Black Orchid Collective

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https://www.facebook.com/events/590401870987350/

This Thursday, March 21, 2013 @3PM (Westlake) there will be an Idle No More march on the Seattle port to protest SSA Marine’s attempt to build a coal export terminal on Lummi Nation Sacred Land. These terminals are further colonizing indigenous land and threatening the ecology of the planet. Please spread the word widely to build solidarity with this crucial action!

For posters or flyers to put up or pass out, please swing by Black Coffee Coop cafe (on Capital Hill at Pine and Summit).

From the Facebook invite:

We will be meeting at Westlake Center in Seattle at 3pm we will have some amazing speakers and will then commence a March through downtown to the SSA Marine Office/Terminal in support of the Lummi Nation and Mother Earth in our fight against this company SSA Marine, Big Oil and Coal that intends to build the biggest Coal/Oil Export Terminal in the World on their…

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The brutal legacy of the “Salvador Option” in Iraq

Today The Guardian has released an hour-long documentary and article investigating the role of U.S. counterinsurgency advisers and top military and government officials in training and supervising the Special Police Commandos and paramilitary units responsible for acts of torture and sectarian violence during the U.S. occupation of Iraq.  Since early 2005 it was clear that the “Salvador Option” in Iraq would mean the imposition of terror against the Sunni civilian population by majority Shiite police forces and paramilitaries coordinated by the Ministry of the Interior, sparking the explosive civil conflict which wracked the country in the following years. Brutal tactics including torture and government death squads have been central to U.S. supported counter-insurgency campaigns from Vietnam to Central America and the Middle East, as personified by retired U.S. military officer James Steele, a veteran adviser of the Salvadoran military during the 1980s and a high-level civilian “consultant” to the U.S. occupation and Iraqi security forces.

In my undergraduate research at the time, I elaborated on the functional similarities between the Iraqi and Salvadoran death squads and special forces, and detailed the human rights violations which these repressive structures committed. I also highlighted the policy of official denial and obfuscation with which the U.S. government responded to allegations of human rights violations in El Salvador during the 1980s.

The Guardian’s report makes clear that despite their denials, U.S. government officials and military commanders were intimately involved with the strategic decision to bolster sectarian militias and aware of the abuses committed by the Iraqi security forces, even ordering U.S. troops to ignore acts of torture and mistreatment of detainees, in contravention of international humanitarian law. For this information we must thank courageous U.S. military and Iraqi whistle-blowers, especially Chelsea Manning, who has taken responsibility for the release to Wikileaks of the classified logs which expose the extent of the reported abuse of detainees, as well as the memos which reveal Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s close supervision of adviser James Steele’s work with the Iraqi security forces.

[tweet https://twitter.com/SaveBradley/status/309372807400271872 align=’center’]

This report is especially timely as U.S. Special Forces have been accused of committing disappearances and other abuses in Afghanistan, and as El Salvador faces the possibility of future trials for human rights violations committed during the armed conflict following the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ ruling that the country’s amnesty law cannot block the investigation of atrocities such as the 1981 El Mozote massacre, committed by an elite U.S.-trained battalion. The Guardian’s investigation also highlights the impunity enjoyed by U.S. government and military officials for their roles in masterminding the implementation of brutal counterinsurgency policies which have led directly to acts including ethnic cleansing in Iraq and genocide in Guatemala.

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GuateSec: Justice and security briefs

GuateSec is intended to provide a regular focus on issues relating to security and justice in Guatemala and the surrounding region, offering commentary and synthesis of key news reports and expert analysis.

It has been a busy and disturbing couple of weeks in Guatemala, with a series of high-impact incidents of violence and developments in key legal cases of justice for human rights violations. GuateSec has collected relevant reports and offers preliminary analysis on these topics below. Follow @cascadiasolid on Twitter for updates.

