Stand with Us for Guatemala’s Democracy and Human Rights

Dear Readers:

In a new bid to hinder President-elect Bernardo Arévalo’s assumption of his duties as president in January 2024, last week the Public Ministry accused Arévalo and Vice-President-elect Karen Herrera of supporting student protests at the University of San Carlos last year and formally requested the removal of their immunity in order to prosecute them. New Supreme Court judges, many of whom have faced allegations of corruption, were hastily elected by Congress a day before this move. Guatemala’s democratic transition is now in the hands of these judges, as they will decide whether to remove the immunity of the presidential binomial so that they can be subjected to prosecution. The Public Ministry, headed by Attorney General Consuelo Porras, did not stop there but issued 27 arrest warrants for others accused of involvement in the university protests, conducting numerous raids and arresting five people, including a former congressional candidate of the Semilla party. The five are awaiting their initial hearing in pretrial detention. The Public Ministry is also attempting to prosecute judges of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. In Guatemala there are fears that the targets will continue expand and arrests will continue. The persecution could eventually include the Indigenous leaders who have slowed down the coup with well-organized, peaceful protests and through negotiations mediated by the Organization of American States.

The Guatemalan people need our help. If your members of Congress have been active in supporting democracy in Guatemala, please thank them. If not, our Urgent Action is a way of encouraging their involvement. You can also cut and paste the urgent action text into the White House comments box or call the White House. This is a critical time for Guatemala. Donating to our work is another way to help. Our staff is on the ground in Guatemala, accompanying protests, providing support, and documenting human rights abuses. Details are below.

Transition of Power:

  • Public Ministry Seeks Removal of Arévalo’s Immunity and Issues 27 Arrest Warrants

On November 16, Guatemala’s Public Ministry secured the arrest of five people, carried out numerous raids on homes, and announced arrest warrants for an additional 22 academics, journalists, human rights defenders, and members of the Movimiento Semilla party. Authorities claimed that the detained were involved in the occupation of the University of San Carlos. The occupation at the university began in May 2022, when the election of the university’s rector was largely perceived as fraudulent. The Public Ministry has accused President-elect Bernardo Arévalo and Vice President Karen Herrera of involvement in the case and is seeking to remove their immunity in order to prosecute them on charges of depredation of cultural property, illicit association, and influence trafficking. As evidence, prosecutors pointed to Bernardo Arévalo’s use of social media; according to lead prosecutor Saúl Sánchez, Bernardo Arévalo advocated for the occupation of the university “using his accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks.”

The warrants, raids, and arrests occurred a day after the Guatemalan Congress, three years behind schedule, elected a new Supreme Court. Notably, out of the 13 magistrates elected, 10 have faced accusations of crimes or public denouncements in the past, with more than half being linked to the Parallel Commissions case. The Supreme Court holds the authority to rule on the removal of public officials’ immunity.

  • OAS Says Guatemalan State Has Violated Inter-American Charter

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a statement posted on X, said the Public Ministry must immediately cease actions that criminalize free expression and attack the democratic order and presidential transition process. The Organization of American States (OAS) strongly condemned the filing of pre-trial proceedings by the Public Ministry against the presidential binomial, as well as several members of the Semilla, VOS, and Winaq political parties. “These decisions by the Public Ministry constitute actions of a political nature that distort the electoral process and may affect its outcome and are therefore absolutely inappropriate and unacceptable for a democratic political system. In this regard, the Public Ministry, as an institution of the State, is in violation of the provisions of Articles 2, 3, and 4 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” the OAS stated in a communique.

  • US State Department Announces New Visa Restrictions

The United States responded to the Public Ministry’s actions by announcing visa restrictions for 11 Guatemalans. “The United States unequivocally rejects continued, brazen efforts to undermine Guatemala’s peaceful transition of power to President-elect Bernardo Arévalo,” the State Department said in a press release. The State Department expressed concern about actions undermining democracy and condemned the Public Ministry’s efforts to press charges against President-elect Arevalo and Vice President-elect Herrera, adding, “We join the Organization of American States in calling for a transfer of power that respects popular will, is consistent with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and adheres to the rule of law in Guatemala.” Assistant Secretary Brian Nichols reiterated in a tweet that the US rejects the “egregious attempts to undermine democracy in Guatemala.”

