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Thirty-eight international organizations call for actions to protect human rights in Guatemala
In a letter delivered to Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina last week, thirty-eight international organizations expressed concern regarding human violations committed on an ongoing basis in Guatemala and called on the new administration to take concrete actions to guarantee the human rights, safety and well-being of all Guatemalans.
President Pérez Molina won last year’s elections and assumed office on January 14, placing state leadership under military rule for the first time since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996 that ended a brutal 36-year internal armed conflict.
“We hope that the promotion of human rights and the protection of the most vulnerable populations are central policies in the government’s plans to improve Guatemalans’ security and quality of life,” the letter reads.
In addition to generalized violence, the organizations specifically mentioned concern for the increase in attacks against human rights workers. In 2011 alone, 19 human rights defenders were murdered and attacks increased by 33% compared to 2010. The organizations also urged the government to prevent violent evictions, which in the past few years have left numerous dead and hundreds of families without land, homes or food security.
In mentioning the struggle to end impunity, the signatories expressed their strong support for Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, the UN-sponsored and US-supported International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and efforts to strengthen state institutions in charge of preventing, investigating and prosecuting current crimes, as well as crimes against humanity committed during the internal armed conflict.
Recognizing the complexity of Guatemala’s security situation, the organizations emphasized that all government plans should respect the Peace Accords and national and international laws that guarantee human rights. In this administration’s first month in office, the lack of civil society participation in some nominations for secretariats and the increasingly visible role of the military in internal security matters have already raised concern and open critiques on behalf of organizations that will continue to monitor the situation.
The president has stated that the soaring levels of violence “demand” military patrols. “We don’t want [soldiers] in the bases, we want them to be outside helping to provide the security that Guatemalans deserve,” the president was quoted as saying. Nevertheless, members of civil society have criticized the militarization of state security, which follows years of advances in demilitarization as stipulated in the Peace Accords. Pérez Molina is familiar with those agreements, as he was the military’s representative at the time.