Genocide trials moved up

Following Judge Miguel Angel Galvez’s widely-reported decision to try of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and his intelligence chief Rodriguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity, presiding Judge Yazmin Barrios announced that public oral arguments in the trial will commence March 19, rather than in August as originally scheduled. The accelerated timeline will limit defense lawyers’ continued attempts to delay the trial through repetitive injunctions; most recently, the Generals unsuccessfully argued that the judges overseeing the process should be recused due to their previous role in obtaining convictions for the Dos Erres massacre. The genocide trial is likely to last several weeks, with the prosecution alone offering more than 900 pieces of evidence, including survivor testimony and reports by expert witnesses.

Totonicapán massacre case collapses

In less heartening legal news, prosecutors failed to secure charges of extrajudicial execution against 9 soldiers accused of the October 4, 2012 shooting of 6 K’iche Maya protesters and wounding of at least 14. Instead, Judge Carol Patricia Flores charged the soldiers with homicide (and attempted homicide) in a state of violent emotion, carrying a possible sentence of 2 to 8 years prison, compared to 25-30 years or extrajudicial execution. Commanding officer Juan Chiroy Sal was charged with breach of duty, with a possible 1 to 3 year sentence. Crucially, these charges do not implicate the state or military in the Totonicapán massacre, which would limit the possibility of reparations for survivors and families of the victims. The judge and courtroom observers criticized an incomplete investigation and shoddy presentation of evidence by public prosecutor Aida Granillo, including “cut-and-paste” accusations and failure to account for bullet casings which did not correspond to the weapons used by the soldiers. Lawyers for the victims announced plans to appeal the ruling, as well as the potential for future civil and international suits.

Impunity assassination could widen institutional fissures

On the evening of February 14, criminal lawyer Lea de Leon and her driver were machine-gunned to death by unknown assailants. De Leon was involved in multiple high-profile cases, including acting as defense lawyer for the Paiz brothers, accused of hiring the assassins in the 2009 Rosenberg affair; as well as Maria Melgar, accused in the murder of former Interior Minister Victor Rivera. Though de Leon’s murder is under investigation and its motive has yet to be clarified, the case bears all the hallmarks of a killing intended to preserve impunity—though for whom is unclear. Most troubling, de Leon’s husband, Prensa Libre newspaper editor Edin Hernandez, suggested at the scene of the crime that the lawyer had been threatened by Rony Lopez, a public prosecutor involved the Valat financial fraud case which she was litigating. These allegations could provoke serious instability within the justice and security institutions. Attorney General Claudia Paz and MP representatives denied having received reports of threats, and were aware only of “procedural differences” between the lawyer and prosecutor. Lopez also denied the allegations.

VIP prisoner’s privileges cause shakeup

Captain Byron Lima Oliva was caught red-handed on February 15th as he returned from a trip outside the walls of Pavoncito prison in a caravan of two bulletproofed SUVs. The military intelligence officer is the only conspirator remaining imprisoned for the 1998 murder of human rights advocate Bishop Juan Gerardi; his father, Colonel Byron Lima, and priest Mario Orantes were both released on good conduct during the last year. According to Interior Minister López Bonilla, Captain Lima and other prisoners enjoy regular improperly-authorized leaves from prison as a result of corruption and lax controls. Lima argued that his leaves were authorized for urgent medical operations, though his drivers admitted that the Captain left the prison several times a week, and two unregistered weapons were found in the detained vehicles.

As a result of Captain Lima’s arrest, prison system director Luis Alberto Gonzalez and the director of Pavoncito prison were both removed from their posts. Gonzalez, a fellow military officer, had previously described Lima as a “model prisoner” responsible for directing rehabilitation efforts, a charitable description of Lima’s widely-denounced role as a prison strongman. Although a judge dismissed charges of evasion against Lima, it was announced that he would be transferred to a different prison. Edy Fisher, another military special forces officer, who also signed off on Lima’s sojourns, was named as director of penitentiaries.

