GUATEMALA: Activists Call
Human rights groups from Guatemala, Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia, Western Sahara and Sweden called for reparations for victims of armed conflicts and crimes against humanity, and punishment for those responsible.
The lack of political will of state institutions, reflected in laws of impunity, is an obstacle to investigating and punishing the intellectual and material authors of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, said delegates of human rights organisations in a statement Tuesday, after meeting for eight days in Guatemala to discuss the fight against impunity.
Antonio Caba, the survivor of a massacre of indigenous people in Guatemala and the president of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), told IPS that in this Central American country "there has been no compensation for the victims" of the genocide committed during the 1960-1996 civil war.
He blamed the Attorney General’s Office for "the lack of will and delays" in bringing those responsible for the human rights crimes to justice.
A 1996 peace deal ended the 36-year armed conflict between government forces and the National Guatemalan Revolutionary Unity (URNG) which left a death toll of 200,000 victims, mainly rural indigenous villagers. A United Nations-sponsored truth commission held the army responsible for over 90 percent of the killings.
In their statement, the 12 human rights groups meeting over the last week in Nevad in the northwestern Guatemalan province of Quiché called on the Guatemalan state to "generate the conditions for equitable and egalitarian justice that would allow the crime of genocide to be tried," and to declassify the military records that provide "clear evidence" of the strategies that targeted the civilian population, principally the Mayan people.
"We have asked the Attorney General’s Office to summon (Efraín) Ríos Montt for questioning, and it has never done so," said Caba.
Former dictator Ríos Montt, who governed from March 1982 to August 1983, is facing legal charges in Guatemala for crimes committed during that period, considered the bloodiest stretch of the armed conflict.
In addition, a Spanish high court issued an international arrest warrant in July 2006 for Ríos Montt, seeking his extradition and that of seven other former military and civilian officials from his de facto administration on charges of torture, state terrorism and genocide.
In the Sept. 9 elections, Ríos Montt once again won a seat in Congress representing his right-wing Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), after the Supreme Electoral Court decided on May 18 that he could run for office, drawing howls of outrage in Guatemala and abroad.
In the declaration presented at a press conference Tuesday, the human rights organisations said the state should ensure that lawsuits brought in Guatemala against Ríos Montt and other former dictators and their military chiefs are handled appropriately and with respect for human rights, while recognising the damages caused to victims.
Caba said it was "outrageous" that not a single representative of the Attorney General’s Office showed up at a public hearing held by the Supreme Court Monday as part of the legal proceedings against Ríos Montt.
The Constitutional Court must decide whether or not to declassify documents from 1982 and 1983 military operations commanded by Ríos Montt that would shed light on the genocide, which included the total destruction of hundreds of indigenous villages, along with every single inhabitant.
Ríos Montt’s defence lawyers argue that a document considered to be a "state secret" can only be declassified after 30 years, or under a decision by the same authority that classified it -- in this case, the Defence Ministry.
Victims and survivors, however, argue that classifying something as a "state secret" cannot be used as a mechanism of impunity or as an obstacle to the investigation of crimes.
The organisations, which included the AJR, the Guatemalan Centre for Legal Action on Human Rights (CALDH), the Social Rehabilitation Service (SERSOC) of Uruguay, the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation (SweFOR), and the Mexican chapter of the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) issued a call to the international community for solidarity and assistance in bringing visibility to the impunity that human rights abusers enjoy in several of those countries.
After holding discussions and visiting villages affected by the Guatemalan armed conflict, the activists said that "we find ourselves facing a context of ongoing, systematic violations of the human rights of people of the developing South in a reality of conflict and post-conflict marked by racism, discrimination, exclusion, marginalisation and oppression."
In their final document, the participants in the Encuentro Sur Sur (South South Meeting) called on the Uruguayan state to repeal an amnesty law that let off the hook members of the military who committed human rights crimes during the South American country’s 1973-1985 dictatorship.
They also urged the Uruguayan armed forces to hand over information that would enable forensic teams to locate and identify the remains of all of the victims of forced disappearance, and would allow progress towards "truth, justice and reparations."
With respect to Colombia, which is in the grip of a civil war that has dragged on for nearly half a century, the activists called on the government to carry out "an effective dismantling of paramilitary structures," reduce the military budget, and engage in peace talks.
The declaration also asks Morocco, which is in conflict with the population of the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara, to respect human rights in that territory, which has been illegally occupied since 1975, and to allow the Saharaui people to exercise their right to self-determination by means of a fair and transparent referendum.
The groups said the Mexican state should bring a halt to the displacement of indigenous and peasant communities from their land and to acts of violence against women by the military and police, and that it should release "all political prisoners."
"We demand full respect for the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" and all international treaties, pacts and conventions on human rights, the statement adds.
Furthermore, it concludes, so
cial organisations and human rights defenders are still targets of harassment and attacks in Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia and the Western Sahara, and are unable to carry out their work in freedom and with guarantees for their safety.