Guatemalan Court’s Refusal to Extradite Those Accused of Genocide a Blow to Justice
NEW YORK – Yesterday’s decision by the Guatemalan Constitutional Court to deny the extradition of former military officials accused of genocide and other crimes is a huge blow to justice, according to Human Rights First, a New York-based international human rights organization. The court held that Spain did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Guatemala and refused to extradite the former military officers.
“Much of the continued lawlessness in Guatemala, including hundreds of attacks against human rights defenders each year, stems from the culture of impunity that has grown out of Guatemala’s refusal to prosecute the heinous crimes committed during the civil war,” said Andrew Hudson, Associate Attorney at Human Rights First. “Those who committed mass atrocities in Guatemala must be brought to justice for the sake of the country’s ability to reckon with both its past and its future.” Hudson was recently in Guatemala to discuss the legal proceedings with local human rights organizations.
Guatemala’s 36-year civil war ended in 1996, but none of those responsible for committing the worst atrocities during that period have been held accountable. A United Nations truth commission found that genocide occurred during the civil war and that the vast majority of the 200,000 killings were committed by the Guatemalan armed forces.
“Universal jurisdiction is an accepted principle of international law. Given Guatemala’s unwillingness to prosecute those accused of genocide and other crimes, it has a legal and moral obligation to allow Spain to try them,” said Hudson.
The court’s decision demonstrates the lack of political will in Guatemala to prosecute those accused of serious human rights violations. It could also mean that former police chief German Chupina and former defense minister Angel Guevara will be released from jail, where they have been detained since earlier this year under international arrest warrants. The decision also applies to retired General Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala during some of the worst atrocities. Rios Montt is a current member of Congress and still wields considerable political power.
The Rigoberta Menchu Foundation, which initiated the legal proceedings in Spain almost 10 years ago, is exploring its legal options and will continue its attempts to move the cases forward.
“Guatemalan human rights activists who seek justice for past mass atrocities are routinely threatened, harassed, and killed. The best way to protect them and allow them to perform their important work is to prosecute those responsible for the original crimes,” said Hudson.