It remains unclear whether Lima was the target of a specific investigation, though investigative journalist and rumor-monger José Ruben Zamora suggests in El Periodico’s El Peladero column that the spectacle of Lima’s arrest served to divert attention from the murder of lawyer Lea de Leon, as well as reporting that imprisoned narco bosses have put out contracts on Lima in retaliation for his attempts to raise payments for his henchmen’s security services within the jails. The Lima case is also being used as a pawn in the ongoing political war between the governing Patriot Party and opposition party LIDER, which has seized on allegations that the SUVs used to ferry Lima belong to a Patriot Party congressman, and has asked the UN Commission Against Impunity to investigate. Whatever the background machinations, it seems that Lima’s stock is falling—at least in terms of perception.

MinGob jumps at shadows

In an episode that made the international press, Interior Minister Lopez Bonilla announced the possible death of Sinaloa cartel boss “El Chapo” Guzmán in a shootout between rival trafficking caravans in the Petén. After this bombshell had provoked a media frenzy, the Minister was forced to report that security forces could not even reliably confirm that the rumored confrontation had occurred, much less that El Chapo himself, or anyone resembling him, had been killed in Petén. In addition to potentially provoking instability in the cartel ecosystem, the incident is embarrassing for Guatemala’s security institutions on at least two fronts, revealing a lack of territorial control and accurate intelligence, as well as a serious lack of judgment in publicly acknowledging explosive, unconfirmed rumors.

(Even the fake Chapo got in on the fun…)

Motorcyclist’s death leads to calls for social cleansing

The gruesome death of an alleged thief on February 20th in Guatemala City prompted expressions of both approval and rejection of armed vigilantism and “social cleansing” violence. Though details remain under investigation, the narrative which circulated first via social media and later in the press told of an armed thief aboard a motorcycle who burned to death when another motorist—reportedly either the victim of theft of a wallet or another driver who witnessed the assault—fired and ignited the motorcyclist’s gas tank. The victim was identified as 28-year-old Edgar Giovanni Cifuentes Pérez, described as a gardener by family members. Photos of the crime scene circulated on Twitter with the approving hashtag #MuerteALosMotoLadrones, which was attributed to a Twitter user reportedly associated with the popular broadcaster Radio Sonora. President Pérez Molina himself got in on the action, responding to the killing by saying “Let it serve as a lesson for criminals.” The incident shortly followed an attempted lynching just blocks from Guatemala City’s Central Park and National Palace on February 10th, in which two presumed muggers narrowly avoided death at the hands of a mob, which also attacked police attempting to intervene.

Popular Injustice by Angelina Snodgrass Godoy (Stanford University Press 2006) and Dispersing Power by Raúl Zibechi (AK Press 2010)

Popular Injustice by Angelina Snodgrass Godoy (Stanford University Press 2006) and Dispersing Power by Raúl Zibechi (AK Press 201

Academic and political analyses suggest that lack of trust in a failed state justice system and the rupture of community social fabric due to displacement, mass violence, and state terror are at the root of phenomena such as lynchings and other forms of non-state punitive measures against criminals—see Angelina Snodgrass Godoy’s Popular Injustice and Raúl Zibechi’s Dispersing Power for two incisive treatments of this topic. Though lynchings generate high-profile media coverage, cases resulting in death are relatively rare, with 13 in 2012 according to official statistics. “Social cleansing” killings, carried out clandestinely by state or para-state actors, are thought to have reached a peak of some 3,500 deaths during the administration of President Oscar Berger; several members of his administration continue to face charges internationally relating to the extrajudicial execution of prisoners. The iron-fisted “mano dura” security policy that Otto Pérez Molina promised to implement upon election is popularly associated with acts of social cleansing, as evidenced by the number of #MuerteALosMotoLadrones Tweets referencing mano dura.

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GuateSec: Scrutiny of security gains and privatization initiatives

GuateSec is intended to provide a regular focus on issues relating to security and justice in Guatemala and the surrounding region, offering commentary and synthesis of key news reports and expert analysis.

