PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 34/004/2001
7 February 2001
Further information on UA 199/00 (AMR 34/28/00, 6 July 2000) - Fear for safety
/ death threats
GUATEMALAMembers of Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala
New names: Eduardo Cojulún
Others involved in the Juan José Gerardi Conedera trial
The judge presiding over a high-profile trial of three high-ranking military
officers and two civilians, who are accused of murdering a Guatemalan bishop,
has received death threats. Others involved in the investigation continue to
receive threats, and several witnesses have reportedly died in suspicious
circumstances. Amnesty International fears for the safety of all those involved
in the trial.
Eduardo Cojulún, the judge presiding over the court investigating the murder
of Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera (Tribunal Tercero de Sentencia Penal,
Narcoactividad y Delitos contra el Ambiente), received a death threat on his
answering machine a few days before the date was set for the trial to begin.
He has reported the threat to the authorities and has taken security measures.
He has said that he might have to withdraw from the case if the situation becomes
On 1 February, the court announced that the trial would go ahead and that oral
proceedings would begin on 15 February. The same day, Judge Rudy Chin announced
that he would be withdrawing from the case. Although he justified his decision
on the grounds that he knows one of the suspects, it is widely believed that
he has been threatened and is too frightened to go ahead with the trial. Two
other judges have admitted they have been intimidated, but are refusing to
say whether the intimidation is connected to their involvement with this trial,
presumably because they fear their safety will be at risk if they do so.
Members of the Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (ODHAG),
the Archbishop’s Human Rights Office in Guatemala, including Rodrigo Salvado
and Mario Domingo, also continue to receive death threats despite international
appeals for their safety to be guaranteed. Furthermore, a number of witnesses,
who were supposed to testify at the trial, have recently died in suspicious
circumstances. Luis Carlos García Pontaza, who was a key witnesses, died in
prison on 29 January. The initial official explanation was that he had committed
suicide. However, this version of events was revised after the forensic reports
were issued. Six homeless people, who were outside Bishop Gerardi's home the
night he was murdered, have died of unknown causes.
Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera was found bludgeoned to death in April 1998,
two days after he had presented a report that found the security forces to
be responsible for a number of atrocities committed during Guatemala’s 30-year
civil conflict. Bishop Gerardi was the Coordinator of the ODHAG, Archbishop's
Human Rights Office and had been the driving force behind the Catholic Church
investigation that led to the comprehensive report.
The first judge and prosecutor overseeing the case were forced to resign after
international complaints that they had ignored evidence of military