Universal Jurisdiction should apply to crimes against humanity

'The principle of universal jurisdiction should apply in this case' said the organisation. 'The Spanish Court is obliged to hear cases involving crimes against humanity'. The organisation considers that the question as to whether or not a particular case has been or is being heard in Guatemala as well as Spain has no bearing, as proceedings in either country do not preclude those in others, and principles of double jeopardy do not apply when dealing with proceedings in different countries.

The organisation is concerned that the Court seems to have abandoned the position it had originally taken with respect to universal jurisdiction issues regarding Chile and Argentina, decisions which supported and strengthened international efforts to ensure that those responsible for crimes against humanity must answer for those crimes whether in their own countries or elsewhere. Amnesty International supports the Rigoberta Menchu foundation's decision to appeal against the ruling before Spain's Supreme Court.

Amnesty International will continue to support all anti-impunity initiatives as regards Guatemala, including those proceedings which have been initiated in Guatemala itself, to try and bring to justice those responsible for the massive human rights violations committed during the country's long-term civil conflict.

The crimes against humanity, including genocide, which occurred over the period of the civil conflict should be investigated ex oficio by the government of Guatemala , but there has been no indication that this has or will occur. The 1999 Historical Clarification Commission reported in detail on events that occurred over a period of more than 30 years, events which Amnesty International had regularly reported on as they were occurred, yet successive Guatemalan government made no effort to investigate the abuses or bring their perpetrators to justice.

Thus far, the few prosecutions that have been initiated for human rights abuses have come about through the courageous efforts of individuals and organisations and few convictions obtained can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The organisation is concerned that those involved in such proceedings, including members of the judiciary, witnesses, and human rights groups promoting prosecutions of specific cases have been the subjects of constant pressure, harassment and attacks because of their efforts.

In such circumstances, Amnesty International believes that the legal proceedings started in Spain are an essential component of the struggle against impunity undertaken by those courageous individuals and organisations who are persisting in their efforts to make the Guatemalan judicial system work, despite their frustration at the endless delays and obstructions they face and the obvious dangers to themselves.

Background

Within the last few months several of Guatemala's leading human rights organisations, all of them involved in high profile anti-impunity human rights cases, whether in Guatemala, through the Inter-American system or abroad, have suffered raids on their offices.

In still other incidents, individual staff members have suffered physical attacks including beatings and rape. In November, several regional offices of the government's own Human Rights Ombudsman also reported threats and intimidation. The previous month, a judge, Maura Ofelia Paniagua González, a legal advisor to the legal aid service at the state University of San Carlos and a Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights's rights activist, was killed at her home in Guatemala City. Although the specific motive for her death is not known, and those responsible have not been identified, it is believed that the motive for her killing could have been her involvement in a number of law cases against officials allegedly involved in illegal activities. In the course of last year, at least 81 other jurists are known to have suffered death threats.

Faced with such pressure, some of those involved in efforts to seek justice through the Guatemalan legal system, including members of the judiciary, have fled abroad in fear of their lives, as was the case of a prosecutor in the case of Bishop Juan José Gerardi, Celvin Galindo, who went into exile in 1999.

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