Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ríos Montt ordered to undergo a full psychiatric review

"We can't allow the massacres in our communities to remain in impunity. We've already achieved our sentence, but we're ready for it to be declared a second time because we know there was genocide." - Julia Cortéz, spokesperson for the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), plaintiff in the genocide case.

Questions surrounding ex-general Ríos Montt's health and mental capacities took center stage on Thursday during attempts to restart the Guatemala genocide trial, ending in a court order to intern the former dictator for ten days at the Federico Mora psychiatric hospital. Judge María Eugenia Castellanos, president of the High Risk Crimes Court Tribunal B, ordered Ríos Montt to undergo a physical and psychiatric review to determine whether he is mentally fit to be re-tried. This order was undermined by a series of legal actions by the defense; the first, a habeas corpus filed with a separate court, which halted the transfer scheduled for Saturday, July 25. Ríos Montt was eventually granted the right to be evaluated in a private facility.

The July 23 decision came after 8 hours of fits and starts in the proceedings due to a procedural delay in the morning, multiple defense arguments that the ex-general was unable to move or stand trial and technical problems with the internet teleconference in Ríos Montt's home. The Public Prosecutor slammed the INACIF (National Forensic Institute) report issued two weeks ago, claiming Ríos Montt is unfit to stand trial, or even be re-evaluated. The report describes that at the time of the evaluation, Ríos Montt was under the influence of medications which could present a serious health risk to the 89-year old, including Olanzapine (anti-psychotic), Tramadol (opiod) and Valdure (analgesic). Other anomalies in the INACIF report were the use of a psychological and not psychiatric methodology, and that Ríos Montt’s private physician and his daughter, presidential candidate Zury Ríos, were the only people present at the evaluation.

After a long deliberation, the tribunal ordered the ten-day internment at the state-run mental health facility for a full physical and psychiatric evaluation. That Ríos Montt was ordered to Federico Mora, a state mental health facility with a reputation for its poor conditions, caused surprise in the courtroom.

That Saturday morning, the Public Prosecutor and National Police arrived at Ríos Montt’s home to carry out the order issued by Tribunal B. However, the defendant’s lawyers appeared with notification of a last-minute habeas corpus, provisionally approved by the Femicide Appeals Court, which sought to prevent his transfer by requesting a personal appearance in court. The same Femicide Court rejected the request just four days later, but the defense immediately filed and was granted another appeal with a separate court that once again stalled Ríos Montt's transfer to the state facility and instead ordered his internment in a private hospital.

All parties went back to court on August 4 at which time the Tribunal B upheld the ruling by the lower court by agreeing to allow Ríos Montt to be evaluated at a private facility. In a hearing scheduled for August 18, the Tribunal B will evaluate the results of the new psychiatric examination and determine if Ríos Montt is mentally fit to stand trial.

This is the second attempt to restart the trial after the Constitutional Court overturned the 2013 verdict sentencing Ríos Montt to 80 years in prison for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Ixil people. Judge recusal motions and claims that Ríos Montt is unfit to stand trial have been the primary strategy of the defense in stalling the opening of the second public hearing. Until the issue of Ríos Montt’s evaluation is resolved, the 2nd public hearing of the genocide is stalled.

For more information about the INACIF report, read the response from survivors after the report was issued.

Ongoing accompaniment and international observation is being requested by both the survivor organization and their legal teams for the re-trial. 

NISGUA, through the international coalition ACOGUATE, has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness' organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation since 2000. Follow NISGUA_Guate on Twitter for live updates.

Monday, July 13, 2015

In wake of Guatemala corruption scandals, Tahoe Resources’ Escobal license faces legal challenge

On July 12, 2015, the Guatemalan Center for Environmental and Social Legal Action (CALAS) filed criminal charges against former Minister of the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM), Erick Archila, and former mines director at MEM, Fernando Castellanos. CALAS is accusing Archila and Castellanos of violating the Constitution and for breach of duty for having granted Tahoe Resources an exploitation license for the Escobal project without adequate consideration of more than 250 community complaints against the project. CALAS called on the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to fully investigate the Escobal licensing process, citing Archila's possible involvement in influence trafficking and illicit enrichment.

