I recently began a two-month summer term as a cooperant with Lawyers Without Borders Canada. In this role I will supporting a well known- and well worked- human rights lawyer in Guatemala. Many of his cases involve representing particular victims that are either directly impacted by a human rights violation, or are the family members of disappeared people who are seeking justice both for themselves and on behalf of the memory of their missing loved one(s). Dos Erres is a prime example of such a case.
My participation is one of the first steps in a (minimum) two year Lawyers Without Borders Canada project that, in different phases over these two years, will provide support to various Guatemalan actors working in strategic litigation in human rights cases.
The recent appointment of a new Attorney General in Guatemala has some people trying to predict whether movement in human rights cases will be halted, or moved forward with a new degree of transparency.
Regardless, the case of Dos Erres, which is set to go to trial in Guatemala in the coming weeks, appears to have movement that can hopefully not be stopped. As it moves into the next level, lawyers and human rights groups here in Guatemala are organizing to be prepared – and present – for the next stage.
Dos Erres, a tragic but not uncommon story in Guatemala, is actually the name of the town where, in 1982, a massacre that claimed the lives of children, women and men took place. Called together sometime at dawn, by some accounts to pledge allegiance to the flag, each person present was subsequently tortured and murdered. The soldiers were adhering to the counter-insurgency plan implemented through a conscientious top down approach, known as Plan Victoria 1982. Not one person out of the seventeen identified as responsible for these human rights violations has been convicted despite the testimonies of two former officers, a survivor and many family members.
In fact, the case has been held up in legal hostage since 1999 through an excessive use of special injunctions known as amparos. However, in January 2010, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights sought to remedy that situation by holding that, among other things, excessive use of amparos could not be justified, and that the Guatemala court system must proceed with the case. The Inter-American court, in its eighty plus page judgment, also declared that amnesty for the soldiers involved in such crimes against humanity could not be granted and that prescription, because the property of those massacred was also seized illegally, could not apply as against the victims or families of those massacred in Dos Erres. Dos Erres appears to be moving beyond its primary investigation stage.
Given the rapid developments in this case, it is hard to predict exactly how my role might evolve over the next six weeks. However, as the clock ticks and we get closer to the deadline for the next hearing Dos Erres is on the radar. Stay posted for the answer to the following questions, and more:
Will the judges respect the outcome of the Inter-American Court and disallow any further amparos that would impede the process? Will the other ex-military identified and for whom arrest warrants have been issued also be brought in?
In the end, one can only hope that the judges are ready to seriously confront the impunity that has plagued this case for over fifteen years since the initial complaint, and 28 years since the massacre took place.