GUATEMALA: Intimidation of anti-impunity activists must stop

The statement came as the local human rights group CALDH (Centro de Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos) launched a legal suit against officials of the military government of General Ríos Montt for the massacre of over 1,200 indigenous people in 13 separate incidents.

In the light of a recent spate of attacks against human rights defenders - including CALDH staff - Amnesty International is concerned about the physical security of those taking part in the presentation of the lawsuit.

'The massive human rights violations committed during Guatemala's civil conflict shook the world's conscience,' the organization said.

'As the eyes of the international community turn to Guatemala again in the hope that the perpetrators of those violations can finally be brought to justice, it is essential that all necessary steps are taken to ensure that no incidents of violence or intimidation obstruct the road to justice.'

Background

The lawsuit covers 13 of the some 600 indigenous villages which suffered massacres at the hands of the Guatemalan army and its civilian adjuncts, the civil patrols, in the context of the 'scorched earth' policy ordered by General Ríos Montt during his time in power (March 1982-August 1983).

In 2000, a similar suit - the first of its kind in Guatemala - was filed by the Asociación Reconciliación para Justicia, Association Reconciliation for Justice, assisted by CALDH, against officials of the military government of General Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982). The Association groups nine indigenous communities who between them suffered 10 massacres during the Lucas García administration. The suit charged the General and members of his High Command with crimes against humanity including genocide, and violations of international humanitarian law. Since it was filed, scores of witnesses have been questioned by the Public Prosecutor's Office in connection with the charges laid.

Because of CALDH's active anti-impunity role, its staff have been subjected to a series of threats and attacks. In August 2000, Celso Balán, a representative of CALDH in Chimaltenango Department was kidnapped, beaten, interrogated, drugged, and then dumped at a local cemetery. This was apparently done in retaliation for his work investigating a massacre and mass secret burial in the area in 1982. In April 2001, during a peaceful demonstration in Guatemala City, CALDH staff appeared to have been especially singled out for attack by supporters of the government party, the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG), Guatemalan Republican Front.

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