to address the court and make a request to the judge on behalf of the survivors and as President of the Association of Justice and Reconciliation. We are honored to provide the complete unofficial transcript of his statement here.

Benjamin concluded his statement to booming applause from the gallery and chants of "Justice!" ("Justicia!"). Francisco Soto, Director of the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, also had an opportunity to address the court and ask the tribunal for justice. "We have asked for justice for 13 yrs, we have accompanied the survivors. 1000s of obstacles have been presented. We have tried for many years for justice to be done." His brief statement also stressed the trial's overwhelming significance, "This is an important moment of historic memory for our country. If we forget we are condemned to repeat."

Ríos Montt was requested to take the stand once more for his final statement. This time, he said very few words asking only for justice and respect from the court.

Judge Barrios concluded day 26 announcing that José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez would be given the opportunity to give his final statement the following morning. Judge Barrios announced day 27 would be scheduled earlier than usual, at 8AM instead of the regular 8:30AM start time, to accommodate Judge Flores' hearing also scheduled for the morning.

Day 27 will be the last hearing in the trial. A trial verdict is imminent.

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Tahoe Resources Investor Alert calls Guatemala project a Dangerous Investment

(Ottawa/Guatemala City) – Yesterday, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) and MiningWatch Canada warned Tahoe Resources investors against further investment in the Escobal silver project, given lack of community support and increasing violence and repression in the area. Risks identified include:
  1. Tahoe Resources does not have the social license to operate the Escobal project;
  2. It is likely that conflict and violence will persist if the mining project continues to be imposed without community consent, given recent violence attributed to public armed forces, an illegal armed group and the company’s private security;
  3. Implication of company private security in recent acts of violence could lead to civil lawsuits as has taken place in relation to other mining conflicts in which Canadian companies are involved;
  4. Tahoe Resources is already under investigation in Guatemala for industrial contamination of water supplies near the Escobal mine site;
  5. Failure of Guatemalan regulators to address residents’ complaints prior to granting company’s exploitation license is under appeal, which could put Tahoe’s exploitation license in jeopardy;
  6. By repeating patterns seen in Guatemala’s mining sector in connection with Goldcorp’s Marlin mine, including lack of respect for prior community consultation, targeting of peaceful protesters through the judicial system and putting the project into production in the midst of violence and repression, the company is likely to be the object of further protests.
The project is located in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores in the department of Santa Rosa where for over three years local communities have been peacefully demonstrating their opposition to the mining project given concerns over potential social and environmental impacts. Twelve municipal and community level plebiscites have been carried out in which over 90% of participants voted against the mine.

Tahoe Resources’ received its license to put the Escobal silver mine project into operation in early April despite widespread social opposition to the project and unaddressed complaints against the granting of the permit.

Tahoe’s project has provoked an increase in conflict in the region, which recently escalated on April 27 when the company’s private security shot at community members, injuring six men, two of them seriously. Contrary to company statements, a spokesperson for the Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City indicated that live ammunition was used. Alberto Rotondo, security manager for Minera San Rafael, Tahoe Resources’ wholly owned Guatemalan subsidiary, has been arrested and charged with with causing mild and serious bodily harm, and for obstructing the investigation by tampering with the crime scene. Two more supposed mine employees have been arrested in connection with the recent violence, including the killing of a police officer.

On May 2, the Guatemalan government declared a state of siege in San Rafael Las Flores, where Tahoe’s Escobal project is located effectively making public protest and further community consultations illegal as long as the measure remains in place. Local activists have been among those targeted in raids and detentions. 

NISGUA and MiningWatch Canada will be sending their report to key analysts and shareholders in Tahoe Resources Ltd. including the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, which holds 439 thousand shares in Tahoe worth approximately $9 million CAD.

The investor alert can be downloaded here.

NISGUA has accompanied the consultation processes in the communities surrounding the Tahoe Resources mine site since 2011.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Genocide on Trial, Day 24/25: Defense incensed and exposed, Judge moves to concluding arguments

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Read our previous summaries: Day 1, 2, 3, 4/5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-14, 12, 13/14, 15/16, 17/18, 19, 20-1, 20-2, 21, Constitutional Court decisions, trial suspension, Day 22 and our full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

A complex entanglement of legal motions in lower and higher courts has plagued the genocide trial proceedings since they were halted on April 19. For great legal background we recommend, in particular the postings on legal battles during the temporary trial suspension, appeals court rulings earlier this week and Constitutional rulings yesterday. Expect analysis on additional rulings issued today on the RiosMontt-Trial blog tomorrow.

