Sunday, September 13, 2009

Guatemalan Court Sets Precendent in the Case of Israel Carías

ZACAPA, GUATEMALA—June 22, 2009, was an historic day for the family of Israel Carías Ortiz, and for the people of Guatemala. The Sentencing Tribunal in Zacapa, Guatemala found two men guilty of the 2007 murder of Ortiz and his two sons Ledwin Anilson (age 9) and Ronald Aroldo (age 11).

The precedent-setting sentence recognizes Carías was killed because of his leadership in the struggle to reassert legal rights to community land, and mandates an investigation into the planning or 'intellectual authorship' of the murder: the finqueros (large land-owners) presumably responsible for contracting the assassins to protect their interests.

In Guatemala, this sentence is referred to as 'dejar abierto,' meaning that though there was a verdict, the judges do not consider the crime resolved. However, due to many obstacles impeding justice in Guatemala, action to persecute intellectual authors remains extremely difficult.

The ruling has implications in establishing guilt for human rights crimes of the past, especially those committed during the 36-year internal armed conflict, over 99 per cent of which, according to the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala (ODHAG), remain in impunity. For the first time, a Guatemalan court established that guilt in attacks against human rights defenders goes beyond the actual perpetrators. Those responsible for orchestrating the attacks must be identified and held accountable for conceiving and financing the crime.