President Bush Should Address Human Rights in Meeting with Guatemalan President

NEW YORK – President Bush should use his first meeting with new Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom on Monday to urge that Guatemala prosecute former military leaders accused of mass atrocities, said Human Rights First, a New York-based international human rights organization.

“President Bush has before him a concrete opportunity to support human rights in Guatemala,” said Andrew Hudson, Associate Attorney in the Human Rights Defenders Program at Human Rights First. “After 100 days in office it is time for President Colom to focus on his duty to investigate these crimes and prosecute those responsible.”

Guatemala’s 36-year civil war ended in 1996, but none of those responsible for committing the worst atrocities during that period have been held accountable. In recent weeks, a Guatemalan judge has for the first time heard harrowing testimony from victims in support of a Spanish investigation into mass atrocities by former military leaders, such as Congressman Efrain Rios Montt. These proceedings demonstrate that it is possible to bring former military leaders to justice.

“Much of the continued lawlessness in Guatemala, including hundreds of attacks against human rights defenders each year, stems from a refusal to prosecute heinous crimes committed during the civil war,” said Hudson. “The Guatemalan Attorney-General should immediately act on the criminal petitions filed by victims almost a decade ago.”

President Bush and President Colom’s meeting will take place two days after the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi. Bishop Gerardi was killed just days after releasing a report which concluded that the Guatemalan state was responsible for more than 90 per cent of the approximately 200,000 killings committed during Guatemala’s civil war. While individuals have been convicted for the murder of Bishop Gerardi, there has been no justice for the victims of Guatemala’s 422 documented massacres.

“Those who committed mass atrocities in Guatemala must be brought to justice so that the country can reckon with both its past and its future,” said Hudson.

In January 2008, Human Right First wrote a letter to President Colom outlining the key human rights challenges faced by the new government.

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Published on April 25, 2008

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