Rios Montt Trial is Reason to Celebrate at AGM!

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Relatives of victims of Guatemala's civil war attend the trial against former Guatemalan de facto President and retired General Jose Efrain Rios Montt  for genocide during his de facto 1982-83 regime. Rios Montt is accused of ordering the execution of 1,771 members of the indigenous Ixil Maya people in the Quiche region. The trial marks the first time genocide proceedings have been brought in relation to the 36-year civil war in Guatemala that ended in 1996, leaving an estimated 200,000 people dead, according to United Nations estimates (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Relatives of victims of Guatemala’s civil war attend the trial against Rios Montt for genocide during his de facto 1982-83 regime (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Tuesday, March 19 marks the beginning of the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Rios Montt for the deaths of 1,771 individuals and the forced displacement of tens of thousands more from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché department.

It is important to remember that the crimes covered in this trial are only a fraction of the widespread, systematic human rights abuses that the Guatemalan military committed under Rios Montt’s brief reign in 1982 and 1983. The military massacred or disappeared tens of thousands of Guatemalan civilians in the months following the coup that brought Rios Montt to power. Furthermore, the Commission on Historical Clarification (CEH) blamed the Guatemalan government for acts of genocide because:

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Another Guatemalan Union Leader is Dead—Will Two Campesino Activists Be Next?

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Workers Rights = Human Rights

On March 8, two men on motorcycles cut off Carlos Hernández’s pickup truck fired eight 9mm bullets at him, killing him. Hernández was a member of several community organizations and labor groups, including:

  • The Camotán Peasant Farmers Association
  • The New Day Peasant Farmer Coordination
  • The Coordination of Popular, Indigenous, Church, Trade Union and Peasant Organizations of the East (COPISCO)
  • The National Front for the Struggle (FNL)
  • The Executive Committee of the Guatemalan National Trade Union of Health Workers (SNTSG)

You may recall the SNTSG from a blog I wrote in December, about four Central American cases in Amnesty’s Transforming Pain into Hope report about Human Rights Defenders in the Americas. One of the cases featured in that report was that of Luis Ovidio Ortíz Cajas, the Public Relations Secretary of the Executive Committee of the SNTSG. An unknown assailant killed Ortíz Cajas and three other men on March 24, 2012—a little less than one year before this latest killing.

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Why Do We Need to Keep Up the Pressure to Prosecute Rios Montt for Genocide?

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Brigadier General José Efraín Rios Montt, flanked by General Horacio Egberto Maldonado Schaad and Colonel Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, at first press conference on 23 March 1982, National Palace, Guatemala City.

Brigadier General José Efraín Rios Montt, flanked by General Horacio Egberto Maldonado Schaad and Colonel Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez, at first press conference on 23 March 1982, National Palace, Guatemala City. Photo courtesy of Jean-Marie Simon.

Monday’s ruling that General Efraín Ríos Montt and his former head of military intelligence, General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, should stand trial for the massacre of almost 2,000 people in the 1980s is an encouraging sign in the quest for justice and accountability in Guatemala. But we must keep up our vigilance to make sure justice moves forward!

A little over a month after I wrote a post on this blog about the need to bring Rios Montt to justice, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina—a former general who served under Rios Montt—issued a decree that said the State of Guatemala would no longer recognize the competence of the Inter American Court of Human Right’s rulings regarding crimes that took place before 1987.  The decree was published on December 28, 2012 – over the holidays when most people are out of their offices.

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Why Does Guatemala Have One of the Highest Rates of Femicide in the World?

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March to protest violence against women in Guatemala

March to protest violence against women in Guatemala.

The good news is that we know one of the main causes of gender based violence in Guatemala. Under normal circumstances, identifying such a cause would be a great step forward, as it would enable the police, courts, and other authorities to make substantial progress in protecting women from violence.

The bad news is that the main cause of femicide that Amnesty International has identified is government inaction and the resulting impunity—human rights abusers can literally get away with murder in Guatemala, especially when their victims are women.  Amnesty found that less than 4 percent of homicide cases result in the conviction of those responsible. This low rate, in turn, is largely the result of insufficient and ineffective investigations.

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Freedom of Expression Under Attack in Central America: Four Cases From New AI Report

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Out of  almost 300 cases of human rights abuses covered in Amnesty International’s new report, Transforming Pain into Hope:  Human Rights Defenders in Latin America, only four have resulted in the conviction of those responsible.

One of the main reasons why violators continue enjoy impunity is that they target precisely those individuals who expose their crimes.  The report therefore emphasizes the danger posed to journalists, bloggers, and trade unionists who speak up for human rights.

Just within the relatively small region of Central America, the report highlights four important cases of attacks on freedom of expression that seek to cover up other human rights abuses: SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Justice Denied for 30 Years: Six Reasons Guatemala Must Bring Rios Montt to Justice!

