Guatemala: Rios Montt Candidacy an Insult to Victims

Amnesty International said: 'Rios Montt is implicated in thousands of killings, 'disappearances' and cases of torture committed during his term as President. The approval of his candidacy is an insult to the victims and augurs badly for Guatemala's post-conflict transition.'

Guatemala's constitution prohibits Rios Montt from running for presidential office due to his participation in a 1982 coup d'etat. The ruling by the Constitutional Court on 14 July renders him eligible to run as a candidate in the presidential elections which will take place in November 2003.

Human rights groups have also denounced a systematic campaign of death threats and acts of intimidation against party activists and independent journalists. Growing numbers of witnesses, lawyers, journalists and human rights advocates are being forced into hiding and exile.

Amnesty International said: 'Guatemala's government appears condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past, instead of seeking to confront the structures and individuals responsible for gross human rights violations carried out during the armed conflict.'

The process of intelligence reform in Guatemala is also being hampered by a lack of will to break with the past. Reform of one of Guatemala's most infamous military intelligence units, the Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP), looks set to retain military intelligence structures. The EMP, often in collaboration with common criminals and clandestine security groups, has conducted surveillance, harassment and political killings of key human rights leaders, including Bishop Gerardi and anthropologist Myrna Mack.

Amnesty International said: ' Such window dressing is unacceptable. Any replacement of the EMP should ensure the subordination of all military intelligence structures to civilian oversight.

'Without such measures, the replacement of the EMP risks merely 'recycling' its repression into a new unit, perpetuating the cycle of violence and impunity.'

Amnesty International reiterated its call for a process to identify EMP officers implicated in human right abuses, purge them from state employment and bring them to justice in accordance with Guatemalan and international law.

Furthermore, last week, the day after repeating his pledge to abolish the EMP to the United Nations Special Envoy in Guatemala, it was made public that last month President Portillo approved a further behind-the-scenes transfer of 14 million Quetzales (approximately $2 million US) to the EMP from other government dependencies.

Amnesty International said: 'The fact that President Portillo continues to funnel additional moneys to the EMP, despite his promises to do away with this unit, reveals a gulf between his words and his actions.'

The Guatemalan government also appears to be taking advantage of the climate of violence in Guatemala to justify further militarisation measures. Since 11 July, in a further contravention of the 1996 Peace Accords, more than 300 troops have been involved in combined operations, or fuerzas combinadas, with the Policía Nacional Civil, National Civil Police (PNC), to carry out law enforcement functions in the capital Guatemala City.

The organisation added: 'Amnesty International calls on the candidates in this year's election to commit themselves to addressing the disastrous direction the country has taken on human rights matters and reversing the pernicious steps toward re-militarisation.

'Without clear and courageous action from the country's political leadership, Guatemalans will continue to suffer from the country's bloody legacy.'

Background

The Guatemalan government is presently considering legislation that sets in place the parameters under which the Secretaria de Asuntos Administrativos y de Seguridad (Secretariat of Administrative Affairs and Security of the Presidency, SAAS), will function. The SAAS is the civilian body that will replace the EMP. The 1996 Peace Accords called for the EMP's abolition, but more than six years later, President Portillo has repeatedly augmented its budget. President Portillo has repeatedly promised that the EMP will be replaced by a new unit by 31 October 2003.

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