Yesterday, May 7, the genocide trial proceedings were the shortest yet, clocking in at just under 30 minutes due to the absence of Ríos Montt defense lawyer Francisco García Gudiel. García Gudiel called in sick to the courtroom, telling the court secretary he was "gravely ill".

Today started with the reappearance of two lawyers who participated in the April 19 walkout: Cesar Calderón for José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez and Francisco Palomo for Efraín Ríos Montt. Despite multiple requests to be removed from the case once Calderón was reinstated as Rodríguez Sánchez' lawyer, public defender Otto Ramírez was not removed from the defense. Judge Barrios indicated the need to ensure continuity in the event Calderón abandoned the defense once again.

Proceedings continued with a long and heated argument by Gudiel, touching on legal points ranging from the recusal of Judges Barrios and Xitumal to the annulment of yesterday's proceedings because he was not present due to illness.

Before the judges could move to deliberations, public prosecutor Orlando López interjected with a surprising announcement:

The audience then viewed date/time-stamped videos and stills showing Gudiel walking without difficulty. The prosecution argued against Gudiel's motion to annul yesterday's proceedings, as well as the point of recusal.

After deliberating, the judges ruled against Gudiel stating the trial proceedings would move forward. What followed was a tirade from Gudiel that stunned courtroom observers and later prompted a complaint to be filed before the Guatemalan Bar Association.

The judges, after calmly listening to Gudiel, address the court.

After deliberating Judge Barrios stated, "It’s important to state we don’t accept threats of any kind...We don't accept threats of any kind because we believe in judicial independence." They once again reject Gudiel's motion and order the trial to continue after the lunch recess.

Upon return from the lunch hour, Judge Barrios asked for the defense to present their final witnesses. Habitually unable to provide them when called upon, the defense once again offered reasons why they didn't have witnesses ready, asking for a continuance until the morning. The judges did not accept the requests attempting to delay the trial further, stating the defense has had ample opportunities to present their witnesses as well as an obligation to have their evidence ready starting at the beginning of the trial. It is important to note 94 Ixil survivors travelled great distances to give their testimony at the start of the trial, without delaying the proceedings.

Then, incredibly, Judge Barrios asked the public prosecutor's office to present their closing arguments. After almost three weeks of delays, dashed and then revitalized hopes, legal battles and suspended hearings, the genocide trial moved into the conclusions phase, a stage in the trial process many had both expected and doubted would ever happen.

Public prosecutor Orlando López' closing arguments began by outlining Ríos Montt's consolidation of state power, with an analysis particularly relevant to current events taking place in Guatemala.

A presentation displayed to the court provided analysis of the military's Counterinsurgency Manual, Plan Victoria 82 and Plan Sofía documents, the National Development Plan and defense witness Quilo Ayuso's testimony. This included an outline of the military's structure and chain of command, high military command's planning and operations strategies, as well as communications structures to show the defendants were aware of the implementation of their plans. The public prosecutor discussed the military's definition of the Ixil people as an internal enemy of state, the use of sexual violence and the forced transfer of Ixil children. In addition to document evidence, López provided a summary of the 94 eyewitness testimonies heard during the first weeks of the trial and the forensic anthropology evidence submitted.

We will be publishing in-depth coverage of the prosecution's concluding arguments soon; stay tuned.

The public prosecutor's arguments concluded with the request that Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez be found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and given the maximum sentence of 75 years.

Tomorrow civil plaintiffs from the survivor organization AJR (Association for Justice and Reconciliation) and CALDH (Center for Human Rights Legal Action) will each have two hours to provide their closing arguments, at which time the concluding statements from the defense will be heard. After conclusions, the plaintiffs and defendants will be given the opportunity to make requests of the court. It is anticipated that AJR President Benjamin Jerónimo will make a statement on behalf of the victims and survivors.

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates

Friday, May 3, 2013

Genocide on Trial, Day 23: Proceedings continue, trial will reconvene on May 7

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Read our previous summaries: Day 1, 2, 3, 4/5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11-14, 12, 13/14, 15/16, 17/18, 19, 20-1, 20-2, 21, Constitutional Court decisions, trial suspension, Day 22 and our full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

Yesterday, May 2, was the second day of genocide trial proceedings after an almost 2 week suspension. Moving forward at breakneck speed the first 5 weeks, the trial has not quite gotten back on its feet since reconvening after the defense counsel walkout and lower court ruling halted proceedings on April 19. At the moment the trial was temporarily suspended, only video evidence, 6 witnesses and concluding arguments remained before the judges would deliberate on the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.

