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Internationally Guatemala is known for its harsh treatment of journalists by the state a status it is not shy to prove again and again. Only a week ago, on June 14 the Guatemalan state made this clear by convicting the journalist and founder of the independent El Periódico news outlet, José Rubén Zamora, for alleged money laundering-- a prison sentence of 6 years and a payment of Q300,000 quetzales, roughly $38,000 USD. The recent conviction is not only a harsh punishment for a likely innocent journalist but is a strong blow against free and independent reporting.

In the case Zamora was accused of money laundering in cooperation with the former prosecutor of FECI, Samari Gómez. Unlike Zamora, Gómez was found innocent and released due to a lack of evidence. The process is led by the country's Public Prosecutor's Office in cooperation with the Foundation Against Terrorism and is permeated with irregularities. Due to pressure by the prosecutors, Zamora was forced to repeatedly change his legal defense and was represented by nine different lawyers; four of them were prosecuted and imprisoned, and two had to leave the country. 

Throughout the trial, El Periódico reported on the ongoing irregularities and questioned the judges and Public Prosecutor's Office's independence. To crack down on this brave reporting, the Public Prosecutor's Office initiated investigations against nine journalists and columnists, accusing them of "obstructing justice." This ongoing chicanery and persecution forced El Periódico to shut down. 

International organizations consider the conviction of Zamora a severe blow to democracy and free speech, a critique the Guatemalan government will most likely let bounce off. The last request by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for a working visit to ensure the wellbeing of Zamora was denied.

IRTF condemns the politically motivated persecution of journalists and crackdown on opposing attorneys, judges and prosecutors. We stand in solidarity with Zamora and his staff and demand their immediate release.     

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Many of us in Cleveland had the opportunity to meet water defender Reynaldo Domínguez when he spoke at our Liberation Lab on April 22, 2023. We are sad to report that his brother,  environmental defender Oqueli Domínguez, was brutally killed last week.

On Thursday June 15, Oqueli  was shot by an unidentified gunmen from a motorcycle in front of his family home in Tocoa, northern Honduras. For years the Domínguez family and other environmentalists have been in the crosshair of corporate violence for their activism. Just 6 months ago, in January of 2023, Aly Domínguez, Reynaldo's other brother, and Jairo Bonilla were   killed on their way from from La Concepción and Guapinol. 

So far the local police have not commented on the case, but Reynaldo has stated that the police are trying to frame the attack as a robbery. Reynaldo opposes this downplaying of a most likely politically motivated assassination, saying that the family has nothing of value in their house and pointed at the fact that Oqueli was targeted directly, and separated from his family. Oqueli, together with Reynaldo, his brother Aly and Jairo Bonilla were active in the opposition to an iron oxide mine in the Carlos Escaleras National Park. Together with local environmental groups, the activists have protested the legality of the mining project as well as the damage it will do to the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers.

Honduras is known for being the most dangerous country for environmental defenders, as it provides massive power to corporations and a justice system in which impunity prevails. To find a solution for the ongoing conflict, experts of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have met with authorities as well as activists. In its final report, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has articulated its deep concerns about the fact that environmental defenders are a common target of violence. So far eight environmental defenders have been killed in 2023 alone. 

As IRTF we deeply condemn the killing of Oqueli and the ongoing attacks on activists around Honduras. We also want to offer our condolences to Reynaldo and the all other members of the the Domínguez family. 

For more information on the case, read our RRN Letter: Honduras 6/15/2023

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As the state of emergency in El Salvador ages, it gets more and more international attention. Now, on May 22 2023, the human rights office of the United Nations released an assessment on the ongoing human rights violations in the country. In a press release, experts commissioned by the United Nations stated their concerns over these violations and called on the Salvadoran state to immediately lift the state of emergency, which was established over a year ago, ostensibly to fight gang crime. The UN's experts stated in their release that "Despite its obligation to protect citizens from such atrocious acts [like mass shootings], the government cannot trample on fair trial rights in the name of public safety.” The experts urged the Salvadoran authorities to set an end to arrests merely based on suspicion and demanded that detainees are granted fundamental safeguards required by international human rights law. According to the Executive Decree No. 719, the Salvadoran state has arrested more than 67,000 individuals as of March 2023, with more than 1,600 being minors (data Sep. 2022). Most of the arrests made by the Salvadoran police are random pick-ups based on appearance, without issued warrants. In their statement, the experts also demanded an end to the mass hearings in which up to 500 individuals are sentenced to imprisonment or pre-trial detention without valid legal defense. According to the experts, these “mass hearings and trials – often conducted virtually – undermine the exercise of the right to defense and the presumption of innocence of detainees.” These mass initial hearings severely affect thousands of families economically as they have to cover defense costs in addition to the price of living with one or more working family member missing. The experts say that, “these measures threaten to criminalize people who happen to live in the most impoverished areas and who have themselves been targeted by gangs in the past.” 

The experts and UN are already in contact with authorities about their human rights concerns, but a policy change is very unlikely.

