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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Remembering an Archive Hero

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The National Security Archive is an independent U.S. NGO that founded in 1985 by journalists and scholars to check rising government secrecy. The Archive has been instrumental in uncovering “classified” govt info on U.S. covert activities, policies abroad and at home. They have also done a great deal of work on Guatemala, including analysis and dissemination of the secret National Police Archive.

Following is a post to the National Security Archive’s UNREDACTED blog – a wonderful blog that I highly recommend to anyone interested in U.S. foreign policy – about William Worthy, a founder of their institution.

UNREDACTED

William Worthy and Premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing in 1957. Credit Boston Globe Staff William Worthy and Premier Zhou Enlai in Beijing in 1957. Credit Boston Globe Staff

William Worthy, a foreign correspondent who travelled to –and reported from– locations the US government did not want him to go, died this month at the age of 92.

Worthy traveled to places like the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China because he believed Americans “have a right to know what’s going on in the world in their name,” and it would be difficult to exaggerate his contributions both to investigative journalism and the founding of the National Security Archive.

Worthy’s intrepid reporting made him the subject of a landmark federal case concerning travel rights. He is perhaps most famous for his 1961 arrest after returning to the US from Cuba where he interviewed Fidel Castro. Upon return he was arrested, not for illegally traveling to Cuba, but for re-entering the US without a passport, which the…

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NYT: Lawmakers Ask State Dept. to Review Support for Honduras

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108 members of the U.S. House or Representatives have submitted a “Dear Colleague” letter to Secretary of State John Kerry re: human rights in Honduras. In the letter, the critical human rights situation in Honduras is outlined, and calls are made to evaluate the U.S. role in funding and supporting the Honduran security forces.

This important letter was made possible by the leadership of Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL) and the advocacy of human rights and solidarity activists.  Special credit is due to the Chicago Religious Leadership Network, who worked hard to educate members of U.S. Congress on Honduras and U.S. military aid.  It’s always important to remember that without our activist efforts, elected officials may not take action on issues important to human rights and foreign policy in Latin America.

The following is an article by the New York Times on the Dear Colleague letter:

In the past few months, international organizations have raised renewed concern over the targeted killings of journalists and advocates for human and land rights.

The letter to Secretary of State John Kerry was signed by 108 members of Congress, led by Representative Jan Schakowsky, Democrat of Illinois. In it, the lawmakers argued that the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández has “adopted policies that threaten to make the human rights situation even worse” by promoting a militarized police force and using its army for domestic law enforcement.

The letter called on the State Department to evaluate Washington’s support and training for the Honduran police and military.

In its 2013 human rights report, the State Department acknowledged the severity of human rights abuses in Honduras. It described the “corruption, intimidation, and institutional weakness of the justice system leading to widespread impunity,” along with “unlawful and arbitrary killings by security forces, organized criminal elements, and others.”

The letter from House members mentioned the tear-gassing of opposition legislators and activists during a protest in the Honduran Congress building two weeks ago, as well as the killings of lawyers and human rights defenders, among others.

Other outbreaks of violence over the past few weeks have continued the pattern.

Carlos Mejia Orellana, Honduras, ERIC, Radio Progreso

Carlos Mejia Orellana of Radio Progreso, killed in April. Photo credit: Honduras Tierra Libre.

In April, Carlos Mejía Orellana, the marketing director of Radio Progreso, a Jesuit radio station critical of the government, was stabbed to death in El Progreso. His killing prompted a statement at the time from Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, saying, “Too often, Honduran officials have dismissed threats and attacks against journalists, and questioned whether the violence was connected to the victims’ profession.”

Other homicide investigations have been quick to assign personal motives or describe killings as tied to robberies.

Last week Aníbal Duarte, the popular mayor of the municipality of Iriona, was shot and killed in front of his family in a hotel swimming pool in Jutiapa, near the Caribbean port city of La Ceiba.

Mr. Duarte administered a vast and sparsely populated territory in northeastern Honduras where illegal logging and drug trafficking are rampant. Officials in the investigative arm of the national police told local reporters that they believed a personal dispute was behind his killing.

Three days later, a government forester was fatally shot in La Ceiba as he got off a bus. The victim, José Alexander González Cerros, 33, who worked in the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve, had recently reported illegal logging in the area.

In another case, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a statement this month condemning the killing of Orlando Orellana, 75, a rights advocate who led a community in a property dispute outside the city of San Pedro Sula, in the northwest. No arrests have been made in these deaths.

The commission also expressed concern about the rising number of children and young people who have been victims of violence in Honduras. Casa Alianza, an organization that works with street children, presented a report last month showing that 270 children and young people throughout Honduras had been killed in the first three months of this year. Two weeks later José Guadalupe Ruelas, the director of the Honduras branch of the group, was beaten by the military police.