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As our families come together for Thanksgiving, please remember of the countless Guatemalans who have never learned the truth about what happened to their loved ones.

November 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of General Efrain Rios Montt launching the bloodiest period of Guatemala’s civil war after seizing power in a coup.  The victims and their families are still waiting for justice.  Thankfully, some of them are finally getting their day in court as Rios Montt stands accused in the Dos Erres Massacre of 1982.

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Faxes Jammed! Guatemalan Government Responds to Our Actions for Norma Cruz

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Norma Cruz

Norma Cruz

Earlier this week, we started an exciting new faxjam action – calling on our members and Facebook and Twitter supporters around the world to send a fax to the Attorney General of Guatemala on behalf of human rights defender Norma Cruz.

Last night we spoke to Norma, the leader of the women’s rights organization Fundación Sobrevivientes, who has received repeated death threats because of her work supporting victims of violence against women and calling for those responsible to be prosecuted.

And the news is good – the authorities are really taking notice.

Norma told us that on Tuesday (the day after we started jamming faxes), the Presidential Commission on Human Rights phoned her to check on her security situation. They said that they were checking because they had heard about the Amnesty International campaign – the campaign that you have all been a part of.

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Stop the Death Threats. Defend Norma Cruz.

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Norma Cruz

Guatemalan human rights defender Norma Cruz is the director of Fundación Sobrevivientes (c) Amnesty International

Norma Cruz is a Guatemalan human rights defender who has been repeatedly threatened with death because of her work documenting cases of violence against women and fighting for justice. Some of her relatives have even suffered threats and attacks because of her work.

It’s time someone defended Norma.  Through our new Faxjam campaign you can help stand up for Norma and other activists in Guatemala who face constant danger.

Norma Cruz leads an organization called ‘Survivors Foundation’ in Guatemala City that documents violence against women, including the thousands of rapes and killings of women.  Most of the threats that Norma has received have been related to their legal assistance in the case of a girl who was raped in 2004.

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Through Her Work Protecting Victims, One Woman Has Become a Target of Attack Herself

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This post is part of our Write for Rights series.

Norma CrizNorma Cruz has been speaking out against domestic violence in Guatemala for many years.  She is the leader of Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors’ Foundation), an organization that works to document cases of domestic violence and bring perpetrators to justice.  Because of her work, Norma has received numerous death threats and her life is now in grave danger.

Norma began receiving death treats in 2009. These threats have been text messages to her private phone, and voicemails have been left on her home and office phones. One caller stated: “I want you to drop the case of [man’s name], you’ve got eight days to drop the case, otherwise you’ll be in serious trouble, I will give you the head of your daughter or son, you bitch.” Threats like this have also been made to her family and colleagues. These messages began appearing after Fundación Sobrevivientes provided legal assistance to a girl who was raped. In fact, relatives of the same girl have been killed for the support they gave her. Norma has been warned of similar consequences if she does not discontinue her organization’s support of the case.

Since 2009, only one man has been charged with threatening Norma’s life. He has since been released on bail.  To date, the Public Prosecutor’s Office has not reported any further progress on the investigation into the remaining death threats.  No one else has been held accountable. While Guatemalan authorities have provided Norma Cruz, her family and her office with police protection, the threats continue.

Norma Cruz is not the only human right’s defender in Guatemala to be receiving death threats.  In fact, many human rights defenders, trade unionists and grassroots political and social activists are in similar circumstances. Like Norma, their cases are not seriously investigated by Public Prosecutor’s Office. In addition, most do not receive any protection from the state. You can help protect activists like Norma and bolster the rule of law by joining AIUSA’s Global Write-a-thon and pressing governments to do the right thing.

Elizabeth Stitt, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Pass IVAWA: "no time to waste"

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Yesterday, members of Congress and human rights advocates, including Amnesty’s celebrity spokesperson Samantha Mathis, made the case for passing the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) on Capitol Hill.  At the breakfast briefing in the Rayburn House Office Building, the audience listened to a distinguished panel present compelling accounts of the heroism and bravery of women and girls globally. The briefing, titled “Stories of Courage and Success: Surviving and Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Internationally,” was infused with the possibility of overcoming gender based violence around the world.

The panel was joined by members of Congress who are IVAWA champions in the House, Representatives Ted Poe (R-TX) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).  Both members, who coordinated the event along with lead bill sponsor Representative Bill Delahunt (D-MA), made inspiring remarks on why they personally endorse and support the legislation.

One of the panelists, Rose Mapendo, a survivor and advocate from the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave some of the most gripping testimony. She began by sharing a song she had gained strength from when she was imprisoned with her family in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rose detailed how she escaped with nine of her 10 children and eventually resettled in Arizona. She was finally reunited with her lost daughter more than a decade later. Ms. Mapendo has survived the violence of genocide and is helping to bring peace to her country and others. She is the subject of a new documentary by PBS called “Pushing the Elephant.”

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