Success without Victory: Taking the Long View on Justice in Guatemala

Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt's conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity has been overturned, but there is reason to hope (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Former military leader Efrain Rios Montt’s conviction for genocide and crimes against humanity has been overturned, but there is reason to hope (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Update: This post was updated on May 23, 2013 to provide more context for the significance of the overturned conviction of Rios Montt.

Amnesty International joined human rights organizations from Guatemala and all around the world in applauding former Guatemalan Dictator Rios Montt’s historic conviction on charges of genocide on May 10. The trial established his responsibility as intellectual author for the murder of 1,771 Ixil indigenous people and the forced displacement of tens of thousands from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché Department.

It took over thirty years to bring Rios Montt to justice. The trial faced numerous delays and obstacles, including many procedural appeals and challenges by the defense and a ten day suspension of the trial in April during which an annulment of the proceedings by a lower court was resolved.

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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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Ending Sexual Violence Against Indigenous Women in the U.S.

Earlier this month, the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo issued a statement during her visit to the U.S. scrutinizing the U.S. for its continued failure to prosecute perpetrators of sexual violence crimes against Native American and Alaska Native women and girls.

Consistent with Amnesty International’s findings in 2007’s “Maze of Injustice” report documenting the epidemic of sexual violence in Indian Country, Manjoo met with tribal leaders and advocates, who confirmed Amnesty’s own findings – including Department of Justice statistics citing that 86% of perpetrators of sexual violence against Native women and girls are in fact, non-Native men.

This horrific statistic is an all too familiar, frightening daily reality for Native women – particularly as tribal courts still have no jurisdiction to prosecute non-Native offenders, often leaving survivors of sexual violence without access to justice or redress for crimes committed against them.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day all this week, it is all too clear that the U.S. still has a long way to go in addressing this epidemic of sexual violence against Indigenous women here in the U.S.

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Celebrating 100 Years of Women's Empowerment

Wow! International Women’s Day is celebrating 100 years of women’s empowerment and progress towards complete gender equality! To celebrate this momentous benchmark, Amnesty International USA plans to kick off the first full week of March with a series of blog posts highlighting the work we continue to do address women’s human rights issues.

International Women’s Day represents two sides of the push for women’s rights: one is a celebration of how far we’ve come, and the other is a reinvigoration of the push for total gender equality.

For years, Amnesty has been striving to ensure universal rights for all women – focusing specifically on ending violence against women, including the violence and sexual assault perpetrated against Indigenous women in the U.S. As we expanded our work to include the broad spectrum of economic, social, and cultural rights, we have taken on the daunting task of fighting for those human rights violations that are both a cause and consequence of poverty.

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Indigenous community held hostage in Brazil

Guarani-Kaiowá leaders

In October of 2009, the indigenous community Guarani Kaiowá Y’poí was violently evicted from its ancestral land near Paranhos, in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil.  During the assault, gunmen hired by local farmers abducted tribe members Genivaldo Vera and his cousin Rolindo Vera. Genivaldo’s body was found a few days later in a nearby river. His head had been shaved and his body had extensive bruising. Rolindo’s whereabouts remains unknown. After almost a year, Rolindo’s family continues to wait for the Federal Police to tell them what happened to him or to bring them Rolindo’s body back.

In April of 2010, tribe members managed to reoccupy the land, but they immediately became deprived of their freedom of movement, and were subject to numerous gun threats. They have been prevented from leaving their encampment, resulting in no access to water, food, education and health. The tribe’s children are falling sick due to the lack of medical assistance, water and the dry weather conditions.

Government’s agents are not providing care to the community, claiming this is due to lack of security. The tribe has denounced their situation to the Federal Prosecutor’s Office, the National Indian Foundation (Fundação Nacional do Índio, FUNAI) and the state police authorities, but so far no action has been taken.

As follow-up to this, we are asking everyone to join our efforts in sending a letter to the Brazilian authorities to stop the violence against the Guarani Kaiowá Y’poí tribe.

Together we can make a difference!

Mexican Indigenous Rights Activists Face New Threats to Their Security

Raul HernandezOnly a few days ago we were happy to share the wonderful news that Raúl Hernández, an indigenous rights leader and prisoner of conscience, had been released from prison after two years of struggle. Unfortunately, Hernández and other indigenous rights activists have been suffering serious threats and harrassment for more than a week.

The daughter of Inés Fernández, a fellow member of the Me’phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (Organización del Pueblo Indigena Me’phaa, OPIM), was threatened by two men on August 28th. The men threatened her family with death and mentioned Raúl Hernández, suggesting a connection between his release and their threats. Two days later, Álvaro Ramírez Concepcíon, coordinator of the Organization of the Future of the Mixteco Indigenous People (Organización para el Futuro del Pueblo Mixteco, OFPM), was shot and seriously wounded by a group of men while he worked on a plot of land near Juquila, in Ayutala municipality in Mexico. His wounds have required him to continue to stay in the hospital under medical supervision. The attackers have not been identified, nor brought to justice.  Other activists from both OPIM and OFPM have been threatened as well.

This intimidation for the purpose of quieting the calls for indigenous rights cannot stand! Learn more and take action on behalf of Hernández, Fernández, Concepcíon and the other activists of OPIM and OFPM. For more information on the history of the human rights abuses against Hernández and his colleagues, check out our previous blog posts.

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Mexican Indigenous Rights Leader Finally Released!