Four US Senators also responded to the Public Ministry’s actions in a statement released on November 17, calling the Public Ministry’s efforts to strip the presidential binomial of immunity and the arrests of civil society members and members of the Semilla party “another tragic chapter in the Giammattei administration’s systematic persecution against anti-corruption advocates, journalists, and political opponents.” The statement was signed by Senator Tim Kain, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere; Senator Dick Durbin; Senator Jeff Merkley; and Senator Peter Welch.

  • Permanent Council of the OAS Adopts Resolution Condemning Public Ministry’s Actions

On November 15, a resolution was adopted by 20 member countries of the OAS, with Guatemala being the sole opposition, urging the Guatemalan state, including the Public Ministry, to cease or prevent any acts of intimidation against elected officials or members of the Semilla party. The resolution also denounced attempts by the Public Ministry to “discredit and prevent a peaceful transition of power, which undermine the democratic process and Guatemala’s commitments under the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

  • National Civil Police Use Violence Against Protestors Objecting to Election of Judges

On November 15, the Guatemalan Congress rushed through the election of  new Supreme Court judges, after years of delay. Those elected include Carlos Humberto Rivera Carrillo, who has ties to the pro-impunity, pro-military organizations Guatemala Immortal and Liga Pro Patria, and Manuel Reginaldo Duarte, who is on the Engel list of corrupt actors. The election of judges had been delayed since 2019. Fears of corruption led to protests outside the congressional building. As a group of Indigenous people and other citizens from the capital engaged in a peaceful protest, the National Civil Police (PNC) deployed 2,400 officers to provide security for members of Congress. The police used violence against protestors, according to video footage and reports of witnesses present, grabbing and beating protestors. The protesters condemned the election of the judges as part of the coup d’état underway in Guatemala.

In the Courts:

  • Three Accused in the Dos Erres Massacre Trial Are Acquitted

On November 7, in the trial of the Dos Erres Massacre, First High-Risk Court E acquitted three former Kaibiles prosecuted for extrajudicial execution and crimes against humanity. Gilberto Jordán, José Mardoqueo Ortiz, and Alfonso Bulux Vicente were accused of killing nearly 300 people during the massacre. The Dos Erres Massacre of 1982 was one of the bloodiest atrocities committed during the Civil War in Guatemala. The Guatemalan military’s special Kaibil Unitentered the community of Dos Erres and committed violent and inhumane acts against the villagers, including torture, rape, degradation, and mass killing. Of those killed, 113 were children under the age of 14.

  • Attorney Claudia González Released to House Arrest After 81 Days in Detention

Following a ruling from an appeals court, on November 16th, Judge Víctor Cruz released attorney Claudia González from prison into house arrest while the case against her is ongoing. As she awaited the judge’s verdict, she expressed support for the five people recently detained in relation to the occupation of the national university . Claudia González spent 80 days in pretrial detention and faces spurious charges in apparent retaliation for her work against corruption as lead attorney with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Other News:

  • IACHR Hearing Sheds Light on Danger Facing Human Rights and Indigenous Leaders

On November 8, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a thematic hearing on the use of the criminal justice system against human rights defenders and judicial operators. The hearing, requested by 44 former justicial sector workers in exile, 9 national human rights organizations, and 16 international organizations, including GHRC, aimed to inform the Commission about the deterioration of the rule of law in Guatemala and the misuse of the criminal justice system to target defenders of human rights and democracy.

During the hearing, witnesses detailed how individuals living in exile were compelled to leave their homeland. Judges in exile reported that they had been harassed and threatened and sought international protection, faced with a lack of support from the Guatemalan government. The judges also highlighted concerns about the suppression of democracy by the Guatemalan state, particularly in opposition to the Semilla party and efforts to impede President-elect Bernardo Arévalo from assuming office.

The petitioners concluded by urging the Commission to encourage the Attorney General’s Office to cease the unlawful persecution of officials, Indigenous authorities, journalists, and human rights defenders. They also requested the adoption of precautionary measures for the ancestral authorities of the 48 Cantons. Guatemalan government officials present at the hearing strongly refuted the petitioners’ accusations of unlawful and corrupt utilization of the criminal justice system. The officials maintained that all their actions strictly adhere to legal frameworks, ensuring the preservation of constitutional and human rights for all inhabitants. In response, the Commission questioned the meaningfulness of ongoing dialogue, given the persistent denial of allegations by the State regarding impunity and corruption.

