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Justicia a prueba en Guatemala: el caso Ríos Montt
Justicia a prueba en Guatemala: el caso Ríos Montt
Undocumented Migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America
Undocumented Migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America
Report 50 / Latin America & Caribbean

Justicia a prueba en Guatemala: el caso Ríos Montt

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Resumen ejecutivo

En un lapso de diez días los tribunales guatemaltecos hicieron y deshicieron la historia legal del país. El juicio del ex dictador José Efraín Ríos Montt, así como la condena impuesta el 10 de mayo de 2013 por genocidio y otras violaciones a los derechos humanos fue un logro extraordinario para un sistema de justicia que debe lidiar de manera simultánea con el legado de un atroz conflicto interno y las aflicciones contemporáneas de la violencia de pandillas, la corrupción y el tráfico ilícito de drogas. Sin embargo las víctimas apenas habían terminado de celebrar cuando la Corte Con­sti­tucional anuló la sentencia, en una decisión confusa que planteó dudas sobre si hubo intervención externa. La impunidad generalizada de la violencia del pasado y del presente tiene un efecto corrosivo sobre la democracia del país. No reanudar el juicio en contra de Ríos Montt por atrocidades masivas y no buscar la justicia para las víctimas de crímenes violentos debilitaría el escaso progreso alcanzado en el Estado de Derecho, incluyendo un poder judicial fuerte e independiente.

El caso en contra de Ríos Montt y del ex director de inteligencia militar José Mau­ricio Rodríguez Sánchez ha sido enviado a un nuevo tribunal, aunque los desafíos legales hacen que su reanudación sea algo incierta. Si es que el proceso se reanuda, los nuevos jueces tendrán que escuchar otra vez los testimonios concernientes a las masacres, violaciones, torturas y desplazamientos forzados de las comunidades Maya-Ixil en 1982 y 1983, cuando Ríos Montt era el presidente de facto. Los fiscales acusaron a los dos generales retirados por genocidio y violaciones al derecho internacional humanitario, argumentando que eligieron exterminar al pueblo Ixil con el objetivo de privar a las guerrillas de apoyo. Aunque el tribunal condenó a Ríos Montt, absolvió a su coacusado. Gracias a décadas de trabajo por parte de organizaciones de víctimas, investigadores de los derechos humanos y antropólogos forenses, los fiscales pudieron hacer uso de una gran cantidad de pruebas orales, documentales y físicas. Una fiscal general con antecedentes de trabajo en derechos humanos, Claudia Paz y Paz, insistió en avanzar con el caso, junto con otros juicios de alto perfil tanto de ex funcionarios de gobierno como de miembros de la delincuencia organizada. La Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG), auspiciada por las Naciones Unidas, ayudó a diseñar la creación de la corte de alto riesgo que asumió el caso, proporcionando jueces debidamente entrenados y previamente evaluados, con seguridad adicional.

El resultado fue un juicio público, en gran medida ejemplar, que incluyó el testimonio de más de 100 víctimas y expertos, sujetos al interrogatorio de ambas partes. Las imágenes transmitidas en televisión nacional del ex-dictador encarando a los testigos de una de las comunidades indígenas más pobres, demostró claramente el principio de que todos los ciudadanos son iguales ante la ley.

Pero lo que pasó dentro de la corte sólo fue una parte de la historia. Los abogados defensores presentaron más de una docena de peticiones para retrasar o descarrilar el proceso. La Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos ha advertido en repetidas ocasiones que las acciones de amparo son utilizadas en Guatemala para obstruir la justicia en casos de derechos humanos y otros casos de alto perfil, alimentando la percepción de que la justicia está a la venta y haciendo que las víctimas sean menos propensas a cooperar con las autoridades.

