News recap: “This Land is Ours”: Hundreds march to demand the restitution of stolen and occupied lands at site of Military Zone 21; Former military officers to stand trial for crimes committed against Molina Theissen family; Thousands respond to international call to action against violent repression of peaceful protest in Casillas; Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visits community members from Ixquisis; Bay Area event calls for reflection on building mutual solidarity with local Indigenous communities

This and more in this month’s Solidarity Update.

Solidarity Update: August 17, 2017
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Join us in calling on the U.S. and Canadian embassies in Guatemala to stand up for communities in peaceful resistance to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine, for their right to live in a healthy environment and to choose the form of development they want. Read the full letter to the embassies here.

Show your support by signing on behalf of your group or organization. Contact with the full name of your organization by 5 P.M. PST on Friday, August 18.

Please note that we are only collecting group/organizational signatures at this time.

Justice & Accountability 

  • Guatemalan appellate court ratifies Sepur Zarco verdict, affirming surivor testimony
  • "This Land is Ours": Hundreds march to demand the restitution of stolen and occupied lands at site of Military Zone 21
  • Former military officers to stand trial for crimes committed against Molina Theissen family

Defense of Life & Territory

  • Thousands respond to international call to action against violent repression of peaceful protest
  • Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visits community members from Ixquisis

News from the Grassroots

  • Bay Area event calls for reflection on building mutual solidarity with local Indigenous communities
  • Join NISGUA in San Rafael, CA for CALDH photo exhibit and a report-back from our spring delegation!

"This land is ours," at the entrance to Military Zone 21, as community members demand restitution of their land, 49 years after it was stolen and occupied.

Photo: H.I.J.O.S. Guatemala


Guatemalan appellate court ratifies Sepur Zarco verdict, affirming survivor testimony

On July 19, the Guatemalan High Risk Appellate Court upheld the Sepur Zarco verdict, unanimously rejecting three appeals filed by defendants and their legal counsel. Guatemala celebrated the historic verdict on February 26, 2016, when Lieutenant Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asig were found guilty of crimes against humanity in the form of sexual violence and sexual and domestic slavery committed against 15 Maya Q'eqchi' women at the Sepur Zarco military base during the height of the Internal Armed Conflict.
While one special appeal remains to be heard before the Guatemalan Constitutional Court, this appellate court ruling is one step closer to justice. The court found in favor of the women survivors of Sepur Zarco in all of the appeals, which ranged from challenges to the verdict itself to claiming procedural errors during the trial. Of particular note, the court rejected a challenge to the validity of video testimonies recorded in preliminary hearings, upholding an important precedent that aims to protect survivors of sexual violence from retraumatization through repeated testimony. For a legal analysis of the decision, see the International Justice Monitor coverage here.
As they fight for the legal conclusion of their case, the women from Sepur Zarco and their supporters from the Alliance to Break the Silence and End Impunity continue to fight for the implementation of the reparations ordered by the court now over a year ago. For more information read the NISGUA report here.

"This land is ours": Hundreds march to demand the restitution of stolen and occupied lands at Military Zone 21

On July 28, hundreds of Guatemalans led a peaceful march to protest the theft and occupation of lands belonging to the people of Chicoyogüito, Alta Verapaz, forcibly displaced by the army 49 years ago. The Guatemalan military evicted community members to clear the way for the construction of Military Zone 21, now CREOMPAZ, a well-known site of torture, forced disappearance, detention, rape, and extrajudicial killings carried out by the state during the country’s internal armed conflict. Now a UN peacekeeper training base, Military Zone 21 became notorious in 2016 when 14 former military officers were arrested on charges of forced disappearance and crimes against humanity based on evidence uncovered in four mass graves on the site. The case is currently making its way through Guatemalan courts and is the largest known case of forced disappearance in Latin America. As they marched towards Military Zone 21, where demonstrators had painted the words “Esta tierra es nuestra – this land is ours,” protesters called for justice in the Military Zone 21 case, the restitution of their ancestral lands, and reparations for the crimes committed against them.

Former military officers to stand trial for crimes committed against Molina Theissen family

On July 25, Guatemala’s High-Risk Court C ruled that five high-ranking military officials will stand trial for the forced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and crimes against humanity and sexual assault committed against his sister, Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen. Following a familiar pattern of malicious litigation in cases of transitional justice, the defense initially argued to exclude crimes committed against Emma Guadalupe Molina Theissen and to prevent the victims’ mother, Emma Theissen Alvarez, from acting as a plaintiff, claiming that the judge’s misreading of her name in an earlier hearing constituted a procedural error. The court ruled against these motions in the pretrial hearings that concluded last month. The decision to bring the case to trial is itself a victory given the high profile of the accused officers, who include Benedicto Lucas García and Manuel Callejas y Callejas, and the case joins a growing number in Guatemala to prosecute sexual violence carried out by the state as a crime against humanity.
Peaceful encampment in Casillas, where community members uphold the results of community consultations in which municipal residents voted overwhelmingly against mining in their territory. 



