Article by PBI-Canada
On January 11, the Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project posted: “Today PBI accompanied the Human Rights Law Firm at the 4th Criminal Sentencing Court to the hearing of testimonial statement as an advance of evidence in the Safe Home case. The hearing is suspended due to non-appearance of all the parties.”
In February 2019, 12 people were detained on charges of abuse of minors, breach of duties, abuse of authority, accidental injuries, and manslaughter. Among those charged were the Secretary and Sub-Secretary for Social Welfare at the time of the fire, the director of the Hogar Seguro shelter, and the police officer in charge on the day of the fire. Eight of them have been ordered to face trial for these crimes.
PBI-Guatemala has regularly accompanied BDH at these hearings including on December 14, July 1, February 17, and January 7, 8 and 9 of last year.
Forty-one girls, who were 14 to 17 years of age, died as a result of a fire at the state-run Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asuncion shelter south-east of Guatemala City on March 8, 2017. Fifteen girls were also seriously injured in the fire.
The Guardian has reported: “It has emerged that 56 girls had been locked inside a room measuring 6.8 metres by 7 metres as punishment for organizing a protest the day before against cramped conditions and abuse by staff. More than 700 children lived at the home, which had capacity for 400-500.”
That article adds: “The fire, which began in the early hours, [has prompted anger] over the government’s failure to protect young people in its care. Complaints about abuse at the centre had been made, but not followed up. A month before the fire, Guatemala’s human rights commission had asked for it to be closed.”
In March 2019, Al Jazeera reported: “Several government employees, including police, are now on trial for their role in the fire. The girls were locked in a room and shelter officials waited for nine minutes as the girls burned before they unlocked the door.”
“Some of the victims of the March 8, 2017 fire in the Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asuncion shelter had run away from home, fleeing abuse and sexual assault by relatives. But many faced more of the same inside the shelter.”
That article adds: “For years, girls reported being raped and forced into prostitution inside the state-run facility, but their protests were ignored.”
PBI-Guatemala has previously explained on its website: “Édgar Pérez Archila and BDH provide pro-bono [free] legal representation to victim organizations in judicial proceedings for human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict and other human rights violations past and present.”
PBI-Guatemala has accompanied Édgar Pérez Archila since August 2010 and then extended that accompaniment to the other lawyers at BDH in 2013.
PBI-Guatemala has also regularly attended commemorations for the girls who died in the fire, including this ceremony in September 2019.