For Immediate Release: January 24, 2008
NEW YORK -Guatemala’s new President Alvaro Colom must take the country in a new direction by addressing past atrocities, protecting human rights defenders, and supporting efforts to end lawlessness, says a letter sent to the president today by Human Rights First, a New York-based international human rights organization.
The letter states that Guatemala has failed to address the mass atrocities committed during its civil war, including approximately 200,000 killings. “The new Colom government has a duty to promptly investigate these crimes and prosecute those responsible. If it is unwilling or unable to do so, it should extradite the accused to a jurisdiction where such a prosecution is possible,” the letter said.
Other challenges facing the new government include persistent attacks on human rights defenders, which the government can address by holding perpetrators accountable and by addressing broader violence through an important new international commission. “The Colom administration should start by prosecuting those responsible for the hundreds of attacks against human rights defenders each year,” said Matt Easton, Director of the Human Rights Defenders Program at Human Rights First.
The letter also calls on the new president to fully support the recently created International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). CICIG has the potential to assist in the successful investigation and prosecution of organized crime, which now rivals the state for power. However, in order for CICIG to effectively consolidate the rule of law, the Guatemalan government must fully cooperate with it, especially by prosecuting criminal complaints filed by CICIG and by implementing its policy recommendations.
“CICIG is an entirely new approach to ending the culture of impunity in Guatemala. But it will only work if the government does its part by prosecuting the guilty and protecting witnesses and victims,” said Easton.
The letter also congratulates Colom on his appointment of respected human rights defenders to advisory positions in his government.
For further information on these three challenges, see Human Rights First’s report submitted yesterday to the U.N. Human Rights Council.