Guatemala’s security policy has come under renewed scrutiny as the country marks its first full year under Otto Pérez Molina. Though the Patriot Party administration has trumpeted the success of programs such as the militarized Task Forces installed in marginal urban neighborhoods, measures of violence show the continuation of an overall declining trend established during the government of Álvaro Colom, leading to the assumption that structural and institutional dynamics, rather than specific security policies, are responsible for the decline. One possible factor is the ongoing campaign to strengthen the justice system: at the end of 2012, Attorney General Claudia Paz reported that her ministry had achieved a significant reduction in impunity rates for violent crime to 70%, from 95% in 2009, when Guatemala’s murder rate also reached its highest since the armed conflict.

Despite the overall reduction in violence, analysts have also pointed out that the last few months of 2012 showed a measurable uptick, a message that was slammed home during January in a series of high-profile incidents. January 16 saw the murder of six women, including two women and two young girls in pajamas whose bodies were discovered abandoned in different areas of Guatemala City. The month closed with violent day of shootouts in the capital, including a brazen attack on security forces transporting a prisoner, in which a prison guard and two police officers were killed.

Photo: Luis Soto, El Periodico

Photo: Luis Soto, El Periodico

The MP moved quickly to investigate the January 16 killings, arresting a father and son for their presumed responsibility for the murder of the two girls and two women. Perez Molina, meanwhile, announced the possible use of States of Exception as part of a campaign to disarm criminals, and military-police checkpoints on the highways were increased. The President also faced criticism for a series of gaffes, stating that the surge of violence was a “question of perception” and appearing in person at a Guatemala City checkpoint on an expensive BMW motorcycle, causing a snarl of traffic.

Far from a simple PR issue, the recent breakdown of security gains is reflected in official statistics showing 50 more murders in January 2013 than during the previous year. Security analyst Gustavo Berganza reports a similar trend of increasing violence against women in recent months, though overall femicides in 2012 are down. Berganza speculates that the late 2012 rise in violence could be related to changes in the Interior Ministry, where Vice-Minister of Security Julio Claverilla was replaced by retired military officer Col. Byron Prera. As GuateSec noted last November, Prera has been previously accused of links to military organized crime networks. The Vice-Minister of Security oversees the administration’s various inter-institutional Task Forces, which combine police, military, and public prosecutors in combating specific forms of crime including homicide, femicide, kidnapping, and extortion.

In the midst of this ambiguous security climate, journalists and analysts are using official statistics to clarify “common sense” assumptions about violence in Guatemala. In a report for El Periodico, Claudia Méndez Arriaza and Carlos Mendoza interrogate seven such “myths,” demonstrating for example that departments with higher percentages of indigenous population are among the safest in the country, despite low levels of policing. The report is worth examining in more detail, as Mike Allison has done over at the Central American Politics blog, summarizing key findings in English and offering commentary.

Security privatization challenged

  • Prison contracts reveal conflict of interest: Investigation by the newspaper El Periodico revealed that the Interamerican Investment & Development Corporation (II&DC), the U.S.-based company selected by the Interior Ministry to administer a $69 million dollar prison-building and remodeling contract (Guatemala’s largest public contract in 2012), was a shell company incorporated in Nevada by Florida-based lawyer Michael Ortiz. El Periodico found that Ortiz is a business partner of Guatemalan “security expert” Fabián Castellanos,  who in turn is a “friend and colleague” to Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez Bonilla. Both Castellanos and Bonilla served as past presidents of McMillan Comunicaciones, a company which had won state contracts for X-ray inspection of shipping containers at Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala’s largest Pacific Ocean port. The bidding period for the prison contract had been extended to allow II&DC to become legally registered in Guatemala; its Nevada business license was also expired at the time the contract was awarded in November 2012. Following these revelations. Lopez Bonilla announced suspension of the contract, as well as plans to invest an additional billion quetzales in prison construction. GuateSec has not found further information relating to the status of these contracts.
  • Police partner with private security firms: During December 2012, the Interior Ministry announced a cooperation agreement between the National Civil Police and the Trade Association of Private Security Companies for a 30-day trial period coinciding with the end of year celebrations. While Prensa Libre reported that the agreement would simply involve private security agents notifying the police when responding to crimes, El Periodico referred more broadly to an initiative aimed at the private companies “generating intelligence in support of state institutions.” Experts have long criticized the proliferation and lack of regulation of private security companies in Guatemala, as well as potential links to organized crime and parallel power structures. Human rights and security analysts criticized the cooperation agreement as a move towards privatization of state security functions in the absence of state control over private security firms. GuateSec will be alert for updates regarding this topic.
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Update on Guatemalan Genocide Trial

