International Justice Monitor

A project of the Open Society Justice Initiative

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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Has Guatemala Satisfied the Inter-American Court’s Judgment in the Molina Theissen Case?

During the July 25 hearing in the Molina Theissen case, the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGN) requested that the Court admit as evidence the 2004 judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well as the Court’s resolution on the supervision of the judgment. According to the PGN, which represents the interests of the state of Guatemala and is a separate institution from the Attorney General’s Office, the Court’s resolution establishes that Guatemala has fully complied with the terms of the 2004 judgment.

IJ Monitor discussed this with Marcela Martino, a lawyer for the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), which has represented the Molina Theissen family before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. According to Martino, “It is absolutely … Continue Reading

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Molina Theissen Case Ready to Go to Court

The final phase of the preliminary hearings in the Molina Theissen case concluded this past week, opening the path to the criminal prosecution of five former senior military officials charged with the enforced disappearance of 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and the illegal detention, torture, and rape of his sister Emma. After several delays, the pretrial judge in the case, Víctor Herrera Ríos, finalized the review of evidence presented by the plaintiffs and the defendants on June 25.

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

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Court Ratifies Historic Sepur Zarco Sexual Violence Judgment

The High Risk Appellate Court upheld the historic Sepur Zarco judgment this week after unanimously rejecting the three appeals presented by the defense counsel of the two military officials convicted last February in the case. The judges read the summary of the ruling in an open session on Wednesday afternoon.

High Risk Tribunal A, presided over by Judge Yassmín Barrios, handed down the judgment on February 26, 2016. The trial court found Lieutenant Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón, former commander of Sepur Zarco military base, and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig, guilty of all charges, sentencing them to 120 and 240 years respectively.

The court sentenced both officials to 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity against 14 women who were … Continue Reading

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Court to Rule on Appeal of Historic Sepur Zarco Sexual Violence Verdict

On July 19, the High Risk Appellate Court in Guatemala will announce its resolution on three appeals presented by two former military officials convicted last year in the historic Sepur Zarco sexual violence case. The appeals seek to overturn the February 26, 2016 verdict by High Risk Tribunal A, presided over by Judge Yassmín Barrios.

The trial court found Lieutenant Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón, former commander of Sepur Zarco military base, and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig, guilty of all charges, sentencing them to 120 and 240 years respectively.

The trial court sentenced both military officials to 30 years in prison for crimes against humanity against 15 women who were the victims of sexual violence and sexual and domestic slavery. In … Continue Reading

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