International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

Human Rights Groups to Inter-American Court: Impunity is Alive and Well in Guatemala

President Jimmy Morales invited the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to conduct its 57th session in Guatemala City, perhaps hoping to repair the country’s tattered relationship with the international organization. However, in extending this invitation, he may not have expected the court to be reviewing Guatemala’s own record on accountability for grave crimes.

During its visit, which took place from March 20 to 25, 2017, the court held a private, closed-door session to review the implementation of 14 sentences it handed down between 1998 and 2012 against the state of Guatemala in grave human rights cases related to the internal armed conflict. The session was a follow-up to a similar hearing held in Costa Rica in 2014, when human rights organizations … Continue Reading

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Fears that Congressman Ovalle, Impeached in Relation to CREOMPAZ Case, May Have Fled

There are suspicions that a member of Guatemala’s Congress, whose immunity has just been lifted in relation to a case of enforced disappearances, may have fled the country. This Wednesday, March 15, the Supreme Court of Justice ruled to impeach Congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle. This came a day after Judge Benicia Contreras Calderon, charged with investigating the Attorney General’s charges against him, issued her opinion in favor of impeachment and a year after the Attorney General’s Office first filed its request with the Supreme Court.

With this decision, the Attorney General’s Office can formally initiate judicial proceedings against Ovalle in the CREOMPAZ case, which Attorney General Thelma Aldana has described as one of the largest cases of enforced disappearance in Latin … Continue Reading

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Judge Sends Five High-Ranking Military Officers to Trial in Molina Theissen Case

Judge Víctor Hugo Herrera Ríos ruled last Thursday that there is sufficient evidence to send five high-ranking military officers to trial for the illegal detention, torture, and sexual violence of Emma Molina Theissen and the enforced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio. The alleged crimes occurred in Guatemala in 1981.

Among the defendants are two decorated generals: Benedicto Lucas García, the former head of the High Command of the Guatemalan Army, and Manuel Callejas y Callejas, the former head of military intelligence. Lucas García also faces trial in the CREOMPAZ case, which has been referred to as the largest case of enforced disappearances in Latin America. The other three defendants are Luis Francisco Gordillo Martínez, Edilberto Letona Linares, and Hugo … Continue Reading

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Judge to Determine Whether Military Officers Will Face Trial in the Molina Theissen Case

On Thursday, March 2, Judge Víctor Herrara Ríos of High Risk Court C is scheduled to determine whether five high-ranking military officers will stand trial for the illegal detention, torture, and sexual violation of political activist Emma Molina Theissen and the revenge kidnapping of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio.

The five officers, all retired, include two heavily decorated generals who were believed to be untouchable: Benedicto Lucas García, former head of the Guatemalan army, and Manuel Callejas y Callejas, former head of military intelligence. Callejas y Callejas later became notorious for his alleged role in organized crime; in 2003, the United States revoked his visa due to concerns over his involvement in drug trafficking and other illegal activities.

The other three officials … Continue Reading

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No Answers on Whether Ríos Montt Will Go to Trial for Dos Erres Massacre

While a court has rejected efforts to dismiss charges against former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt in relation to the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, it has yet to determine whether the case will be heard using the special procedures outlined in Guatemalan law for individuals like Ríos Montt, who suffer mental incompetence, as solicited by the Attorney General’s Office. The court was scheduled to make this determination in a hearing yesterday but failed to do so.

Judge Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Court A is overseeing the Dos Erres case, which was reactivated when Santos López Alonzo, a former Kaibil accused of direct participation in the massacre, was deported from the United States in August 2016. Last November, Ríos Montt’s lawyers … Continue Reading

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Will Ríos Montt Go to Trial for the Dos Erres Massacre?

Tomorrow, a court will determine whether former de facto head of state José Efraín Ríos Montt will face trial in relation to the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, in which an elite unit of the Guatemalan army known as Kaibiles slaughtered over 200 people, more than half of whom were children.

Last November, Ríos Montt’s defense lawyers sought to have the charges dismissed, arguing that Ríos Montt is mentally incompetent. Judge Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Court A rejected the motion. However, she did not rule on whether Ríos Montt would be prosecuted under special security provisions that do not require the presence of the defendant and preclude the public from viewing the proceedings. That determination is scheduled to be made at … Continue Reading

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Prosecutor Lays Out Case Against Former Military Officials in Sexual Violence, Torture, and Enforced Disappearance Case

On January 13, 2017, a full year after four military officials were arrested in relation to the Molina Theissen case, High Risk Court C in Guatemala initiated hearings in the final phase of the pre-trial proceedings.  Last Friday’s hearing was set to determine whether the four military officials, along with former army chief Benedicto Lucas García, will face trial for the illegal detention, torture and sexual violence of Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen and the enforced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother Marco Antonio. It was initially scheduled in early December and was twice postponed, presumably because the presiding judge, Judge Víctor Herrera Ríos, had scheduling conflicts.

The defense lawyers representing the five retired military officers engaged in numerous delay tactics, as they … Continue Reading

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Critical hearing in Guatemala’s Molina Theissen case delayed again

The next hearing in the Molina Theissen case, already postponed once earlier this month from December 9 to December 22, has been rescheduled again by the office of Judge Víctor Hugo Herrera Ríos of High Risk Court C, with a new court date now set for January 13, 2017.

This is a critical hearing, at which the parties will present their concluding remarks, followed by the judge’s determination as to whether there is sufficient evidence to send to trial the former military officers who have been indicted in this case. Five high-ranking military officers have been indicted in this case, for the illegal detention, torture, and sexual violence committed against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen, and for the enforced disappearance of her … Continue Reading

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Court Reinstates CREOMPAZ Victims, but Obstacles Remain

On December 14, the Constitutional Court granted a provisional protective measure (amparo) to the plaintiffs in the CREOMPAZ case. The amparo seeks the reincorporation of dozens of victims who were excluded by the June 2016 decision by presiding pretrial judge Claudeth Domínguez to send eight of the eleven defendants to trial. CREOMPAZ is the current name for the installations in Cobán, Alta Verapaz where Military Base No. 21 (MZ21) was located. Since 2012, investigators have exhumed 558 bodies from MZ21, over 100 of which have been identified as victims of enforced disappearance and related crimes.

Juan Francisco Soto, executive director of the Center for Legal Action in Human Rights (CALDH), which is one of the organizations representing the victims in the … Continue Reading

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Judge Imposes Travel Ban on Congressman Wanted in CREOMPAZ Case

On the afternoon of Monday, December 5, Judge Claudette Domínguez of High Risk Tribunal “A” imposed a travel ban on Congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle. Ovalle is currently under impeachment proceedings in response to a petition filed by the Attorney General’s Office to revoke his congressional immunity in order to prosecute him for war crimes in the CREOMPAZ case. The ruling came about in response to a petition filed by the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office, which is directed by Hilda Pineda, earlier the same day.

The battle over Ovalle’s congressional immunity has been brewing for nearly a year. On January 6, 2016, the Attorney General’s Office sought to revoke Ovalle’s immunity in order to prosecute him, along with several other high-ranking military … Continue Reading

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