We as IRTF welcome the UN's statement but don't share the illusions that President Bukele, who calls himself "the coolest dictator in the world," will be impressed by the UN's opinion, let alone make policy changes. 

IRTF stands in solidarity with those unlawfully imprisoned and oppressed by the Bukele Government.

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Colombia is in an age of upheaval. After decades of practical impunity for war criminals in the country, the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) war tribunal was established in an effort to work up the past, bring those involved to justice, and provide reparations for the victims of the atrocities comitted by paramilitaries and the Colombian state. 

One case investigated by the JEP is the assassination of two union leaders at the US mining company Drummond. In this case the Colombian executive of Drummond, Jose Miguel Linares as well as his predecessor Augusto Jimenez, are on trial for the funding of an illegal terrorist group and the killing of the two union leaders. So far the charges against the two executives are conspiracy. In the tribunal Miguel Linares and Jimenez are accused of have hired the the Northern Bloc of the right wing United Self-Defense Forcesmj of Colombia (AUC) to provide "security" for a Drummond mining operation in Cesar Department. 

The  Colombian state's key witness in the case is the former food provider Jaime Blanco. Blanco, who was sentenced to 38 years in prison in 2013 for his involvement in the killing of the two union leaders, has been cooperating with the JEP war crime tribunal since 2019. In his testimony, Blanco accuses Drummond of the artificial inflation of food contracts between 1996 and 2001 as a means to pay the AUC, and clarified further financial, and cooperative relations between Drummond and AUC. Drummond has denied all alligation. 

While preparing the trieal, the JEP received a number of confidential testimonies. The two defendants' attorneys have requested to see the testimonies; that was rejected by the court. In a press release, the defense claimed that the trial is built on false testimonies "of convicted criminals who received payments for their testimony."

We at IRTF strongly support the JEP tribunal as an effort to bring  forward the truth and those guilty to justice. It is important, and long overdue, that the history of impunity in the country comes to an end and those who financed paramilitaries are held accountable for their complicity. We hope that Linares and Jimenez will be sentenced according to their crimes and reparations will be served for the bereaved of the victims. We also hope that the tribunal will fully resolve the case by bringing possible accomplices to justice. Crimes like these assassinations have to be investigated and solved if Colombia ever wants to find peace.      

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Time and time again, journalists are victims of violence and repression in many Central American counties. In an effort to cut the freedom of the press, governments all over the continent have implemented laws to persecute critical media and shut down news outlets, as well as obstructing access to public information and stigmatizing individuals and outlets. But this repression is only one side of the sword. In many countries journalists and reporters are targets of threats, cyber attacks and even assassinations. This constant harassment and fear of being the next one killed or imprisoned has caused many to go into exile. 

In Honduras four reporters have been killed since the beginning of 2022, a trend that has been going on for decades. Between 2001 and today 98 killings of journalists were recorded. Such violent attacks and killings usually remain without any sentence or even conviction in Honduras, a fact criticized by many. The director of the Committee for Free Expression calls this lack of punishment "enormous impunity," and the Honduras National Human Rights Commission sees the media as a victim of "extreme violence." Besides the direct violence against journalists, the state threatens the freedom of expression with laws targeting reporters, journalists and news outlets. 

The exiling of reporters takes its most excessive form in Nicaragua, where nearly 200 journalists and reporters and others have gone into exile, 23 of whom were even stripped of their citizenship. As a legal rationalization, the Nicaraguan government declared these 23 individuals as traitors to the nation. In addition to the oppression of individual people, Nicaraguan authorities have taken over the daily La Prensa, the channel 100% Noticias, the two digital magazines Confidencial and Niu, and the television programs Esta Semana and Esta Noche. 

In Guatemala, criminal persecution is the most serious threat to the free press. In that country many journalists, reporters and other media personal have been jailed. Since President Alejandro Giammattei took office in January 2020, 12 journalists and reporters critical of him have gone into exile. 

In El Salvador violence against media personnel is a regularity.According to the  Association of Journalists of El Salvador (APES), 611 cases of aggression against reporters and Journalists have been recorded since the election of President Nayib Bukele in 2019. Legal reforms in the country hindering reporters and journalists in their work have led the news outlet El Faro to move to Costa Rica in mid-April. Again and again repression has  caused reporters to leave the country.  Eleven individuals were forced to exit the country and 30 were spied on with the Pegasus software, provided by Israel. Between 2021 and 2022 the government has closed down three radio stations. 

Another country cutting freedom of  the press is Panama. Here the state regularly abuses its oppressive legal system against critics. Anti-slander, and personal data protection laws are being used by authorities to set up civil and criminal lawsuits against media outlets like La Pensa daily and the digital media site Foco. The fear of being sued, and charged with millions in fines or even prison time, leads to a climate of self-censorship within the media spectrum. 

Compared to the other countries mentioned above, Costa Rica is a relatively safe harbor. In the country no journalists are reported jailed or persecuted. But even here three critical media outlets were verbally attacked by government officials.

Though these grievances have been going on for decades, the situation hasn't improved. It is important that journalists, reporters and news outlets are able to do their work safely and without having to fear persecution. We call on all Central American nations to ensure a free press and freedom of speech.         


