Human rights defenders in Guatemala seeking justice for crimes committed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict from 1960 – 1996 are at particular risk. Many have been killed, attacked or threatened. They face a challenging environment in which those individuals they are seeking to bring to justice, such as General Efraín Ríos Montt, remain in powerful public officials, as members of Congress and heads of political parties.
Effective prosecution of past crimes is necessary for many reasons, not the least of which is to combat the culture of impunity and to strengthen democratic institutions and respect for the rule of law. These conditions will also protect human rights defenders who face threats and attacks due to their work.
Overview of Judicial Proceedings
Human Rights Defenders have initiated two separate legal proceedings to seeking judicial accountability for past crimes.
First, in 2000 and 2001 the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, consisting of numerous indigenous communities and represented by the Center for Human Rights Legal Action, presented petitions to Guatemala’s Attorney-General against General Efraín Ríos Montt and other former leaders (the defendants). Those petitions alleged that the defendants had committed genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict.
Unfortunately, since the petitions were filed, there has been little discernable progress in the cases despite the gravity of the complaints, the amount of evidence and the recognition by the UN Historical Clarification Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that serious human rights violations were committed.
Second, Rigoberta Menchu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, amongst others, also filed petitions of genocide, murder and torture against the defendants in the Spanish National Court. Using their universal jurisdiction law, the Spanish Courts formally laid charges against the defendants and issued an arrest warrant. In 2007, two of the defendants, former Defense Minister, Ángel Aníbal Guevara Rodriguez, and former Director of the National Police, Colonel German Chupina Barahona were arrested. However, General Ríos Montt and other defendants were not arrested. Following a December 2007 Constitutional Court decision denying their extradition to Spain, Guevara and Chupina were released from custody.
Human Rights First Advocacy
Human Rights First works closely with local human rights defenders to alert government officials to attacks against those activists working to seek justice for past crimes. In December 2006 we issued an alert asking the Guatemalan Attorney-General to prosecute those responsible for past crimes in order to prevent future attacks against human rights defenders.
On April 27 2007, 30 members of Congress wrote to the Guatemala Attorney-General to ask that he “take action to prevent General Efraín Ríos Montt and other former leaders from obtaining immunity… for alleged serious human rights violations.” The letter followed Congressional meetings Human Rights First organized for Guatemalan Human Rights Defender, Ruth del Valle. It was signed by the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and concluded that the prosecution of violators of serious human rights would “combat impunity and therefore protect human rights defenders… who face threats and attacks due to their work.”
- Action Alert: Support New Opportunities for Justice in Guatemala
- Recent attacks against human rights defenders involved in proceedings
- Washington Post reports on Human Rights First’s work
- Additional Media Coverage of Congressional Letter
- Petition to Minister of the Interior regarding attacks against HRD Guillermo Chen
- Press Release: President Bush Should Address Human Rights in Meeting with Guatemalan President
- Letter to incoming President Alvaro Colom detailing human rights priorities