Thousands respond to international call to action against violent repression of peaceful protest

On June 22, the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) attempted to violently evict a peaceful encampment in Casillas, where community members have expressed their resolute opposition to the presence of Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine. Since then, more than 730 people have responded to NISGUA’s international call to action by writing to urge local Guatemalan authorities to meaningfully and respectfully respond to the demands of peaceful protesters in Casillas, to refrain from using violence, and to uphold the right to non-violent protest. In addition, over 2,100 people have written and called Tahoe Resources demanding that they listen to and respect the demands of protesters and that they refrain from supporting or pressuring government actors to repress the peaceful protest or use force to evict communities.
This timely showing of solidarity affirms that the movement to protect land and water is international! NISGUA thanks its supporters for taking action and invites you to stand with us as we continue to demand respect for indigenous and campesino self-determination and accountability for state and corporate violence. Those defending their territory against the Escobal silver mine continue their work under heightened threats of repression.
In the early morning of July 21, the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) carried out a second violent attack on the peaceful encampment in Casillas. Community members have denounced the use of excessive force, citing four cases of pepper spray poisoning and at least three other injuries incurred during the clash with police. Tahoe Resources has a history of pressuring the Guatemalan government to use force to quell opposition and to repress peaceful protests. Read our full update here. NISGUA’s Guatemala team remains attentive to the situation; Please stay tuned for further updates and calls to action as we continue to stand with the people of Santa Rosa, Jalapa, and Jutiapa in denouncing criminalization, police violence, and any other form of repression against peaceful protest.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visits community members from Ixquisis

On August 2, community members from Ixquisis, a region in the northern Huehuetenango municipality of San Mateo Ixtatán, received a visit from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). In a meeting held outside local government offices, approximately 50 of the 300 community members present shared their testimony with IACHR representatives, many in their native Mayan language. They spoke about human rights violations provoked by the construction of a series of hydroelectric dams owned by the company Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos, Sociedad Anónima (PDH, SA). Despite a 2009 referendum in which the municipality overwhelmingly rejected large-scale development projects in the region, construction began in 2011. Since then, community members in opposition to the project have faced stigmatization, criminalization, threats, and physical violence. Last January, 72-year-old Sebastián Alonso Juan was shot and killed during a peaceful demonstration against one of the dams by what witnesses claim may have been national and private security forces.  Despite local and international pressure, an investigation into his murder has yet to go forward.
Although leaders welcomed the IACHR delegation and the opportunity to share their stories, many reserved their evaluation of the visit until seeing what impact it would have on their daily lives in a context of constant violence and threats, urging IACHR members to take concrete steps to address the violent imposition of the project in their region. One community member said, “Today, we are pleading with you to listen to our requests. We have never gone looking for foreigners in their territories, but they come here looking for ours. I have never known a Guatemalan who has harmed the rivers in their countries. We hope that you take us seriously and the time that we have taken away from our fields to be here today.” The visit was part of a week-long IACHR delegation focused on human rights, justice, citizen security, inequality, discrimination, the legacy of the armed conflict, and freedom of expression. Click here to read their preliminary report in Spanish.

From the exhibit:
Survivors from Yulaurel,
a small community in northern Huehuetenango, receive copies of the 2013 verdict that convicted Ríos Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Photo: Roderico Y. Díaz


Bay area event calls for reflection on building mutual solidarity with local indigenous communities

NISGUA's Oakland office sits on occupied Chochenyo Ohlone/Confederated Villages of Lisjan territories. In our solidarity work, we are committed to centering the leadership of indigenous and campesino communities here in Oakland as well as in Guatemala, and we often ask ourselves, "What is the best way to be allies and accomplices in the U.S.? How do we honor the communities on whose lands we are guests?" We were blessed with reflections on these questions at a recent event, "Living on Ohlone Land: Indigenous Women Leaders Discuss Building Reciprocity with Local Indigenous Communities."  As we work to deepen our organizational commitment to racial justice, we invite you to join us in reflecting on building mutual solidarity with local indigenous communities by watching a recording of the event.

Join NISGUA in San Rafael for CALDH photo exhibit and report-back from our spring delegation!

Together with the Marin Task Force on the Americas, NISGUA invites Bay Area friends and family to attend a report-back from our spring delegation, "Women and the Work of Liberation," which explored the visionary work of women-led movements for justice, dignity, and self-determination. The report-back will be held on August 24 at the Community Media Center of Marin and will be accompanied by a photo exhibit curated by the Guatemala-based Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH). Entitled "Defending Truth and Memory: the Path Toward Justice," the exhibit documents ongoing struggles of survivors to preserve historical memory while demanding accountability for state violence. For more details or to RSVP, follow the event on Facebook, and stay tuned for information on
We're in this for the long haul.
At the center of each of our Solidarity Updates are people facing real risks for speaking out against impunity, state and corporate violence, and working towards justice. We provide international accompaniment and/or advocacy support to all of the organizations and individuals that we write about, as one attempt to dissuade further attacks human rights defenders face for speaking out.

Make a donation to NISGUA today to help answer the calls of our partners for ongoing accompaniment support and much needed advocacy on the long road to justice.
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