Last month, we asked you to take action for Mexican inidgenous human rights defender Raúl Hernández.  We are thrilled to report that after two years in Guerrero state prison on fabricated  charges Raúl was finally released!  A big thank you to all who took action!

We are now calling for an investigation into his unfounded prosecution and for him to be fully compensated for his unfair imprisonment.

Amnesty has been advocating on behalf of Raúl since 2008 when he was arrested and accused of the murder of Alejandro Feliciano García. However, eyewitness statements demonstrating that Raúl Hernández was not present when the murder took place were not taken into account.

Later, during evidential proceedings, the state court judge carried out a crime scene inspection which confirmed that evidence by witnesses who claimed that Raúl Hernández was present during the murder were baseless.

We believe the case against Raúl Hernández was a reprisal by local authorities for his legitimate activities promoting indigenous rights with the Me’phaa Indigenous peoples’ Organization (Organización del Pueblo Indígena Me’phaa ,OPIM) and for highlighting abuses committed by local caciques (political bosses), military personnel and authorities.

Mexican authorities have frequently manipulated the justice system to punish those people who promote respect for the rights of marginalized communities and raise their voices to demand their rights. The unfair and prolonged detention of Raúl Hernandez is emblematic of the systematic persecution of members of the OPIM in Guerrero state and the regular threats and attacks suffered by human rights defenders in Mexico.

We are urging the Mexican government to develop an effective protection program for human rights defenders. The case of Raúl Hernández illustrates the vulnerability of human rights defenders in Mexico. Not only are they victims of unlawful detentions and imprisonment on unfounded charges, but they also face harassment, intimidation, threats and even killings.

UPDATE: Raúl Hernández Will be Prosecuted

Last week, we asked you to take action for inidgenous human rights defender Raúl Hernández. Many thanks to all who took action! Unfortunately, at his hearing on Friday, the State Attorney General’s Office of Guerrero upheld murder charges against Raúl, despite unreliable and fabricated evidence. The judge presiding over the case is expected to decide on his innocence or guilt within days.

After the judge’s decision, we will be providing an update and requesting further action. Meanwhile, you can continue to push for justice for Raúl, and you can read the press release about Friday’s hearing.

One Final Push to Protect Raúl Hernández from Unfair Murder Charges!

Raul HernandezA decision will soon be reached regarding unsubstantiated murder charges against human rights defender Raúl Hernández. His final hearing was today, Friday, August 6, and we expect that the court will make a final decision on his case within two weeks of the hearing. Please take action now to ensure that he is not wrongfully convicted of murder!

Raúl, a member of the Me’phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (OPIM) in Guerrero State, Mexico, was arrested along with several other OPIM members in April of 2008 and accused of murdering Alejandro Feliciano García. Amnesty International believes that their arrests were prompted by their human rights work in defense of the Me’phaa Indigenous Peoples. The original charges against Raúl were based on questionable eyewitness accounts, and evidence presented in his defense was disregarded.  Fortunately, on June 30 of this year, the judge presiding over his case decided that the evidence against him was unreliable and requested that the Guerrero State Attorney General issue a recommendation on the case.

Amnesty International has been advocating on behalf of Raúl since 2008, and we believe that right now is a strategic time to make a final push for his freedom. We have a great opportunity to contact the Attorney General and pressure him to recommend that charges against Raúl are dropped.  He has the power to influence the outcome of the case, and therefore to protect Raúl from spending the rest of his life in prison. Please take action on behalf of Raúl today!

President Obama signs Tribal Law and Order Act

I am thrilled to share with you a deeply moving moment in a long-awaited, hard-fought, and historic victory for Native American and Alaska Native peoples in the United States.  Last Thursday afternoon, I had the privilege of attending a special ceremony at the White House where President Obama signed into law H.R. 725 – the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. This law entering into force marked an important step forward in beginning to address some of the many continuing injustices that Native American and Alaska Native communities – particularly women – face in this country.  It was especially meaningful to stand not just along aside my Amnesty International colleagues but with our Native partners who for so long have fought to stop the horrific violence and human rights violations inflicted on Native American and Alaska Native women.  It is their courage and determination that made this historic advance possible.

The Tribal Law and Order Act is a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that tackles the complex jurisdictional maze that allows violent crime against Native American and Alaska Native peoples to flourish.  In particular, it seeks to put an end to the epidemic rates of rape and sexual assault perpetrated against Indigenous women in the US.  As many of you know from your years of activism and support for AIUSA’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign, the situation we found Native women facing in this country when began our research in 2005 was truly appalling.  As detailed in our 2007 reported entitled Maze of Injustice, Native women are 2.5 times more likely than other women in this country to be raped. Women from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas told us that they couldn’t think of a single woman who hadn’t been sexually assaulted.  More than one in three Native women will be raped at some point in their lives, 86 percent of them by non-Native perpetrators. The fact that the majority of these crimes occur with total impunity points clearly to the legacy of discrimination that Native communities had faced for many generations.

Among other things, this legislation means that every Native American and Alaska Native woman now finally has the chance to get a police response, have access to a rape kit, the opportunity to see her case prosecuted and see justice served for crimes committed against her. It standardizes the much needed sexual assault protocols within the Indian Health Service to ensure that survivors of sexual assault will receive proper treatment and care and that crucial forensic evidence will be collected.  The Act also clarifies who is responsible for prosecuting crimes in tribal communities and restores authority, resources, and information to tribal governments.  While taking initial steps to restore power to tribal governments to take more direct action in cases of violent crime, it will also hold federal authorities accountable for failure to prosecute.

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