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Guatemala City, February 4, 2013—Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez ended a four-hour hearing today in the genocide trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt by accepting all of the witnesses, experts and documents submitted as evidence by the prosecution. The defense, by contrast, failed in its bid to incorporate experts and documentary evidence on behalf of their client, although the judge approved several defense witnesses.

The ruling signifies that the case will now advance to the Sentencing Tribunal for a decision on when to open the final, oral phase of the groundbreaking trial against the retired general and his intelligence chief, José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. Both men are accused as the masterminds behind a “scorched earth” military campaign against rebel forces during 1982-83 that massacred hundreds of Mayan civilians living in the northwestern Ixil region of the country.

The hearing took place on the 14th floor of the Tribunals…

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Guatemalan Genocide on Trial

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Guatemala achieved a breakthrough for justice today with the opening of the landmark criminal trial of Efraín Ríos Montt, former military dictator, for genocide and crimes against humanity. Ríos Montt, along with his chief of army intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, is charged with ordering and overseeing a bloody counterinsurgency campaign during his 1982-83 regime that sought to wipe out guerrilla forces and anyone who supported them. The indictment accuses the two retired generals of responsibility for fifteen massacres in the Ixil region of the country’s northwestern Quiché department, resulting in the deaths of 1,771 unarmed men, women and children.

The proceedings will begin with a review of the evidence by Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez. The prosecution plans to propose 142 witnesses – among them, relatives of victims and survivors of the massacres – and 64 experts, including military analysts, forensic scientists, anthropologists, scholars, investigators and psychologists. Documents will include…

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GuateSec: Impunity, or justice for crimes of the past?

GuateSec is intended to provide a regular focus on issues relating to security and justice in Guatemala and the surrounding region, offering commentary and synthesis of key news reports and expert analysis.

Update: As of January 15, the Guatemalan government has reportedly repealed Executive Order 370-2012, following talks with human rights institutions. The Defense Ministry in turn ordered the classification of information relating to Military structure and equipment during the Ríos Montt regime in 1982. The information was requested by Judge Miguel Ángel Galvez, currently overseeing Ríos Montt’s prosecution for genocide and crimes against humanity. According to El Periodico, the information will be made available to legal representatives in the genocide case, but public access is restricted for a period of 7 years. Watch this space and the @cascadiasolid Twitter feed for more information.

Defending impunity for the architects of state terror

Under cover of holiday and year’s end festivities, the government of Otto Pérez Molina made an unambiguous move to defend the architects of state terror from accountability under international law. In Executive Order 370-2012, dated December 28 and published on January 2, the Guatemalan government states that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights has no jurisdiction over human rights violations which occurred before March 9, 1987, and that the state will not recognize Court rulings or authorize Court-mandated reparations for such cases.

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In 2012, the Court condemned the Guatemalan state in three cases: the 1982 Río Negro massacres, the 1984 forced disappearance of union and student activist Fernando García, and 28 disappearances between 1983-1985 documented in the military intelligence dossier known as the “Military Diary”. In broad strokes, the Court’s sentences demand that the government of Guatemala pay reparations to family members of the victims, conduct full investigations and sanction those found to have committed violations, and carry out other acts of commemoration and recognition of the state’s responsibility.