A medida que el juicio llegaba a su fin, poderosos grupos de interés intensificaron sus campañas en contra del proceso. Una fundación “anti-terrorista” liderada por militares veteranos acusó en los medios de comunicación a los defensores de los derechos humanos de ser colaboradores de la guerrilla. Los gremios empresariales advirtieron que el juicio estaba fomentando la polarización e, inmediatamente después de que se anunciara la condena, pidió a la Corte Constitucional que anulara la sentencia. El presidente Otto Pérez Molina, un general retirado, manifestó su opinión en repetidas ocasiones diciendo que los militares nunca cometieron actos de genocidio, aunque prometió respetar el proceso judicial.

A muchos les pareció que los jueces estaban respondiendo a la presión política cuando el 20 de mayo la Corte Constitucional obvió el camino del proceso de apelación y anuló la sentencia dando una explicación poco clara. Aún cuando la corte canceló técnicamente sólo parte del juicio, su decisión obligó a que el tribunal original se abstuviera de seguir conociéndolo, por lo que fue necesario enviar el caso a un nuevo tribunal.

Ahora se debe permitir a estos nuevos jueces trabajar sin interferencia, examinando cuidadosamente tanto los argumentos de los acusadores como los de la defensa. Incluso si Ríos Montt autorizó procedimientos sumarios militares como dictador, tiene el derecho a un juicio justo, como todas las personas acusadas bajo gobiernos democráticos. Pero las víctimas también tienen derechos. El pueblo Ixil ya ha esperado 30 años para tener justicia. ¿Podrá un nuevo tribunal llegar a una decisión final basada en la evidencia? ¿O es que el proceso se prolongará y el juicio terminará una vez más en la confusión y la controversia, dejando en duda la capacidad guatemalteca para enjuiciar a acusados poderosos? Cualquiera sea la respuesta, enviará un mensaje poderoso sobre el Estado de Derecho en un país en donde la democracia sigue siendo frágil.

El sistema judicial de Guatemala enfrentará otra prueba en 2014, cuando comience el proceso de nominación de los candidatos para una nueva Corte Suprema y otros tribunales de apelación y se escoja a un nuevo fiscal general o le extienda a Paz y Paz un período adicional. Las autoridades políticas deben actuar de manera urgente para asegurar que los candidatos sean seleccionados por sus méritos, dentro de un proceso transparente que realce el prestigio y la independencia de los jueces. Está en juego la capacidad de lidiar no sólo con los abusos del pasado, sino también con la delincuencia y la corrupción que amenazan la democracia hoy en día.

Ciudad de Guatemala/Bogotá/Bruselas, 23 de septiembre de 2013

Undocumented Migration from the Northern Triangle of Central America

The northward flow of undocumented migrants fleeing economic hardship and violence in the Northern Triangle of Central America exposes thousands of vulnerable people to mass victimisation. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to continue to pursue an approach grounded in supporting community violence prevention, institutional reform and poverty alleviation in the countries of origin while supporting transiting countries in managing the flow.

This commentary is part of our Watch List 2017 – Third Update.

Flows of undocumented migrants from Central America, through Mexico and toward the U.S. have given rise to a humanitarian emergency, albeit one that at present is largely treated by Washington as a national security menace and a justification for tougher border control. Originally driven by economic hardship, this northbound migration owes its intensity and longevity to multiple causes that make controlling or reducing it extremely hard. Mass victimisation of vulnerable migrants in transit has become the norm and could well be aggravated by Washington’s growing anti-immigration agenda. In this context, the European Union (EU) should adapt its current strategies in Central America to promote a more comprehensive approach to the protection of migrants.

Humanitarian impact

The flow of migrants from the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – to the U.S. has become as much a flight from life-endangering violence as a search for economic opportunity. Surveys of migrants and refugees carried out by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Mexico showed 39.2 per cent cite attacks or threats to themselves or their families, extortion or forced recruitment into gangs as the main reasons for their flight.

