On December 29, 1996, the Peace Accords were signed in Guatemala, putting to end an extremely violent 36 year internal conflict. In 1997, after a long investigation, the United Nations Commission for the Historical Clarification revealed that 200000 Guatemalans were assassinated, 45000 were disappeared, 1 million people were victims of forced displacement, 660 massacres were documented and 400 communities were completely destroyed.
These massive violations were committed primarily against the Maya Indigenous People (83%). The military regimes in power were found to be responsible for 91% of these violations. The majority of the crimes were committed between 1978 and 1985, during which time the governments of Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982), Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) and Humberto Mejía Victores (1983-1985) were in power.
During this period, the UN Commission concludes that these military regimes committed crimes of war, crimes of against humanity and acts of genocide and recommends that the intellectual authors of these policies be brought to trial.
Since 1999, accusations have been put before Guatemalan Authorities, Spanish Authorities and before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In July 2006, after many years of impunity for those responsible, and accusations and threats against survivors and those willing to speak out, the Spanish Judicial Authorities issued international arrests warrants and solicited extradition for seven people who were functionaries in the chain of high command to be tried for genocide, torture, forced disappearance and extra-judiciary executions.
General Ríos Montt, one of those principally alleged, currently enjoys strong political and military support in Guatemala, reasons for which he has never been concerned; in fact, he officially put forth his name to run as member of congress for the next general elections (in September, 2007). Submission for candidates will open May 3rd and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal will validate the submission in the following months. From this date, candidates will gain parliamentary immunity for four years. If the legal cases, in Guatemala or Spain, do not move forward, the risk exists that Ríos Montt will never be processed or tried in Guatemala or Spain and millions of victims will never receive the moral justice or compensation they have been demanding for so many years.
The next months then, will be vital in the trial of those responsible for the genocide committed in Guatemala. International mobilization on this issue was crucial in the opening of the cases in Spain and must continue.
Mr. President of Guatemala:
In accordance with the conclusions and recommendations of the UN Commission for Historical Clarification, the Peace Accords and International Treaties ratified by Guatemala in accordance with the statute of limitations to the crime of genocide, the Guatemalan State has the obligation to do everything in its power to ensure that those charged as intellectual authors of crimes of against humanity and genocide, committed between 1978 and 1985 are tried, whether in your own territory or internationally. The truth of these crimes were confirmed by the CEH, REMHI and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in its sentencing of the case of the Massacre of Plan de Sanchez, the responsibility for which, for the first time, was accepted by your government.
In June 2001, members of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), formed by survivors of 23 massacres committed between 1978 and 1983, put forth an indictment against members of the chain of high command of the military governments of Gen. Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982), and Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983). Since this date, these accusations, despite being sufficiently substantiated, have gone nowhere, with the justice system suffering from lack of resources and political pressure from the previous government.
Though Frank LaRue, past director of CALDH, the legal advisor for the AJR, now holds a position in your government as does Rigoberta Menchú, who also presented a similar charge in Spain, it remains evident that these cases have not benefited from efficient court proceedings. Instead of justice, the victims have encountered a wall of impunity, with no end to the many threats and violations to their human rights.
On October 6, 2006, the Spanish Court of Justice was declared competent to judge the universal crimes committed by the high command of the governments of Romeo Lucas Garcia, Efrain Rios Montt and Humberto Mejia Victores. On June 19, 2006, a Commission headed by Judge Pedraz, a Spaniard, arrived in Guatemala. International arrest warrants were later put out for Angel Aníbal Guevara, German Chupina, Humberto Mejía Victores, Pedro García Arredondo, Donaldo Alverez, Benedicto Lucas García y Efraín Ríos Montt. At this time, the Spanish Court of Justice also solicited Guatemalan officials to carry out the process of extradition of the above mentioned accused.
Since this time, legal expedients for these actions have been obstructed by deliberately slow tactics and injunctions used by the legal defense of those accused. In June 2006, this same defense impeded the Spanish Commission from interviewing the suspects and currently, a number of measures are dragging the legal process. The strategy of the defense seems to be to stall legal proceedings for those accused until the candidates for the next general election are received by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Once registered as a political candidate, the accused will be immune from legal proceedings.
In addition, the very probable submission of Ríos Montt’s candidacy in the Congress of the Republic is troubling for both victims of the internal armed conflict and citizens concerned for human rights all over the world fear his immunity for months or even years if he is elected.. This immunity will make any moral atonement difficult for the millions of victims of the scorched earth policy, leaving open the wounds of the armed conflict in Guatemalan society and will condemn Guatemala to perpetual impunity.
For all these reasons, we, citizens and solidarity organizations with the people of Guatemala, insist that you do everything in your power so that Efrain Ríos Montt and the rest of those accused are arrested and tried in Guatemala or extradited to Spain promptly, that is, before the call for Guatemalan election, which will guarantee impunity for those accused who present their candidacy.
For these acts, Guatemala will enter into a new historical era: on the road to justice and reconciliation of a people and its history.