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

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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Five Reasons for Engagement Following the Egyptian Uprising

Egyptians demonstrate outside of the Presidential Palace in May, 2012.  Copyright Amnesty International.

Egyptians demonstrate outside of the Presidential Palace in May, 2012. Copyright Amnesty International.

On the second anniversary of the Egyptian Jan. 25 uprising, there’s a strong sense that the hopes of Tahrir Square have been tarnished.

There’s some reason for this: There have been too many broken promises.  Women, who were so essential to the uprising, were quickly marginalized in the months after it. Copts and other minority groups fear for their future. A new civilian government pushed through a constitution that may further minimize the role of women and lead to past human rights abuses being repeated. And perhaps most important, no institution seems capable of holding former Mubarak officials, security forces and the military accountable for decades of human rights abuses. The spirit of impunity lives on.

Yet, that’s only one side of the situation. There is in fact reason not to lose faith in Egypt’s future. This is not a promise that the path toward justice in Egypt is smooth, nor is it a prediction. But here are five reasons why we must remain engaged:

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

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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The Uludere Bombing: When Will Their Families Get Justice?

Kurdish people hold pictures of victims killed in a Turkish air raid during a demonstration on May 26, 2012, in Istanbul. (Photo credit BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)

Kurdish people hold pictures of victims killed in a Turkish air raid during a demonstration on May 26, 2012, in Istanbul. (Photo credit BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages)

On December 28, 2011, the Turkish military killed thirty-four of its own citizens, all civilians, most of them children in the Uludere/Qileban district, in Eastern Turkey.  The youngest was twelve.  A year has now passed and the families of these innocent people still wait for justice.

The Turkish government has offered compensation to the families of those killed.  The families, however, have refused to accept it until the truth behind the attack is uncovered and justice is done.

The families are still waiting.  On the anniversary of the Uludere bombings, Amnesty once again calls on the Turkish government to fully investigate these events and to bring those responsible to justice.

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

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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Time to End Arbitrary Detention in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan policemen stand guard over prison

Sri Lankan policemen stand guard outside the main prison in Colombo (Ishara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

Right now, hundreds of people are languishing in detention in Sri Lanka.  They haven’t been convicted of any crime; indeed, they haven’t even been charged with any crime.  Their detentions violate international law.  Many of them are tortured while in custody.  Some detainees have been killed.

More than three years after the end of Sri Lanka’s brutal civil war, security laws enacted to combat armed opposition groups continue to be used against outspoken, peaceful critics, including journalists, and others.

No one has been held accountable for these crimes. Impunity for human rights violations is the norm in Sri Lanka.

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5 Steps Forward, 5 Steps Back: Catching and Convicting War Criminals

international justice fugatives

Click image to view full infographic and list of wanted fugatives

Today, supporters of human rights mark the Global Day for International Justice, an anniversary the need for which makes ‘celebration’ difficult, if not impossible.  A cursory look over last year of developments as it relates to securing justice for the most egregious of crimes—war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide—might yield cause for optimism, however.

Five Steps Forward for Justice

  1. Over the last year, following a UN Security Council referral of Libya, the International Criminal Court (ICC) found reasonable grounds for issuing arrest warrants for top Libyan officials, even as conflict was ongoing, demonstrating the ability and importance of the court in active crises.
  2. The ICC saw the first verdict and sentence handed down as Thomas Lubanga answered for conscription of children in devastating conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
  3. Also over the last year, Laurent Gbagbo, the former head of state of Cote d’Ivoire, became the first head of state to be surrendered to the ICC for alleged crimes, only one week after his indictment.
  4. At the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia, Ratko Mladic finally faces prosecution for alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide for the largest mass murder in Europe since the end of World War II.
  5. The first conviction of a former head of state since the Nuremburg trials, as my colleague Angela Chang describes, was a historic step for international justice.

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A New Round of Assaults on Egyptian Women Protesters

Egyptian Women Protest in Cairo

Egyptian women demonstrate in Cairo MOHAMMED HOSSAM/AFP/Getty Images

When Egyptian politics get hot, it’s women who most often feel the flames. So when a group of Egyptian women took to Tahrir Square this past Friday to denounce the frequent assaults on women activists, it wasn’t surprising that they themselves came under attack.

According to Amnesty International, the women were calling for an end to sexual harassment of woman protesters when a mob of men came upon them and groped and punched the activists.

These women stood up to demand an end to sexual harassment. What they got was intimidation and sexual assault.

Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui

At a critical time for Egypt’s future, the attacks underscore how women’s rights to full political participation are central to the spirit of the 2011 uprisings and the hope that Egypt can develop a new political culture based on respect for all human rights.  The attack on the women activists goes straight to the heart of the ruling regime’s efforts to maintain its old practices.

This was the second report this month of women protesters being assaulted in Egypt.  Nihal Saad Zaghloul told Amnesty International that she and three friends were attacked by a large group of men on June 2 in Tahrir Square as they joined a protest after the verdict in Hosni Mubarak’s trial. She was pushed and groped and her headscarf pulled off before some men in the square came to her aid. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The Mubarak Trial that Wasn’t

The June 2 verdict in the trial of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak only confirmed what many Egyptian activists feared all along: The trial, while proving that the former leader was not above the law, was never going to be about truth and accountability.

There wasn’t much rejoicing in Cairo, even though the former president was sentenced to life in prison.  The trial itself was a desultory affair, with the judge claiming that prosecutors failed to present significant evidence tying the former president to attacks by security forces and Egyptian police that led to around 840 deaths and thousands of injuries during the 2011 uprisings.

Rather than serve the nation's deep need for truth, the trial denied full justice to the thousands of Egyptian victims and family members.

Rather than serve the nation’s deep need for truth, the trial denied full justice to the thousands of Egyptian victims and family members.  The day after the verdict was announced, all of Cairo was talking about expectations that it would be overturned on appeal.

Amnesty welcomed the trial of Mubarak and others for their role in the killing of protesters which began in January 2011. However, the trial and verdict have left the families of those killed, as well as those injured in the protests, in the dark about the full truth of what happened to their loved ones and it failed to deliver full justice.

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