International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

How Guatemala is Choosing Its Next Attorney General

Guatemala is in the process of selecting its next attorney general to serve a four-year term: May 2018-May 2022. Because the process and result could have tremendous implications for grave crimes trials and the rule of law in Guatemala, the International Justice Monitor will be providing regular situation reports. Today, we provide an explanation of the process itself.

Legal Framework

Guatemala’s constitution established Nominating Commissions (Comisiónes de Postulación) in order to guard against the politicization of judicial appointments to the Supreme Court of Justice, Courts of Appeal, and other collegiate tribunals. The commissions are also intended to protect against politicization of the appointment of the attorney general or any other public positions relevant to the consolidation of the rule of law … Continue Reading

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International Justice Monitor to Follow the Selection Process for Guatemala’s Next Attorney General

Yesterday in Guatemala, a Nominating Commission (Comisión de Postulación) met for the first time to select the shortlist of candidates from which President Jimmy Morales will choose the country’s next attorney general. The selection process strongly affects how or whether domestic trials of grave crimes continue in Guatemala. For this reason, from today until the culmination of the process in mid-May, the International Justice Monitor will be providing regular situation reports on a complex process that in the past has been prone to political manipulation.

What’s at Stake

Over nearly eight years, the Attorney General’s Office has been the main engine for rule of law reform, collaborating closely with the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Attorneys General Claudia Paz … Continue Reading

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Mass Burial Takes Place of Ixil Victims of the Guatemalan Armed Conflict

As the genocide trial continues to unfold before High Risk Court “B” in Guatemala, a mass burial of 172 Maya Ixil victims of the armed conflict took place in the village of Santa Avelina, San Juan Cotzal, Quiché, in the heart of the Maya Ixil region of Guatemala. Human rights lawyers have confirmed to International Justice Monitor that at least one of the survivors from Santa Avelina is a witness in the ongoing cases against Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.

The victims were from Santa Avelina, one of the “model villages” created by the Guatemalan army during the internal armed conflict to control the population it suspected of working with the guerrillas. One survivor, José Ceto, told El Periódico … Continue Reading

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Victims Testify in Genocide Retrial of Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez

Petrona Raymundo Brito was eight years old in October 1982, when the army arrived in her village in the Ixil region of Quiché in northwestern Guatemala. “When they arrived they burned our belongings, they burned our crops, and they killed our animals,” she told the court that is hearing genocide charges against former military intelligence chief Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. She also testified in closed-door proceedings against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who is being prosecuted separately from Rodríguez Sánchez.

“They killed many people. My uncle and my aunt died there. They also killed my brother-in-law Jacinto Chen,” stated Raymundo Brito. Because of the army massacres, she said, “we fled to the mountains. Helicopters filled with soldiers passed overhead. They shot at … Continue Reading

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Legislator Proposes Blanket Amnesty for Grave Human Rights Violations in Guatemala

A bill was presented in the Guatemalan congress last week that would effectively establish a blanket amnesty for military officials accused of international crimes related to the internal armed conflict, in which an estimated 200,000 lives were lost. The bill seeks to alter the Law of National Reconciliation, which the Guatemalan congress passed in December 1996 in the context of the United Nations-brokered peace accords. That law provides for amnesty for political crimes, but not for international crimes such as genocide, torture, and other crimes against humanity.

The Proposed Legislation

On November 6, 2017, Congressman Fernando Linares Beltranena presented a proposal to reform Decree No. 145-1996, known as the Law of National Reconciliation. This law provides for amnesty for political crimes, but … Continue Reading

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High-Profile Molina Theissen Trial to Start in Guatemala in March 2018

The public trial in the high-profile Molina Theissen case will begin on March 1, 2018. The High Risk Court “C,” which will hear the case, notified the parties of this decision last week.

Last March, the pretrial judge charged five retired senior military officers with crimes against humanity for the illegal detention, torture, and rape of Emma Molina Theissen, and for the enforced disappearance of her 14-year-old brother, Marco Antonio Molina Theissen, in 1981.

The five officials, all retired, include two heavily decorated generals who were widely believed to be untouchable: former army chief of staff Benedicto Lucas García and Manuel Callejas y Callejas, former head of military intelligence and presumed leader of the Cofradía organized crime syndicate.

Benedicto Lucas García, retired general and former army chief … Continue Reading

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The Guatemala Genocide Trial Resumes

The criminal trial against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his former intelligence chief Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez resumed on October 13. As previously reported by International Justice Monitor, High Risk Court “B,” composed of presiding judge María Eugenia Castellanos Cruz and judges Sara Gricelda Yoc Yoc and Jaime Delmar González Marín, has separated the trial into two distinct proceedings.

Guatemalan law has special provisions for individuals who, like the retired general, were mentally competent at the time of the alleged crimes but currently lack the mental capacity to face a trial. Thus, the court heard the case against Ríos Montt, who was not present and was represented only by his lawyers, behind closed doors. The same tribunal heard the case against … Continue Reading

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Ríos Montt Genocide Trial Set to Restart on Friday

The trial against former Guatemalan dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt and his military intelligence chief José Rodríguez Sánchez for the Maya Ixil genocide is set to restart this Friday, October 13. Both men were prosecuted in this landmark case in 2013; High Risk Tribunal A found Ríos Montt guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 80 years in prison, while it acquitted Rodríguez Sánchez of all charges. The Constitutional Court then vacated the ruling in a highly controversial split decision that partially suspended the proceedings, effectively nullifying the verdict, even though the court did not even acknowledge that a verdict had been handed down. Several attempts to relaunch the proceedings have failed.

The genocide case will be … Continue Reading

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The Anti-CICIG Campaign in Guatemala: Implications for Grave Crimes Cases (Part II)

The campaign against the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and Commissioner Iván Velásquez, which we analyzed in a previous post, remains at a tense standstill. While CICIG’s mandate does not allow it to investigate cases related to Guatemala’s internal armed conflict, it has played a fundamental role in strengthening the country’s justice system, empowering judicial operators, and building the capacity of the Attorney General’s Office. It has expanded prosecutorial capacity in corruption and organized crime cases, as well as in grave crimes cases in Guatemala’s domestic courts, from the genocide case against former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt, to the CREOMPAZ and Molina Theissen cases, which are currently awaiting trial. Today, we explore the possible consequences of the … Continue Reading

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CICIG, Leader of Anti-Corruption Efforts in Guatemala, Under Siege (Part I)

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-sponsored body created in 2007 to help Guatemala combat crime and impunity, and Iván Velásquez, its chief since 2013, have found themselves in the crosshairs in recent weeks. The UN-sponsored entity has received wide acclaim for the anti-corruption investigations it conducted alongside the Attorney General’s Office, which, in 2015, led to the arrest of former president Otto Pérez Molina, his vice-president, Roxana Baldetti, and dozens of government ministers for widespread government fraud. However, it appears that for some, CICIG got too close for comfort.

President Jimmy Morales—who was elected in the wake of the Pérez Molina government’s downfall in 2015 and ran with the slogan “neither corrupt nor a thief”—catalyzed a campaign … Continue Reading

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