[Special Appeal], while using the same evidence, witnesses and expert testimonies. The acceptance of the procedural complaint would mean that the Court would dictate a new sentence, complete with new legal grounds for the decision (without repeating the previous phases).
Support for the two sides
During some trial hearings, a group of about 20 women gathered at the court house wearing t-shirts with the message: “Justice for Guadalupe,” in reference to Guadalupe Francisco Felipe, one of the two people killed during the events being tried in the case. Throughout trial proceedings, members of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH), members of the Civil Society of Barillas, and others of their own accord, affirmed the innocence of Saúl Méndez y Rogelio Velásquez and demanded their liberty, rejecting what they considered to be “criminalization for defending natural resources.”
As we wait for the Special Appeal process to be reviewed, the prisoners and their families continue to receive an outpouring of solidarity. Among these demonstrations was a Solidarity Festival for the Political Prisoners held on December 6 in the central park of Huehuetenango in support of the imprisoned leaders and their loved ones. The event included music and other artistic expressions that reflected solidarity. Those gathered included people defending natural resources through other struggles like community members from San José del Golfo and San Pedro Ayampuc, organized in the La Puya encampment against the imposition of the mining project El Tambor. They joined in the calls to demand the release of the two men from Barillas. (5) The event concluded with a visit to Saúl Méndez y Rogelio Velásquez in prison, bringing them candles and music as an act of solidarity. (6)
Together, since their second detention, Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez have spent one year and seven months in prison, while their wives and children – five in the case of Saúl and six in the case of Rogelio – have had to get by without the resources they provided as farmers. Rogelio Velásquez and his wife, Carmelia Sosa Mérida, also care for two of Carmelia’s brothers who were orphaned at a young age. Their economic situation will become even more difficult if the reparations payment approved on November 19, 2014, of 15,000 quetzales from each of the accused for the daughter of the victim, is upheld. This reparation is not applicable until the sentence is confirmed, that is to say, until the defense exhausts all of the available resources.
United Nations and the OMCT hear the case
The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst (France), carried out an unofficial visit to Guatemala at the end of January 2015. On January 27, he met with dozens of human rights defenders who gave testimony on the human rights violations taking place in Guatemala. Among the participants were Carmelia Sosa Mérida, the wife of Rogelio Velásquez, and Rubén Herrera, defender of natural resources and member of the ADH who told the Special Rapporteur about the case of Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez.
On February 26, 2015 the report, “Smaller than David: the struggle of human rights defenders [Más pequeños que David: la lucha de los defensores y defensoras de derechos humanos],” was presented in Huehuetenango. The report was written by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS) in collaboration with the Human Rights Defenders Unit of Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) during their international investigation mission in Guatemala in November 2013. The OBS is part of the World Organization against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). Santa Cruz Barillas is one of the cases they are investigating in the report, paying special attention to the judicial process against Saúl Méndez y Rogelio Velásquez.
During the presentation of the report, Miguel Martín (OMCT) made reference to the pre-trial imprisonment of the other three leaders from the Barillas Civil Society, which had occurred on the same day.
Since 2013, Hidro Santa Cruz S.A. employees have accused Francisco Juan Pedro, Adalberto Villatoro and Arturo Pablo of threats, instigating crime, illicit association, abduction, and kidnapping. Miguel Martín mentioned that these imprisonments are very serious and expressed his solidarity with the detained. He stated that being a human rights defender is “a risky activity in Guatemala” and demonstrated his concern for the “lack of guarantees to access to due process in the [Guatemalan] justice system.”
Representatives of the OBS, UDEFEGUA, ADH and individuals visited Saúl Méndez and Rogelio Velásquez and well as Francisco Juan Pedro, Adalberto Villatoro and Arturo Pablo, on February 27 in the Preventative Center for Men in Huehuetenango.
(1) Emisoras Unidas, 26 de diciembre de 2013, Capturan a dos hombres por el asesinato de campesino en Santa Cruz Barillas, noticias.emisorasunidas.com/noticias/nacionales/capturan-dos-hombres-sindicados-asesinato-campesino-santa-cruz-barillas. Comunicado del Ministerio Público, 1 de junio de 2012, Prueba balística confirma el arma utilizada en el asesinato de campesino en Santa Cruz Barillas, www.mp.gob.gt/2012/06/prueba-balistica-confirma-el-arma-utilizada-en-el-asesinato-de-campesino-en-santa-cruz-barillas/
(2) Opinión 46/2012 del Grupo de Trabajo sobre la Detención Arbitraria de la ONU, 15 de enero de 2013, acoguate.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/gtda-opinion-no-46-2012-guatemala.pdf
(3) Centro de Medios Independientes, 14 de octubre de 2014, Mujeres valientes: las esposas de los presos políticos, cmiguate.org/mujeres-valientes-las-esposas-de-los-presos-politicos/
(4) Centro de Medios Independientes, 24 de diciembre de 2014, Apelación Especial a favor de los presos políticos de Barillas señala Vicios de la Sentencia, cmiguate.org/apelacion-especial-a-favor-de-los-presos-politicos-de-barillas-senala-vicios-de-la-sentencia/
(5) Telesur, 11 de diciembre de 2014, Ciudadanos de Guatemala se solidarizan con líderes comunitarios presos, www.youtube.com/watch?v=krDIJWVw27s&list=UUbHFKMtqLYkIBRiPHJwxu_w#t=16
(6) Telesur, 8 de diciembre de 2014, Piden con música la liberación de dos presos políticos en Guatemala, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jrfptIYDN_I