Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Guatemala: Maryknoll Affiliate targeted

Maryknoll Affiliate Claudia Samayoa and fellow Guatemalan Jose Martinez face false accusations of criminal behavior by the president of Guatemala's Supreme Court for speaking out against corruption and impunity. The following article was published in the July-August 2019 issue of NewsNotes.

Claudia Samayoa and José Martínez, Guatemalan citizens, have been targeted by their country’s Supreme Court for speaking out against corruption and impunity. Samayoa is President of the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) and member of the local chapter of the Maryknoll Affiliates in Guatemala. Jose Martínez is a member of the Justicia Ya collective. 

Ms. Samayoa told the Maryknoll Affiliates that she believes the charges by the Supreme Court are a direct response to the two human rights defenders' legal actions in defense of the Constitutional Court after it ruled against President Jimmy Morales’ decision to shut down the U.N.-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has been investigating crime and corruption since 2007. Morales accused CICIG of violating Guatemala's sovereignty, a claim U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres rejected. Since the Constitutional Court overruled Morales's decision, the CICIG has been able to resume its work. The CICIG has been instrumental in investigations leading to trials and convictions against human rights violators in the Civil War as high up as former president General Rios Montt.   

On January 9, the Supreme Court attempted to impeach three of the Constitutional Court judges who overruled President Morales. In defense of the Constitutional Court, Samayoa and Martínez filed a complaint against the Supreme Court calling for all eleven members to be stripped of immunity.  

Now, the President of the Guatemalan Supreme Court is accusing the two human rights defenders of illegally obtaining a court document and influence peddling. This is the latest move in a retreat from the rule of law and transparency in Guatemala. It is yet another attempt to silence individuals and institutions that seek to address corruption and impunity.

The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns rejects the criminalization of Claudia Samayoa and Jose Martínez for defending the constitutional rights of the people of Guatemala. Forty-five organizations sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging him to publicly raise concerns with the Republic of Guatemala over the criminalization of the two human rights defenders. 

“The criminalization of both defenders is yet another example of the targeted reprisals leveled against civil society organizations and human rights defenders that have mobilized against a series of attacks on Guatemala's democratic institutional framework,” the letter stated. “Among other worrying attempts to undermine democratic norms and the rule of law in Guatemala, the government has attacked institutions that have sought to root out impunity and corruption. The most recent efforts include delegitimizing the Constitutional Court judges and unilaterally canceling an agreement with the UN that had established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Since its inception in 2006, the CICIG has conducted many independent investigations leading to important judicial decisions to address impunity and corruption and strengthen the rule of law.”

The letter went to say, “As religious and civil society organizations committed to justice and human rights, we urge you to publicly speak out in defense of fundamental freedoms and human rights and to call on the Guatemalan government to:

  • End all acts of harassment, misuse of criminal law and criminalization against individuals, organizations, and communities that defend human rights in Guatemala, including Mrs. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera. In particular, we ask you to publicly call on the Public Ministry of Guatemala to dismiss the criminal complaint against both human rights defenders.
  • Adopt the most appropriate measures to guarantee the safety and physical and psychological integrity of Mrs. Samayoa Pineda and Mr. Martínez Cabrera and of all human rights defenders in Guatemala.
  • Protect, respect and guarantee the realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all regions of Guatemala, as well as the validity of a democratic State.

“This moment of grave threat to the human rights and lives of Ms. Claudia Virginia Samayoa Pineda and Mr. José Manuel Martínez Cabrera presents a critical opportunity to clarify that the U.S. government stands in defense of human rights, transparency, and democracy.”

Faith in action: Find instructions on how to send your own letter to Secretary of State Pompeo on behalf of these human rights defenders at http://bit.ly/GuatemalaAction

Images: Courtesy of Front Line Defenders, https://www.frontlinedefenders.org

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