PUBLIC AI Index: AMR 34/22/98
UA 159/98 Fear for Safety 21 May 1998
GUATEMALARicardo Sulugi, director of the Defensoria Maya regional office in
Juan León, director of Defensoria Maya
Ovido Paz, lawyer working for Defensoria Maya
and other members of Defensoria Maya
There is serious concern for the safety of members of Defensoria Maya, a Maya
indigenous rights organization working to defend indigenous and human rights
in Guatemala, after death threats were received by some of its members.
On 16 May 1998 Ovido Paz was approached by two armed men in the town of Sololá,
department of Sololá, who informed him that they intended to kill Ricardo Sulugi,
Juan León and himself: “de un balazo a la cabeza”, "with a bullet to the head".
The death threats are likely to be connected to Defensoria Maya's current
attempts to bring former military commissioners (demobilized in 1996) to trial
for human rights violations they are believed to have carried out in the early
Juan León has been active in negotiations for the implementation of the Accord
on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one component of the peace
agreement signed between the Guatemalan Government and the Unidad
Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) Guatemalan National Revolutionary
Unity, in December 1996. An article of this Accord states that: "Mayan,
Garífuna and Xinca peoples have the right to create and direct their own
institutions, to control their own development and to fully exercise their
Juan León also recently attended the 1998 session of the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland, to lobby for continued
international scrutiny of the human rights situation in Guatemala and was a
candidate for Vice-President in Guatemala’s last elections in 1995.
The recent murder of Monseñor Juan Gerardi, a Guatemalan Auxiliary Bishop and
long-term human rights advocate, on 26 April and death threats against others
involved in the Historical Clarification Process, have led to renewed concerns
that the lives of human rights defenders in this country are at great risk.
The Historical Clarification Process aims to identify and prosecute those
responsible for massive human rights abuses perpetrated against non-combatant
civilians during Guatemala’s dirty war, mainly by the army but also by URNG,
during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Recent events contravene the Global Human Rights Accord, signed on 23 March
1994 between the URNG and the Guatemalan Government, which states that: "The
Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall take special protection measures
in favour of persons ... working in the field of human rights. Furthermore,
it shall make timely, exhaustive investigations of complaints presented to
it regarding acts or threats which could affect them. The Government of the
Republic of Guatemala reaffirms its commitment to effectively guarantee and
protect the work of individuals and entities working in defence of human rights."