The Guatemalan government argues that its ratification of the Court’s jurisdiction in 1987 was accompanied by a signing statement recognizing its jurisdiction only for cases post-dating ratification, a common stipulation in such international agreements. The Court has recognized this distinction but has agreed to hear cases of grave human rights abuses in which violations are deemed to have occurred following to ratification, such as ongoing denial of justice and denial of the right to truth; and in cases where the violation is considered permanent, such as forced disappearance, which continues as long as the remains of the victim are undiscovered.

Further, the government indicated that reparations for cases dating after March 1987 will not exceed those authorized by the National Reparations Program (PNR). While the PNR authorizes payments of 24,000 quetzales (about US$3000) for killed or disappeared parents or siblings—with an upper limit of two victims per survivor—the Court’s reparations can exceed Q500,000 (US$63,000) per victim and are not limited to direct family members.

Faced with the swift condemnation of Guatemalan human rights organizations and civil society, as well as Human Rights Ombudsman Jorge de León (previously criticized as insufficiently independent of the government), Pérez Molina stated that the order would be “suspended” and not delivered to the Court before Monday January 7 pending analysis of its impacts on reparations and negotiations with human rights groups. Advocates for justice, meanwhile, continued to call for the order to be repealed. More than just an example of a Patriot Party administration that imposes policy and consults after the fact, the Inter-American Court gambit is a small part of a broader strategy to preserve impunity for the Guatemalan military, under cover of a facile and reactionary discourse of national sovereignty and reconciliation through forgetting.

While the Pérez Molina administration as a whole must be held responsible for this attempt to limit the reach of international human rights law, its likely intellectual author is Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ) director Antonio Arenales Forno, a lifelong political and diplomatic operative who was revealingly profiled last year by Plaza Pública. Within the government, Forno has been among the most publicly vocal opponents of attempts to hold military officials responsible for genocide and crimes against humanity, and in his appearances before the Inter-American Court for Human Rights he has repeatedly asserted the position that the government’s current executive order attempts to enforce: that the Inter-American human rights system is over-reaching its jurisdiction by hearing crimes of the past.

Forno instead advocates for a “full stop” amnesty that would halt all such investigations in the national courts, overturning the 1996 National Reconciliation Law, which includes an exception for genocide, torture, and forced disappearance. This reactionary perspective, which accuses human rights organizations of destabilizing the Peace Accords by pursuing justice, and denies that the Guatemalan military’s scorched earth counterinsurgency was genocidal, has become state policy under Otto Pérez Molina—who could himself benefit from legalized impunity in the future, as his own military and intelligence career remains under scrutiny.

Ríos Montt, charged with genocide, petitions for amnesty

The most obvious potential beneficiaries of the Patriot Party’s campaign for impunity, however, are the military officials currently facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity: former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and members of his military high command. Nearly a year has passed since Ríos Montt was charged for the Maya-Ixil genocide, and his defense lawyers have continued to postpone the opening of trial through various legal obstacles, including challenging to competency of the judge who initially heard the case and making repeated appeals based on the 1986 “self-amnesty” instituted by the military government of Oscar Mejía Víctores (also accused of genocide but declared medically unfit to stand trial).

The Guatemalan Constitutional Court is currently contemplating the question of amnesty, and has yet to give a definitive ruling. A decision overturning the exceptions to the 1996 National Reconciliation Law could set back the campaign for justice by years—at the very least through Patriot Party government. Though Guatemalan and international law make amply clear that genocide cannot be subject to amnesty, past Constitutional Courts have not been immune to politically-influenced decisions, most notoriously in 2004 when the CC decided to allow Ríos Montt’s presidential campaign, following days of rioting by members of his FRG party and in contradiction of a Constitutional prohibition on campaigns by former dictators.

