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At UN, Menchu Laments Rios Montt Impunity, Garzon Case, Free Press Letter Lost

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, April 20 -- The UN has a Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, but General Efrain Rios Montt still roams free in that country. On Tuesday in New York, Inner City Press asked Rigoberta Menchu if she thought Rios Montt would ever be brought to justice, and perhaps relatedly, what she thinks of the case in Spain against Judge Balthasar Garzon. Video here, at end.

Rigoberto Menchu said she doubted Rios Montt could be put on trial in Guatemala, at least not during her lifetime. She praised Garzon for pursuing the case, and said that the charges against him are probably political, noting that he also looked into the Spanish Civil War and aftermath. She lamented the changes in Spanish law that henceforth only cases involving Spanish victims, and perpetrators living in Spain, can be tried. So much for universal jurisdiction.

  The Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala has a more limited mandate, and his involved going after the killers of bus drivers. Recently, however, it led the investigation into the national police chief, and identified the alleged killers of Victor Rivera, a Venezuelan security advisor killed in May 2008.

  Carlos Castresana, the Commissioner of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), led the press conference, and described his role in the Victor Rivera and Baltazar Gomez cases.

  Inner City Press' research found that the UN Development Program paid not only for his and Ms. Menchu's travel, but for a large delegation of current and past Guatemalan government and other officials.

Ms. Menchu at UN in 2005; Rios Montt still free

  Inner City Press asked Eduardo Stein, former Vice-President of Guatemala, if UNDP had paid for his travel. He launched into a justification of how much the delegation could teach as well as learn. Ms. Menchu, to her credit, chimed in on the follow up and said that if another organization could be found to pay for the tickets, let it step forward.

  Gonzalo Marroquin, Vice-President of Inter-American Press Association, was asked about attacks on Guatemalan journalists and about a letter he wrote to the UN's Ban Ki-moon about the crack down on press freedom in Venezuela. Last week, Ban's spokesman Martin Nesiry merely confirmed receipt of the letter, but said to ask UNESCO for any response.

  One wondered, has Ban Ki-moon outsourced press freedom to UNESCO, and human rights elsewhere? Is the idea or effect that people and organizations should stop writing him letters and petitions on these topics?

UNESCO, it emerges, has never heard of the letter. Something is wrong at and with the UN. But keep those cards and letters coming!

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As Guatemalan President Admits Mining Abuse, Goldcorp Challenged, on Laws, of Wiretapping

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, February 17 -- Abuse by mining firms of rural Guatemala, particularly indigenous communities, has become systemic. Even President Alvaro Colom, when asked Wednesday by Inner City Press at the UN about the abuses had to admit that the current law "is not suitable." Video here, from Minute 18:32.

Inner City Press asked President Colom whether his government will respect the decision of several communities to be "mine free." Colom replied that "with respect to mines and the mining law, promoted in 1997, honestly, it's a bad law... Not only when it comes to royalties [but also] environment and natural resources [and] the rights of indigenous people to give their opinion."

Guatemala is a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People, and Colom says his government will abide by it. He said he has not issued a single new mining license. The former government, he said, did authorize many, some of which have been frozen.

  But not enough. In late 2009, for example, Maudilia Lopez Cardona and Carmen Mejia Aguilar on behalf of the residents of San Miguel Ixtahuacan, a municipality in southwestern Guatemala traveled to Canada to file a complaint with the government against Goldcorp.

They documented that Goldcorp's "Marlin mine contaminated water supplies and damaged homes while the company harassed protesters." The complaint was submitted under Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) guidelines for multinational firms. We'll see.

President Colom, pointing finger (elsewhere) at UN

 President Colom also spoke, with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and then the Press, about the UN affiliated International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. Inner City Press previously interviewed the head of CICIG Carlos Castresana on such topics as his prosecution of the murders of bus drivers and his advocacy for a wiretapping law.

President Colom on Wednesday, when Inner City Press asked about the rejection of the Commission's recommendation that three "corrupt" judges not be put on the Supreme Court, cited the Commission's work on the wiretapping law, as well as on an updated arms and munitions law. He said he did not intervene in the placing of the three judges on the court due to separation of powers. "If we don't want impunity, we have to respect the division of powers," he said. Again, we'll see.

 Click here for an Inner City Press YouTube channel video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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