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to IRTF’s May 2023 newsletter on Migrant Justice and the current situation at the US-Mexico border! After you’ve looked through the articles, we hope you can take a couple of minutes to see the TAKE ACTION items at the bottom. The articles in this email version are abbreviated.

In this newsletter, please read about 1. Immigration Court in Cleveland, OH; 2. ICE Air Flights: Update on Removal Flight Trends; 3 .Labor Exploitation of Unaccompanied Minors: Congress is slow to act ; 4. New Protections for Immigrant Workers; 5. At the Border: Recent Incidents at and around the US-Mexico Border; 6. Effects of the end of T42 and DHS new plans for processing migrants. To read the full newsletter, see .


Here is what you can do to take action this week and act in solidarity with migrants and their families.

Tell Senator Sherrod Brown to take his name off Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s anti-asylum bill!

Bring Home Immigrants who’ve been deported from Ohio. 

Tell Congress to Protect Dreamers

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Right-wing death squads worked side by side with the country’s business, military and political elite to sow terror in the countryside and wipe out left-wing insurgencies.  Now on trial, a formed high-ranking paramilitary commander testifies that paramilitaries regularly took orders from state institutions as it became the state military's unofficial arm to fight the left-wing revolutionary forces. 

The armed conflict has been waged in Colombia for the past six decades.   The main actors in the armed struggle that has cost the lives of at least 450,000 people and displaced millions are: 1) left wing revolutionary forces (FARC, ELN), 2) Colombia's official military, and 3) paramilitaries (such as United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia , or AUC). Originally the AUC was founded as an effort to protect land owners  but turned into one of Colombia's most powerful drug cartels with a military force of 20,000 combatants in its height. In 2004 a controversial deal between the AUC and the Colombian government led to a large majority of fighters laying down their weapons and later the beginning of a process of prosecution of military leaders.

One of these high ranking AUC leaders now facing legal prosecution is Salvatore Mancuso, drug offender and former second in command of the AUC. In 2008 Mancuso was first arrested on drugs charges in the USA in 2008 and released in 2020. Today Mancuso is charged again by a Colombian court for his role in the Colombian civil war. Mancuso, in an effort to reduce his sentence, has agreed to give a testimony in the ongoing peace tribunal for the crimes committed by AUC forces during the their time of terror.

In his testimony Mancuso has revealed information on many of the crimes committed, as well as government and the AUC cooperation during the civil war. According to Mancuso's testimony, the AUC worked hand in hand with the Colombian business, political and military elite for years in an effort to wipe out leftist groups no matter if civilian or militant. Mancuso stated that over the years, the AUC regularly took orders from state institutions as it became the state military's unofficial arm to fight the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). During its most active years, the AUC committed hundreds of atrocities, including a number of massacres of civilians, torture, rape and kidnapping by order of the state. In the hearing, Mancuso admitted organizing thousands of crimes, including the killing of TV-comedian and activist Jaime Garzon in 1998, attacks on civilian communities, and an assassination attempt on Gustavo Petro, who was then a left-wing congressman and now the country’s president. During his time as second in command, Mancuso was deeply involved with corporate enterprises and Colombian politics.  At his height in 2004, Mancuso even gave a speech in the Colombian parliament which was applauded with standing ovations. But this high regard  didn't come out of nowhere. One year earlier in 2003, AUC forces killed Eudaldo Díaz, the mayor of El Roble; according to Mancuso, the assassination was ordered by the government. Shortly prior to this, Álvaro Uribe (then president of Colombia) removed security detail from the mayor, a move that allowed AUC mercenaries to attack, torture and eventually kill him.

Mancuso additionally stated in his testimony that former vice-president Francisco Santos requested the formation of a new AUC unit around the city of Bogotá to stop left-wing rebels from reaching the capital. Both Uribe and Santos deny the accusations made by Mancuso.

In his testimony Mancuso also talked about the financing, training and equipping of the AUC paramilitaries and the strategic cooperation with the Colombian military.  According to this, AUC forces were financed by international corporations like Coke and Drummond during the 1990s. Like Uribe and Santos, all companies deny these alligations. Mancuso avowed that AUC fighters were trained and equipped by the state military, as well as admitting the planning of two-front-offensives together.  Many of these offensives and attacks by AUC ended in massacres, which were regularly wiped under the carpet thanks to state attorneys warning the AUC about upcoming investigations, so bodies could be burned.

Mancuso has 30 days to present evidence for his accusations, which could lead to investigations into some of Colombia's most important political figures. Additionally these investigations could advance the search for truth and the goal of providing reparations for the victims. 

Today AUC lives on in a number of splinter groups and drug cartels and still bring terror over the country. The largest still active splinter group is the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo), Colombia's largest drug cartel.

In our eyes this struggle for justice is far from resolved but as unsettling as these allegations are, it does not come unexpected. We hope that this testimony will shed some light onto the dark web of war and violence. It is also important that Mancuso's testimony does not put him into a state of impunity. He should be duly punished for his human rights crimes.