CALAS’s complaint reflects ongoing and widespread opposition to mining in Santa Rosa and Jalapa, which the government and company alike have ignored. Beginning in December 2011, more than a year before MEM granted Tahoe Resources its license, residents from various communities in Santa Rosa and Jalapa began filing administrative complaints against the project, according to provisions within Guatemala's mining law. The complaints, over 250 in all, expressed opposition to the project based on anticipated environmental impacts, which would violate residents' rights to water and to live in a healthy environment. 

According to the mining law, MEM is required to hold a hearing with the affected individual and the mining company in order to resolve each complaint. However, on April 3, 2012, less than one hour before the press conference when the approval of Tahoe’s exploitation license was announced, all of the complaints were dismissed.[1] CALAS argues that the Escobal license was therefore granted illegally and in violation of constitutional rights.[2] In May 2013, they initiated legal proceedings to repeal MEM's decision.[3]

On July 23, 2013, the Civil and Mercantile Division of Guatemala's First Court of Appeals decided in favor of the communities, upholding the appeal and putting the legality of the Escobal exploitation license in question. Tahoe Resources' Guatemala subsidiary Minera San Rafael appealed the decision, sending the case to the Constitutional Court. A final decision is pending. 

The recent charges come in the wake of an ongoing political crisis in Guatemala sparked by joint CICIG and Public Prosecutor investigations that revealed rampant corruption in the social security and customs offices, as well as in the judicial system and Congress. So far, 42 people, including President Molina's former personal secretary, his general secretary and the head of the national bank, have been arrested. Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned on May 8 under suspicion of illegal enrichment and Congress is considering stripping Otto Perez Molina of his presidential immunity. Former MEM Minister Erick Archila resigned on May 15 and is facing allegations of corruption, money laundering and anomalies in the granting of numerous government contracts.

[1] Prensa Libre, “MEM inválida oposiciones en Santa Rosa” (5 April 2013), online:

[2] La Hora, “Tensión por proyecto minero en San Rafael Las Flores” (10 April 2013), online: http://www.lahora.com.gt/index.php/nacional/guatemala/actualidad/176076-tension-por-proyecto-minero-en-san-rafael-las-flores

[3] El Periodico, “Despues de recibir ataques, CALAS anuncia acciones legales contra mina” (4 April 2013), online:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Survivors call into question INACIF report claiming Ríos Montt too sick to stand trial

On Tuesday, Guatemala's National Forensic Science Institute (INACIF) published a report stating that former general Efraín Ríos Montt is mentally unfit to stand trial. The report was requested by Judge Carol Patricia Flores, the same judge who attempted to annul the genocide trial proceedings on April 18, 2013

The former de facto president was convicted on May 10th, 2013 for genocide and crimes against humanity inflicted against the Maya Ixil population during Guatemala's internal armed conflict. The Constitutional Court annulled the conviction ten days later in a controversial ruling many have deemed illegal. The first retrial date set for January 5th, 2015, was suspended before it began when Ríos Montt's defense successful recused the lead judge Jeannette Valdés.

Now, the future of the new retrial date, set for July 23, has been thrust into question by the INACIF report. It is up to the High Risk Crimes Court "B" - the three-judge tribunal assigned to hear the case - whether or not to accept INACIF's report that claims Ríos Montt does not have the full use of his mental faculties, is not capable of understanding the charges against him, and is unfit to stand trial.

In a July 8 statement, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) call into question the validity of the report and point to violations of due process. Specifically, the organizations state that Judge Carol Patricia Flores' court does not have the judicial authority to request a report from INACIF regarding this case. 

