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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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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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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Victims Seek to Revoke Immunity of Congressman Wanted for War Crimes

Congressman Edgar Justino Ovalle has spent the better part of 2016 under threat of criminal charges. Though he took his seat as a deputy in the Guatemalan National Congress on January 14, 2016, the Attorney General’s Office has not ceased in its efforts to prosecute him for war crimes.

Guatemala’s Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, made international headlines last year when she arrested then-President Otto Pérez Molina and a slew of other government officials for their involvement in alleged massive corruption schemes. She surprised again on January 6, 2016, when her office ordered the arrest of 18 high-ranking retired military officials for war crimes. These included individuals like Benedicto Lucas García, the former head of the army, whom most Guatemalans believed to … Continue Reading

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Guatemala Grave Crimes Cases Delayed

While a Guatemalan court has found sufficient evidence to bring the CREOMPAZ case to trial, aspects of its decision have been challenged by plaintiffs. The proceedings are on stand-by until the appeals are decided. In the Molina Theissen case, the hearing to determine whether the case goes to trial has again been delayed; this time because the case will be transferred to the High Risk Tribunal system. The Maya Ixil genocide case also remains stalled as defense counsel for former chief of intelligence José Manuel Rodríguez Sánchez appeals the recent decision to separate the proceedings against him and co-defendant former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt.

These delays unfolded amidst a controversy that arose after President Jimmy Morales announced that the annual … Continue Reading

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Major Breakthrough for Guatemala Grave Crimes Cases: Judge Seizes Previously Denied Military Documents

Yesterday saw a stunning development in the Diario Militar (Military Diary) case. In a pre-trial hearing that was initially closed, pre-trial judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez decided to open the hearing to the public and press, and then revealed that he had in his possession new military documents pertaining to the case. Judge Gálvez explained that during a hearing held at the compound of the General Staff of the Ministry of Defense on March 4, he ordered the sequestering of the documents and that he was now making them available to the parties in the case. This is a major development, in part because since the signing of the Peace Agreements in 1996, the Guatemalan army has repeatedly denied the existence … Continue Reading

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Progress and Controversy in Guatemala Grave Crimes Cases

The January arrest of 18 former senior military officers in two high-profile cases, followed by the landmark trial and conviction in the Sepur Zarco sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery case, energized Guatemala’s transitional justice process in early 2016. Since then, the genocide retrial of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt and his former chief of intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, has gotten off to a rocky and controversial start. This report provides a brief update on the status of each of these cases.

New Genocide Trial

After several false starts, the retrial proceedings against Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez in the Maya Ixil genocide case began on March 16 in special closed-door proceedings. The trial started despite controversy about the … Continue Reading

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Reactions to Historic Sepur Zarco Judgment

On February 26, 2016, High Risk “A” Tribunal in Guatemala convicted military officers Esteelmer Reyes Girón and Heriberto Valdez Asig of sexual violence and domestic and sexual slavery against 15 Maya Q’eqchi’ women, as well as several counts of homicide and enforced disappearance. This was the first time a Guatemalan court has prosecuted a case of sexual violence related to the country’s 36-year civil war. The three-judge panel sentenced Reyes Girón to 120 years in prison, while Valdez Asig was sentenced to 240 years.

Human rights activists hailed the judgment as a landmark ruling that demonstrates Guatemala’s commitment to assuring victim’s rights to truth and justice in grave crimes cases and as an important step in the global struggle to end all forms of … Continue Reading

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Guatemala Court Finds Both Sepur Zarco Defendants Guilty

A court in Guatemala has found two former senior military officers guilty of crimes against humanity in a case involving murder, sexual slavery and other atrocities committed at the Sepur Zarco army base in the east of the country in 1982 and 1983.

Esteelmer Reyes Girón, the former base commander, was given prison sentences totaling 120 years. Heriberto Valdez Asij, the former regional military commissioner, was given sentences totaling 240 years. The trial before High Risk Court A in Guatemala City lasted three-and-half weeks.

In delivering the judgment to a crowded courtroom on Friday, February 26,  presiding judge Yassmin Barrios said that rape had been deliberately used at Sepur Zarco as a weapon aimed at destroying the local indigenous Maya Q’eqchi’ community.

The … Continue Reading

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