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Guatemala: Further information on fear for safety/death threats

, رقم الوثيقة: AMR 34/004/2001

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.

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
(ODHAG)
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
untenable.
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.
BACKGROUND INFORMATION
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
2
involvement in the murder. The second judge resigned after one month and fled
to Canada after receiving death threats. A key witness, taxi driver Diego Méndez,
who saw a military vehicle near Gerardi’s home at the time of the murder, fled
to Canada in February 1999 after escaping an abduction attempt and being
threatened with death. A former member of the presidential guard, Sergeant
Jorge Aguilar, fled to Canada in August 1999, two days after accusing some
of his colleagues of involvement in the murder. The prosecutor investigating
the murder resigned and fled the country on 7 October 1999 after receiving
repeated death threats. The judge who eventually indicted three high-ranking
military officers accused of being involved in the murder has also received
threats.
FURTHER RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/telexes/faxes/express/
airmail letters in spanish or in your own language:
- expressing concern for the safety of Eduardo Cojulún and other judges involved
in the Bishop Juan José Gerardi Conedera murder trial, urging the authorities
to take effective measures to guarantee the safety of all those involved in
the case;
- calling for an immediate and thorough investigation into the reported threats
against the judges and ODHAG members, and for those responsible to be brought
to justice;
- calling on the authorities to bring to justice anyone found to have been
involved in the murder, regardless of their position;
- expressing concern for the safety of all those involved in the Guatemalan
church’s report on the atrocities committed by the military, urging the
authorities to guarantee their safety.
APPEALS TO:
Please note that it can be difficult getting through to some of these fax numbers.
Please be patient and keep trying. If a voice answers, please say: "Fax, por
favor" and wait for the signal.
1) President of the Republic of Guatemala
Lic. Alfonso Portillo Cabrera
Presidente de la República de Guatemala
6a. Avenida “A” 4-46, Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala
GUATEMALA
Fax: + 502 238 3579
Salutation:Dear President/ Señor Presidente
2) Minister of the Interior
Sr. Byron Barrientos
Ministro de Gobernación
Ministerio de Gobernación
6ª Avenida 4-64, Zona 4
Ciudad de Guatemala
GUATEMALA
Fax:+ 502 362 0239 / 362 0237
Salutation: Dear Minister / Señor Ministro
3) Minister of Defence
Gral. Eduardo Arevalo Lacs
Ministro de Defensa Nacional
Ministerio de Defensa
3
Antigua Escuela Politécnica
Avenida Reforma 1-45, Zona 10
Ciudad de Guatemala
GUATEMALA
Fax: + 502 360 9919
Salutation:Dear Minister / Señor Ministro
4) Attorney General
Lic. Adolfo González Rodas
Fiscal General de la República
Ministerio Público
8a. Avenida 10-67, Zona 1
Tercer nivel
Ciudad de Guatemala
GUATEMALA
Fax: + 502 221 2718
Salutation: Dear Attorney General/ Señor Fiscal General
COPIES TO:
Tribunal Tercero de Sentencia Penal, Narcoactividad y Delitos contra el Ambiente
Centro Cívico
Torre de Tribunales
10 Nivel
GUATEMALA
Fax: + 502 232 4642
Newspaper
Diario El Periódico
15 Avenida 24-51 Zona 13
Guatemala, Guatemala
Fax: + 502 332 9761
e-mail: elperio@gold.guate.net
and to diplomatic representatives of Guatemala accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 21 March 2001.

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