By: Sabrina Jeria, a cooperant with the Rabinal Community Legal Clinic
Ongoing Threats to the Struggle for Justice
Almost every day, a new headline demonstrates the ongoing dismantling of the rule of law and the erosion of Guatemala’s justice mechanisms. Threats have forced judges into exile. Prosecutors and lawyers face criminal charges for prosecuting corruption. Stall tactics delay trial proceedings, while survivors continue to call for justice. These updates indicate that Guatemala is clearly backsliding on human rights.
Yet in the face of this increasing repression, la lucha sigue (the struggle continues) at the Rabinal Community Legal Clinic (ABJP). Every day at the office, I witness my colleagues’ profound courage, drive, and resilience. Against all odds, they forge ahead to support communities who have fought for justice for decades.
The ABJP Continues to Work for Justice in Vecinos Case
One case that I’ve helped with during my time here is the Vecinos de las Comunidades del Pueblo Maya Achi en Rabinal (Residents of the Maya Achi Communities in Rabinal). The case represents more than 360 victims of human rights violations committed by the State between 1980 and 1983.
After all domestic remedies were exhausted, the ABJP presented a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in 2008. The IAHCR ruled the case admissible in 2021, thanks to the ABJP’s tireless efforts. The pursuit of truth and justice in the courts is no easy feat. It involves a years-long process to compile credible evidence, gather testimonies, prepare witnesses, etc. Nonetheless, through this case, I’ve seen just how challenging it is to navigate national and international legal systems.
I’m currently researching regional case law to strengthen and develop legal arguments to support the Vecinos case. I’m also reading and re-reading the facts presented to the IACHR, along with volumes of heart-wrenching testimonies, to compile a list of victims, organized by the crime committed against them: enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, forced displacement, and sexual violence. This work involves cross-checking facts to ensure we haven’t missed any victims and confirming that the facts presented in the case align with the Commission’s definitions of these crimes. I also work to update the case files. As time passes, survivors may pass away, while new exhumations or forensic evidence may reveal the identity of victims. Thus, those considered disappeared must be recategorized as extrajudicially executed. These updates ensure that the IACHR will take all the evidence into account.
While these efforts to achieve transitional justice for the atrocities committed against these communities will continue at the ABJP long after my placement ends, I’m grateful to be able to provide my support and solidarity to this important case. My hope is that these communities will soon receive the truth, justice, and reparations for which they have waited decades.