Once on their journey north, undocumented migrants must chart a perilous path between the dual threats of law enforcement and criminal groups. Crisis Group’s 2016 report (Easy Prey: Criminal Violence and Central American Migration, 28 July 2016) describes how toughened law enforcement has diverted undocumented migration into more costly, circuitous and dangerous channels, where criminal gangs and corrupt officials benefit from policies that lead desperate people to pay increasing sums to avoid detention.

In the process, undocumented migrants are exposed to kidnappings, human trafficking, enforced disappearances, sexual violence, robbery and extortion. The most egregious cases include the 2010 and 2011 San Fernando massacres, in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, in which 265 migrants, most of them Central American, were killed by the Zetas drug trafficking cartel. Stuck in a legal limbo, migrants are doubly victimised: fearful of authorities, they are highly unlikely to report the crimes they suffer or gain access to medical care should they need it.

MSF has described undocumented migrants’ plight as “comparable to the conditions in conflict zones”. Two thirds of migrants reported being victims of violence during their transit toward the U.S.; nearly one third of women surveyed said they had been sexually abused during the journey. Among the migrants exposed to these risks are some of the most vulnerable groups in Central American society. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that asylum requests by unaccompanied NTCA minors in Mexico increased 416 per cent from 2013 to 2016.

U.S. policies

Fear of undocumented migration to the U.S. increasingly dominates political debate in that country. Although former President Obama stepped up border controls and continued a vigorous deportation policy – returning over five million people in total – his administration also welcomed legal migrants, acknowledged the humanitarian crisis posed by unaccompanied children arriving from Central America, and extended support to refugees around the world. President Trump, by contrast, was elected in part on a platform of clamping down on immigration, and some of his most influential supporters have made clear that their continued backing depends on implementation of stringent restrictive measures.

Undocumented entry into the U.S. already had become more difficult. 100,000 undocumented migrants made it into the U.S in 2016, compared to over 600,000 in 2006, according to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report.

Deepening Mexican collaboration with U.S. efforts to staunch the flow of Central Americans accounts for much of this reduction, and is likely to persist as Mexico strives to mitigate bilateral frictions with the Trump administration. In response to the 2014 crisis presented by migrant children arriving at the U.S. border, Mexican authorities boosted checkpoints, detentions and deportations of Northern Triangle nationals on its southern border with Guatemala. Mexico now deports more Central Americans than the U.S. (see graph).

Sources: Mexican Secretariat of Government http://politicamigratoria.gob.mx/es_mx/SEGOB/Boletines_Estadisticos and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) https://www.ice.gov/statistics

None of this has lessened the Trump administration’s determination to curb recent arrivals from Mexico and the Northern Triangle. The Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – which benefits some 200,000 migrants who came to the U.S. following hurricane Mitch in Honduras in 1998 and an earthquake in El Salvador in 2001 – is at risk of termination in 2018.

Likewise, on 5 September, President Trump rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, created by the Obama administration to defer deportation and provide work permits to 800,000 undocumented migrants who entered the U.S. as minors. President Trump suggested that Congress should use the six-month wind-down period before the DACA work permits expire to create a legislative framework for the program. But, under pressure from some of the administration’s staunchest supporters, the White House has made clear that it will only support such legislation if Congress also enacts tough new immigration measures. How the legislative process will play out is not yet clear.

Although overall deportations by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) are reported to have fallen slightly – they reached 211,068 as of 9 September 2017, three weeks before the end of the fiscal year, as compared to 240,255 in FY 2016 – arrests of undocumented migrants have risen by 43 per cent since Trump took office, as compared to the same period the year before. Most strikingly, the number of migrants without a criminal record being detained has increased threefold since 2016.

Mexican and Central American responses

An increase in deportations – driven by arrests of undocumented migrants and expiry of the TPS and DACA – would place further strains on troubled social conditions in the Northern Triangle. Although the region has relatively robust legal frameworks to protect refugees, with Mexico at the forefront of international refugee and migrant protection efforts, they frequently are unable to provide what they preach.