Delegations of Spanish and U.S. international human rights jurists as well as a grassroots petition campaign have been mobilized in support of survivors organizations fighting against amnesty for Ríos Montt. The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (responsible for recommending cases to the Court) published a press release last month reiterating that any amnesty for human rights violators would be contrary to international law. When considered in the context of potentially imminent decisions by the national courts to legalize impunity, the Guatemalan government’s desire to limit the Inter-American Court becomes more logical.

Graffiti of Ríos Montt, Guatemala City: "For he who gave the order of agony, I demand punishment - H.I.J.O.S." (Via CPR-Urbana)

Graffiti of Ríos Montt, Guatemala City: “For he who gave the order of agony, I demand punishment – H.I.J.O.S.” (Via CPR-Urbana)

Guatemala is not the only Latin American government that has challenged the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Human Rights System. In 2011, Brazil threatened to withhold funding for the Organization of American States in protest of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights’ recommendation that the government suspend the controversial Belo Monte dam megaproject, which is fiercely opposed by local indigenous communities and environmental organizations. Earlier this year, Venezuela denounced the Inter-American Convention on Human Rights and announced its intention to withdraw from the jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court within a year, following decisions critical of its internal judicial system. While some observers on the left have uncritically repeated claims that the Inter-American Human Rights System is beholden to an imperialist OAS, these arguments have not demonstrated actual violations of the Commission’s or Court’s independence.

In reality, opposition to accountability under international law is a shared tactic of nation-states which jealously defend their ability to construct spaces of impunity and authoritarianism under national law. In its refusal to submit to basic international human rights norms, the United States is without a doubt the most flagrant and hypocritical example of this exceptionalism, but the practice should be opposed across the political spectrum. For survivors of human rights violations and communities threatened by the imposition of destructive megaprojects, international human rights law has been a means to strengthen struggles that continue on multiple fronts.

Survivors of sexual slavery testify in Guatemalan court

The international accompaniment coalition ACOGUATE reports on testimony by Q’eqchi’ women survivors of forced work and systematic rape by the Guatemalan military over a period from 1982 to 1988 at Sepur Zarco, a “recreational” military base in the Panzós region of Alta Verapaz and Izabal. Following the forced disappearance of their spouses, who had organized to demand legalization of their land, the indigenous women were forced to cook and perform chores for the soldiers, and were submitted to constant sexual abuse. During September 2012, 15 women and 4 men testified in a Guatemalan court as part of a process to collect evidence for the future identification of individuals to be tried. This is the first case both in Guatemalan and internationally in which systematic rape as a crime of war is being heard by national courts. The survivors receive support and accompaniment from the Guatemalan feminist organizations Mujeres Transformando el Mundo, Colectivo Actoras de Cambio, and the Guatemalan National Women’s Union (UNAMG), as well as the Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team (ECAP).

With her face covered, a survivor is sworn in by the court. Photo by Sandra Sebastián, via ACOGUATE

With her face covered, a survivor is sworn in by the court. (Photo by Sandra Sebastián, via ACOGUATE)

Another Gerardi conspirator freed

After tonight, only one of the conspirators convicted of the 1998 assassination of human rights advocate Bishop Juan Gerardi will remain in prison. Father Mario Orantes, Gerardi’s close colleague, who was sentenced to 20 years for his role in covering up the murder, will be released on good conduct after 12 years and 10 months in prison. Following the release of Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada last July, only Captain Byron Lima Oliva remains incarcerated for his role in the plot against Gerardi, executed by Guatemalan military intelligence officials. Like Col. Lima, Orantes benefited from a position of power within the prison system, where he was head of the V.I.P. wing in which he was imprisoned. Also like the Limas, Orantes maintains his innocence in the case and may seek to be reassigned within the Catholic church upon leaving prison. The release of Col. Lima may have been tied to a campaign on his behalf by hard-line military intelligence officials, with whom Pérez Molina’s government would need to cement alliances; whether similar pressures were applied to secure Orantes’ release is not known.

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