The day started with defense counsel Francisco García Gudiel failing once again to produce witnesses as ordered by the court. Judge Jazmín Barrios allowed 45 minutes for the defense to produce their video evidence and ordered them to have witnesses ready by 1pm in the afternoon.

Almost two hours later, during which time the defense had problems burning their DVD and the court encountered technical problems with the viewing screen, the video evidence was finally entered into the proceedings. 3 videos, two photo montages and one live video, showed images and footage of the guerrilla, as well as graphic images of wounded soldiers. The gallery was silent as the videos were shown.

Judge Barrios then called for an early recess, until 1pm, at which time defense was ordered to produce their remaining witnesses. Gudiel announced to the press prior to the recess he would not produce any witnesses and at 1pm this statement was borne out.

Faced once again with the inability to proceed with the defense witnesses, Barrios went on to deliberate the repeated requests of the public defender, Otto Ramírez, to grant a trial continuance. Since first appearing in court on Tuesday as Rodríguez Sánchez' court appointed public defender, Ramírez has asked several times for additional days to review the genocide trial documents. Yesterday morning, the court handed him the documents he had failed to pick up over the holiday. The documents, pictured below, only constitute half of the total trial documents.

From left: José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez and his public defender Otto Ramírez. Stacks of trial documents obscure view of Efraín Ríos Montt, to the right.

After deliberating, Judge Barrios granted the continuance requested by Ramírez, announcing the trial would reconvene on May 7. She once again ordered the defense, to produce their remaining witnesses. Barrios warned that if they do not appear, the court will make a decision regarding how to proceed.

Although it appeared court would be adjourned for the day, Gudiel interjected with a series of motions, first arguing for trial annulment and then asking for the recusal of Judge Pablo Xitumal. Judge Xitumal, Gudiel alleged, has a personal relationship with public defender Ramírez dating back to when they worked together in the Public Defender's Office in Salamá.

After long deliberations, Judge Barrios announced that Gudiel's motions were rejected and gave a brief explanation of the judges' findings on the point of trial annulment. Then, for the first time since the start of the genocide trial, Judge Xitumal addressed the court.
There is no friendship between myself and Otto Ramírez Vazquez. The act of working together in the same institution does not signify friendship. I am an ethical person. I understand principles such as…prudence, judicial independence, truth, judiciality and solidarity. Also keep in mind that it is not the lawyer himself who is making use of this motion [to recuse]. It is malicious and in bad faith... I deserve respect, as do my colleagues and the people of Guatemala. I reiterate, I do not have any friendship with the lawyer Ramírez Vazquez. I have not had contact [with him] since October 2004, when I left my work as a public defender of the Public Defender's Office and entered into the judiciary system as a judge.

Judge Barrios then took the time to read aloud various principles from the professional code of ethics for attorneys. Before closing the proceedings, she reiterated that "delaying strategies" continue to be a tactic used in the genocide trial courtroom. At this point Gudiel insisted in loudly repeating his previous motion to annul the trial, which were briefly deliberated and rejected before adjournment.

While court will reconvene on May 7, many questions remain regarding the fate of the trial. Will Ríos Montt's defense produce the remaining witnesses or continue to use delaying tactics? Will appointed public defender Ramírez use these same strategies for his client Rodríguez Sánchez? Will lower or higher court rulings impact the trial? There are only six remaining defense witnesses and concluding arguments to be heard in order for the judges to deliberate and issue a verdict. The prosecution and judges have attempted to carry this out since April 19 and it remains to be seen what progress will be made next Tuesday.

[UPDATE, May 4: The legal entanglements of the genocide trial continue as the Constitutional Court grants an injunction in favor of Moises Galindo, lawyer for Rodríguez Sánchez, ordering a suspension so defense evidence can be integrated. The disputed evidence was integrated into the proceedings on April 5. Defense lawyers and media interpret this resolution to mean the trial is suspended, while lawyers for the survivors state the resolution does not mean suspension of the proceedings. Lawyer Hector Reyes states this is only a provisional injunction and there are other relevant motions yet to be resolved. Edgar Pérez states only procedural issues are suspended while the injunction is in process, not the hearings. Regardless, the trial is convened for May 7, when no doubt more will be revealed.]

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates