Guatemalan authorities must ensure that all those responsible for atrocities during the country’s internal armed conflict are identified and brought to justice, Amnesty International has said after a former military chief was arrested in Guatemala City.
An investigation began today into retired general Héctor Mario López Fuentes, 81, who was arrested on Friday. He has been charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in massacres in indigenous communities nearly three decades ago.
“The arrest of Héctor Mario López Fuentes is a major step towards justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of grave human rights abuses during Guatemala’s civil war,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher at Amnesty International.
“But most of those who planned and carried out the worst abuses are still at large and must be brought to justice.”
Héctor Mario López Fuentes is accused of being the intellectual author of 12 massacres that took place from 1982-1983. At the time, he was Guatemala’s military Chief of Staff, the third-highest-ranking official in the country.
Under his command, Guatemalan security forces killed some 317 indigenous Maya in the so-called Ixil Triangle in the Quiché region of the country’s western highlands.
A UN-backed truth commission found that during Guatemala’s 36-year armed conflict some 200,000 people were killed or disappeared and security forces committed 626 massacres in indigenous communities.
The commission specifically found that the military’s counter-insurgency operations in the Ixil Triangle amounted to acts of genocide, with 32 separate massacres targeting the indigenous Maya-Ixil population. Fifteen of these massacres took place in 1982 while General José Efraín Ríos Montt was President.
A 2001 criminal prosecution against the former General Ríos Montt, who is currently a member of Congress, has long been stalled in the Guatemalan judicial system due to obstruction from the Defence Ministry. In 2007, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court did not grant a Spanish judge’s extradition request to try him in Spain on charges of genocide, torture and murder.
Other former military and police officials have been arrested in recent months for their alleged role in human rights abuses during the armed conflict. These include the arrests in the past month of Colonel Héctor Bol de la Cruz and Jorge Humberto Gómez López, both former heads of the national police force in 1984, when police forcibly disappeared the well-known trade union leader Edgar Fernando García.
An army officer and a soldier who participated in a December 1982 massacre in Dos Erres village in Guatemala’s northern Petén region were also arrested earlier this year. Guatemalan security forces tortured and killed 250 men, women and children in Dos Erres before razing the village.
“For justice to be delivered to victims of human rights violations and their relatives, it is imperative that not just the foot soldiers but also the masterminds of the massacres, tortures and disappearances that terrorized Guatemala decades ago are brought to justice. Victims and their relatives have spent decades demanding justice and redress for the crimes against humanity they suffered,” said Sebastian Elgueta.