Flores temporarily brought the genocide trial to a halt in 2013 after she ruled to annul all proceedings after November 23, 2011, including her own January 2012 decision to formally indict Ríos Montt on charges of genocide. The Constitutional Court later overturned Flores' decision, ruling that she did not have the authority to make a decision on a case that had moved on to another court.

The obstruction tactics Flores' employed in favor the defense raised some serious alarm bells for judicial impartiality back in 2013. Now, her name has surfaced as a person of interest in an investigation led by the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity (CIGIG) into corrupt judges. It was recommended that her judicial immunity be revoked so she could be investigated for illegal enrichment - essentially, taking bribes.

The AJR and CALDH also question the impartiality of the INACIF report, pointing to section 9.6 which states: "It is not necessary to carry out further evaluations, which would only cause a greater stress upon the life of the person being evaluated." 

Below is a section of the press release from the AJR and CALDH.

"The process is in the hands of the Sentencing Tribunal of High-Risk Crimes 'B' and that is the competent court to hear everything related to the case. It was this court that ruled to open the trial again on July 23, and as such, we believe the trial will continue. Once again, survivors will show that in Guatemala, there was genocide.

Both the witnesses and the victims of genocide are ready to participate in a new trial when the Guatemalan justice system shows itself capable of respecting judicial independence. The process needs to be carried out according to the law, without allowing the judicial bodies who carry out the process to succumb to the pressure of sectors interested in keeping the serious human rights violations of the past in impunity. 

There already exists a condemnatory sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity, which was never annulled. It continues to be valid. This sentence reflects the truth of the Ixil people and proof that in Guatemala, genocide - a crime that holds international transcendence and is an affront to the dignity of all of humanity - happened. The State has an obligation to carry out a trial. 

Once more,
#WeWillProveIt #YesThereWasGenocide
#‎VamosaDemostrarlo‬ ‪#‎SIHUBOGENOCIDIO‬
Guatemala July 8, 2015

NISGUA's 2015 summer of grassroots organizing kicks off in Los Angeles

Last month, Los Angeles communities kicked off our summer of grassroots organizing and celebration with the first “house party” of the season hosted by the inspiring collective and cultural space, Eastside Cáfe in El Sereno. Local organizers came together with LA cultural performers and families to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the community consultation movement in Guatemala to defend land and life against resource extraction. Together with music, dance, poetry and ritual, we celebrated the ancestral decision-making practices that have been honored and held at the center of the movements for self-determination across Guatemala.

Lead organizer, Natasha Kerr, expressed her involvement with June’s event: 

“Volunteering with NISGUA allows me to reconnect with my Guatemalan roots. I feel energized to build community and defend our Mother Earth along with our brothers and sisters in Guatemala. I feel part of a movement that transcends borders and is creating a new path for future generations.”

Women from Grupo Folklorico Mi Bella Guatemala perform a
ceremonial dance at the event in Los Angeles.
Photo credit: Claudia Hernandez

Between performances, NISGUA was honored to teleconference with community leader and former political prisoner, Rubén Herrera, who helped to organize the community consultation in Barillas, Huehuetenango. Rubén Herrera spoke about the current situation of criminalization and detention of leaders in the region and called for international solidarity with their struggle. The LA community responded with messages of encouragement to the eight political prisoners from Huehuetenango who have been unjustly imprisoned because of their leadership in defending their land, culture, and communities. 

One supporter writes, “We are at an event in Los Angeles, California, educating our North American community about your struggle and commitment. Together, we call for your freedom and for justice in Guatemala.” 

Special thanks to Grupo Folklorico Mi Bella Guatemala, Trés Generaciones, Fidél Sanchez, and Jóvenes en Resistencia for your beautiful contributions to the event. For some photos please visit our FB album here.

Just two days after the kick-off to our summer of house parties, one of our participants on the 2015 Rivers For Life delegation also held an intimate gathering of family and friends for a report back just outside of LA. Accompanied by beautiful photos and an engaging conversation on how the history of imperialism and U.S. policy continues to shape the current realities for Guatemala, the event answered calls by our partners at ACODET that delegates return to their homes and communities to share their experiences visiting and learning with the communities in resistance to the Xalalá Dam.