 

Amnesty International: Guatemala slipping back into impunity on anniversary of overturned genocide conviction

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Source: Amnesty International

20 May 2014

Guatemala slipping back into impunity on anniversary of overturned genocide conviction

 A year ago today Guatemala’s Constitutional Court annulled the conviction of former President General Efraín Ríos Montt for crimes against humanity and genocide.A year ago today Guatemala’s Constitutional Court annulled the conviction of former President General Efraín Ríos Montt for crimes against humanity and genocide.

© JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images

The fight for justice for victims of crimes against humanity and genocide, from Guatemala’s past conflict is being seriously undermined, Amnesty International said today.

 A year ago today Guatemala’s Constitutional Court annulled the conviction of former President General Efraín Ríos Montt for crimes against humanity and genocide committed in the 1980s. Since then key judicial figures have been replaced or sanctioned, and resolutions passed that further erode the chances of victims of the past conflict seeing justice.

“Victims of Ríos Montt’s crimes have been fighting for justice for more than three decades and now are again facing numerous obstacles created to deny them that justice,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher at Amnesty International.

“Guatemala owes a debt of justice to those victims, as well as to the rest of the estimated 200,000 victims of the conflict.”

On 20 May 2013, the conviction of Ríos Montt for his role in the killing, torturing and forced displacement of 1,771 Maya-Ixil indigenous people during his 1982-83 presidency was effectively annulled by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court on a technicality.

Since then the Attorney General who oversaw the prosecution of the original case has been replaced, the presiding judge has been disbarred and the Congress of Guatemala has passed a non-binding resolution declaring that genocide never occurred during the country’s 36 year conflict, which ended in 1996.Last week’s resolution by Congress of Guatemala directly contradicted a 1999 UN investigation, which concluded that genocide and crimes against humanity had occurred. During the 36-year conflict, around four in five victims were from Guatemala’s Indigenous Peoples population with over 600 massacres recorded in Indigenous areas.

“Findings of fact which result from independent investigations and impartial courts cannot be ignored because they make uncomfortable reading for those in positions of power. Such a conclusion may only be reached by a court of justice,” said Sebastian Elgueta.

“Congress should support efforts to hold accountable those alleged to have committed mass human rights atrocities, not strengthen a climate of impunity and discrimination against Indigenous People in Guatemala”.

Congress’s resolution came three months after the Guatemalan Bar Association’s Ethics Tribunal sanctioned the presiding judge Yassmin Barrios for a procedural ruling taken during the 2013 trial of Ríos Montt.

“The Ethics Tribunal decision to sanction the trial judge, punishing the judge for a judicial decision taken during the trial, amounts to an interference with the independence of the judiciary. If it is allowed to stand, it will set a precedent for allowing lawyers to punish judges for decisions that they didn’t agree with,” said Elgueta.

In February this year the Constitutional Court also cut short the period in office of the Attorney General who oversaw the 2013 trial of Ríos Montt. Despite widespread praise for her achievements while in office, Claudia Paz y Paz was not shortlisted for a second term and a new Attorney General has just assumed office.

The curtailment of Claudia Paz y Paz’s period in office and her absence from the final shortlist gave the impression of retaliation for ensuring cases of human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict were properly investigated and prosecuted.

“Guatemala is currently at a crossroads. The country should not turn back the clock and return to the days when cases of past human rights violations were simply not investigated or prosecuted,” said Sebastian Elgueta.

“Hundreds of thousands of victims of Guatemala’s conflict, including relatives of those killed and disappeared, survivors of massacres and sexual violence, expect the new Attorney General to continue efforts to secure justice”.

Otto Perez Molina, the current President of Guatemala, began his term by ratifying the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, creating a safeguard for future accountability should war crimes ever be committed again in Guatemala.

“The President’s decision to ratify the Rome Statue was welcomed nationally and all over the world. Unless he wants his legacy to be one of impunity for past human rights violations he must show leadership setting the tone for accountability, respect for victims and justice,” said Sebastian Elgueta.

New Report Explores Harmful Impacts of Canadian Mining in Latin America

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Guatemala Human Rights Commission

MarlinMine1 A crater and contaminated rubble — results of the Marlin Mine in Guatemala. Photo by James Rodríguez

A recent report presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) explores the growing presence of Canadian mining companies in Latin America, highlighting a series of environmental and social concerns, and raising questions about who should ultimately be held responsible for violations related to Canadian-owned projects. The report, titled The Impact of Canadian Mining in Latin America and Canada’s responsibility [full report in Spanish], was written by a working group made up of six civil society organizations from Latin America and one from the US, with input from twenty-two additional Latin America-based organizations.

Open pit mining is well known to cause serious environmental damage, and the authors draw particular attention to the contamination of rivers and drinking water. The damning report also describes flagrant violations of the right to life…

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The long struggle for justice in Guatemala | Al Jazeera America

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Great article by Lauren Carasik about the unjust exclusion of  Claudia Paz y Paz from the Attorney General selection process, due to her struggle against impunity and her fight to bring war criminals to justice.

 

The long struggle for justice in Guatemala | Al Jazeera America.

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