For instance, asylum in Mexico can be a prolonged process. Out of 8,788 requests, only 5,954 were resolved in 2016, 3,076 of which were granted. Asylum-seekers must file requests within 30 days of crossing the border, and are kept in detention if arrested before applying. Many give up because of the detention centers’ cramped and insalubrious conditions, or because they have no right to work while their requests are being considered.

Overall, the [Northern Triangle] countries are not adequately equipped to receive new deportees.

Overall, the NTCA countries are not adequately equipped to receive new deportees. El Salvador’s preparations to receive them are almost entirely restricted to the monitoring of suspected gang activities. The National Assembly’s security commission has agreed on measures to track returnees accused of being street-gang members: over 500 suspected gang members have been sent back so far in 2017 to El Salvador, where high rates of violent crime and reported cases of extrajudicial execution of gang members complicate prospects of a return to peaceful civilian life.

Capacities to provide legal counsel, shelter, social reintegration or even transportation for returnees across the Northern Triangle are scant. Proposed legislation in Guatemala to strengthen the state’s readiness to protect migrants has stalled because of that country’s political crisis. In Honduras, the number of departing refugees and arriving deportees is the highest in the NTCA, but its government is concentrating on the president’s re-election campaign and on activating its own protocols against deported gang members.

Recommendations to the European Union and its member states

The more U.S. concerns about security and the economic effects of mass migration continue to drive a restrictive immigration policy, the more important it will be – from both a humanitarian and regional stability perspective – for the U.S. and its partners to help generate economic opportunities, better governance and broader social protection south of the U.S. border. That was the logic behind the “Alliance for Prosperity”, which the Obama administration established jointly with the NTCA governments and pursuant to which some $1.3 billion have been allocated to Central America in the 2017 and 2018 federal budgets. Today, that logic is at risk. A June 2017 high-level summit in Miami on prosperity and security in the NTCA, heralded a far stronger emphasis on security issues at the expense of recognition of the humanitarian emergency related to undocumented migration.

While the European Union (EU)’s role is limited due to the U.S.’s overwhelming influence in the region, it nonetheless could strengthen humanitarian responses and press for a more informed, integral approach to the protection of migrants, especially women and children. Migration forms a significant part of the EU’s cooperation with Latin America. The 2015 EU-CELAC Action Plan as well as the 2014-2020 Multiannual Indicative Regional Programme for Latin America include migration management and the protection of migrant rights as action points. So far, the EU’s initiatives in this field have focused on Latin America as a whole. However, the evolving migration dynamics in the NTCA call for a more targeted response. The EU should adapt its priorities in Central America and promote migration policies that focus on the protection and integration of migrants.

Technical assistance and capacity-building support for the under-resourced Central American consulates situated on the migrant route through Mexico would help ensure better protection for those in transit.

The EU should support Mexican and Northern Triangle authorities in their efforts to strengthen oversight of security agencies and state institutions working on migrant issues. Technical assistance and capacity-building support for the under-resourced Central American consulates situated on the migrant route through Mexico would help ensure better protection for those in transit. The initiative MIgration EU eXpertise (MIEUX), a peer-to-peer experts’ facility that supports partner countries to better manage migration through tailor-made assistance, can be a useful platform and starting point for the exchange of expertise and best practices.

The EU could also boost technical support to expand refugee processing of NTCA nationals in neighbouring countries (mainly Belize and Costa Rica), particularly minors, and ensure regional governments and NGOs provide adequate shelter to those awaiting decisions. Financial and logistical support to neighbouring countries such as Panama and Costa Rica, as well as to other Latin American countries that agree to take a share of refugees, would help cushion the impact of increasingly forbidding U.S. immigration policies.

All in all, the EU should continue to pursue an approach to Central America grounded in supporting community violence prevention, institutional reform and poverty alleviation. Perhaps most urgently, it should assist the three Northern Triangle countries in developing new programs to help them reintegrate deportees, including through initiatives to help them access health care, training, employment and psychosocial support when necessary.