  • Supreme Court Begins Pretrial Proceedings Against TSE in Continued Judicialization of the Electoral Process

The Supreme Court has initiated pretrial proceedings against the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), aimed at removing the TSE magistrates’ immunity so that they can be prosecuted. The Supreme Court received a pretrial request from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, citing irregularities in the acquisition of a computer system utilized in the recent election by TSE magistrates. Following this, the case advances to Congress, where a decision on whether to uphold or remove the immunity of TSE magistrates will be made. Specifically, the MP has sought the removal of immunity for judges Irma Elizabeth Palencia Orellana, Ranulfo Rafael Rojas Cetina, Blanca Odilia Alfaro Guerra, Gabriel Vladimir Aguilera, and Mynor Custodio Franco Flores, as well as substitutes Marco Antonio Cornejo Morroquí, Marlon Josué Barahona Catalán, and Álvaro Ricardo Cordón Paredes. According to the MP, the abuse of authority occurred when TSE delegated the supervision of the computer program’s operation to Guatemala. Fraud charges stem from the signing of the contract and the payment of Q148 million, despite lower offers from other providers.

  • Supreme Court Reinstates Mynor Moto as Judge

The Supreme Court has affirmed the reinstatement of Mynor Moto as a judge, following a request submitted by Moto himself. The Supreme Court granted  Moto’s request and directed that the decision be communicated to the Council of the Judicial Career to ensure its implementation. Moto sought an order of protection, which was granted on October 10, against the Council of the Judicial Career after his removal from the position.

Moto’s initial removal was prompted by the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Corruption stripping him of immunity in the Chimaltenango Bypass case, where a $440 million highway project was approved, but proceeded with little oversight over the spending. The work that was done was subpar and resulted in landslides and flooding. Allegations against Moto included intentional delaying of the case and receiving a cash bribe from those complicit in the case. Moto released 17 defendants in the case. Additionally, Moto faced scrutiny in the Parallel Commissions case, with photographs linking him to those under investigation. Sixteen defendants received favorable decisions and 2 businessmen were not required to await trial in detention, triggering suspicion of passive bribery, abuse of authority, and neglect of duty. In January 2021, the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) initiated an investigation against Moto for obstruction of justice and breach of public duty, but he avoided conviction for any alleged crimes. In 2021, a warrant for Moto’s arrest was issued for alleged manipulation of the judicial selection process, but it was annulled in December 2022. Moto appeared on the United States’ Engel List in 2021 for corrupt actors, which claimed he “obstructed justice and received bribes in return for a favorable legal decision.”

The magistrates unanimously ruled to reinstate Moto as a Criminal First Instance Judge. Though past legal processes against Moto have yet to be resolved, the lack of action from Attorney General Consuelo Porras and the Public Ministry allowed him to resume office.

oversight over the spending. The work that was done was subpar and resulted in landslides and flooding. Allegations against Moto included intentional delaying of the case and receiving a cash bribe from those complicit in the case. Moto released 17 defendants in the case. Additionally, Moto faced scrutiny in the Parallel Commissions case, with photographs linking him to those under investigation. Sixteen defendants received favorable decisions and 2 businessmen were not required to await trial in detention, triggering suspicion of passive bribery, abuse of authority, and neglect of duty. In January 2021, the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) initiated an investigation against Moto for obstruction of justice and breach of public duty, but he avoided conviction for any alleged crimes. In 2021, a warrant for Moto’s arrest was issued for alleged manipulation of the judicial selection process, but it was annulled in December 2022. Moto appeared on the United States’ Engel List in 2021 for corrupt actors, which claimed he “obstructed justice and received bribes in return for a favorable legal decision.”

The magistrates unanimously ruled to reinstate Moto as a Criminal First Instance Judge. Though past legal processes against Moto have yet to be resolved, the lack of action from Attorney General Consuelo Porras and the Public Ministry allowed him to resume office.

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Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA
3321 12th St NE  | Washington, District of Columbia 20017-4008
202-998-2191 | ghrc-usa@ghrc-usa.org

 

 

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