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GUATEMALA: FORMER DICTATORS UNDER FIRE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS.

Three former dictators and several high-ranking military officers have been singled out for attention in the international human rights community for atrocities committed during Guatemala's 36-year civil war. Chief among them is former de facto president Gen. Efrain Rios Montt (1982-1983), currently president of Congress and head of the governing Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG).

In a recent interview for the newspaper Siglo Veintiuno, German jurist Christian Tomuschat, who headed the Guatemalan truth commission (Comision para el Esclarecimiento Historico (CEH), said "key persons" suspected of committing human rights violations during the civil war should be prosecuted. They should not play a role in public life, he said.

Tomuschat said that among those who should be tried was former police chief German Chupina. "He is one of those persons who committed abominable crimes," said Tomuschat.

Attorney General Adolfo Gonzalez should investigate former presidents, ministers, and military commanders, he said, adding, "That they can live in peace and enjoy their wealth, almost like masters of Guatemala, is insufferable."

Tomuschat said he was disappointed that former President Alvaro Arzu (1996-2000) had paid so little attention to the 1999 CEH report and had failed to purge the army of human rights violators and disband the "discredited" presidential guard (Estado Mayor Presidencial, EMP).

The CEH report attributed 93% of the 200,000 deaths and disappearances and 626 of the recorded 658 massacres during the war to government forces (see NotiCen, 1999-03-04).

The jurist did not name Rios Montt, but the former dictator is currently under investigation in Spain for human rights violations during the counterinsurgency war he waged largely against Mayan villagers.

UN rapporteur to issue report on Guatemala

On March 17, UN justice rapporteur Param Cumaraswamy said that everyone known to have committed human rights violations during the war should be retired from public and military office. The advice to the Guatemalan government is part of Cumaraswamy's April report to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Cumaraswamy visited Guatemala in August 1999 and issued a stinging report on the current state of the justice system (see NotiCen, 1999-09-09).

Victor Hugo Godoy, director of the Comision Presidencial de Derechos Humanos (COPREDECH), said the government would evaluate the report and issue its response once the report is delivered to the UN body in Geneva.

Miguel Angel Alvizures, head of the Alianza contra la Impunidad, said that, besides Rios Montt, other known human rights violators hold public posts. They include Pedro Garcia Arredondo, mayor of Nueva Santa Rosa, southeast of the capital, and several legislative deputies, plus members of the EMP.

Spanish court investigates Rios Montt and others

On March 22, Spain's high court (Audiencia Nacional) agreed to consider accusations brought against Rios Montt and other Guatemalan leaders.

Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu petitioned the court in December 1999 to investigate genocidal practices, torture, and terrorism employed by the military and security forces in the 1980s. The charges were leveled at the dictatorships of Fernando Romeo Lucas (1978-1982), Rios Montt, and Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores (1983-1986).

Prosecutors questioned Mejia in August 1999 about his role in the killing of civilians by military death squads. Mario Polanco of the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM) said the inquiry was "a step forward in consolidating the rule of law," but Mejia was not charged. Mejia claimed innocence and said the accusations against him were politically motivated.

On March 27, the Spanish court began an investigation of the three former dictators along with five other former officials. The following day, the court issued an international arrest order against Rios Montt. Rios Montt had planned trips to the US and France, but is now subject to arrest if he ventures out of Guatemala unless he agrees to testify before the Audiencia Nacional.

Menchu said two of those charged live abroad. Former interior minister Donaldo Ruiz Alvarez lives in Miami, and Romeo Lucas lives in Venezuela.

As if to underscore the unresolved human rights issues, on the same day the Spanish court acted, forensic anthropologists discovered the remains of 15 campesinos, including young children, in a mass grave in Choyomche, northwest of the capital.

On March 23, Aura Elena Farfan, of the Asociacion de Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos de Guatemala (FAMDEGUA), asked for the arrest of 11 military officers accused in the 1982 massacre in the community of Dos Erres in El Peten department, and the indictment of Rios Montt, who was commander in chief at the time.

The previous week, two former members of the elite Kaibiles counterinsurgency group gave a sworn statement about the massacre before Judge Jose Sandoval Villatoro in an El Peten court. In their testimony, the officers said a group of 80 soldiers, including 20 Kaibiles, killed 300 people in Dos Erres in December 1982. Implicated in the massacre were then defense minister Gen. Alejandro Gramajo and Rios Montt.

The two witnesses said the men of the town were tortured to death, the women raped and killed, and the children bludgeoned to death. The bodies were found in a well in 1998 by the forensic team Equipo de Antropologia Forense de Guatemala (EAFG). The two witnesses went into exile immediately after giving their testimony.

Farfan also asked the public prosecutor to charge Victor Vasquez, Victor Martinez, and Hugo Carranza, former commanders of the military base at Poptun in El Peten.

Rios Montt responded to the accusations against him by saying that people had the right to say whatever they wanted and that Cumaraswamy's report was just a personal opinion. He complained that the accusations did not follow any legal procedures and were mere "populist speech."

In a 1999 interview, Rios Montt said he never ordered any massacres and never heard of any committed by the military. [Sources: Reuters, 08/06/99; The New York Times, 03/23/00; Prensa Libre (Guatemala), 03/17/00, 03/24/00; Excelsior (Mexico), 12/23/99, 03/24/00; Associated Press, 03/27/00; Notimex, 03/12/00, 03/22/00, 03/28/00]
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Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Date:Mar 30, 2000
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