The next community event is planned for tomorrow, Friday July 11, 4:30pm-7:30pm, at Sun Rise Restaurant in San Francisco, CA. Please see the event page on FB for more details or email megan@nisgua.org. We are still hoping more U.S. cities will participate in this season of grassroots community building. For support in planning your event, please email megan[AT]nisgua.org, and we will provide you with all the tools you may need for a successful and meaningful house party this summer!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Sepur Zarco: First case of sexual slavery will be heard in Guatemalan courts

On June 22, 2015, Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ruled to accept witness testimonies and other evidence in the Sepur Zarco sexual slavery case. This is the first case of its kind to be heard in Guatemala courts and will be presided over by Judge Yassmín Barrios. The case first began in September 2011, when the Breaking the Silence and Impunity Alliance[1] filed a legal complaint against former military personnel on charges of sexual violence committed against the Q'eqchi' women at the Sepur Zarco military base during the internal armed conflict. Although no firm trial date is set, it is expected to begin early next year.

In 1982, the military arrived in Sepur Zarco in eastern Guatemala and accused the Q'eqchí community of forming part of the guerilla. The nearby military base, used as a rest and recreation center for soldiers, was operating within a larger context of illegal land grabs. The center had the support of powerful national and international economic interests who were using large areas of land in the area to produce sugar cane for biofuels and carry out other resource extraction activities.

During the preliminary phase of the trial, 15 women testified to having been enslaved and repeatedly raped by soldiers - sometimes in front of their children - between 1982 and 1988. During these years, they were also forced to cook for the soldiers and wash their clothes. Many of the women were held hostage at the base for at least 6 months in 1982 after their husbands had been disappeared.
Former Colonel Esteelmer Francisco Reyes Girón and former Military Commissioner Heriberto Valdéz Asig were arrested and indicted in 2014, Reyes Girón is being charged with crimes against humanity, including sexual violence, sexual slavery, domestic slavery, cruel and inhumane treatment, and murder. Valdéz Asig is also being accused of crimes against humanity, including sexual violence and forced disappearance.

For more information on the Sepur Zarco case, read an article written by a Luz Mendez, a leader with UNAMG, and an interview with Gabriela Rivera, a lawyer with Mujeres Transformando el Mundo. 

A survivor testifies in 2012 with the support
of an interpreter. Photo credit: CPR Urbana

This case of sexual slavery has opened the door for other cases of sexual violence committed during the armed conflict to be heard - including during the 2013 genocide trial - and has set the stage for the inclusion of the systematic use of sexual violence by the military as considered a war crime. According to the Historical Clarification Commission, 88.7% of the sexual violence committed during the armed conflict was against indigenous women.

Judge Barrios presided over the historic 2013 genocide case that convicted former general Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity. Ever since the Constitutional Court overturned the verdict ten days later in a controversial ruling, Judge Barrios has had to fight her own legal battles against economic and military interests that continue to hold power in Guatemala. Shortly after emitting the sentence, Guatemala's Bar Association imposed sanctions on her and attempted to have her suspended from the bench . Later, the Constitutional Court unanimously rejected the sanctions, citing the Bar's actions to impose sanctions on Barrios as an "improper intrusion on judicial independence."

The Public Prosecutor and plaintiffs for this case have already denounced the stalling tactics being employed by the defense in this case as an attempt to evade justice. In the coming months, it will continue to be important to hold the international spotlight on this precedent-setting case. Through ACOGUATE, NISGUA has accompanied the Sepur Zarco case since 2012.

[1] The Breaking the Silence and Impunity Alliance is made up of three organizations: Women Transforming the World (Mujeres Transformando el Mundo - MTM), the Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team (Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial - ECAP) and the National Union of Guatemalan Women (la Unión Nacional de las Mujeres Guatemaltecas - UNAMG).