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Guatemala: Fear for safety: Relatives of victims of 1980s killings, involved in exhumation of clandestine cemetery

, Index number: AMR 34/023/1997

There is concern for the safety of relatives of victims and witnesses of massacres perpetrated by the Guatemalan army between 1980 and 1982 in the department of El Quiche. Exhumation of a clandestine cemetery in the grounds of the church of San Andres Sajcabaja began at the end of April 1997 and since then several women have suffered death threats and intimidation, allegedly by former members of civil defence patrols and former military commissioners.

EXTERNAL AI Index: AMR 34/23/97
UA 156/97 Fear for safety 29 May 1997
GUATEMALARelatives of victims of 1980s killings, involved in exhumation of
clandestine cemetery
Relatives of victims and witnesses of killings perpetrated by the Guatemalan
army between 1980 and 1982 in the department of El Quiché have been the subject
of death threats and intimidation, allegedly by former members of civil defence
patrols and former military commissioners.
Exhumation of a clandestine cemetery in the grounds of the church of San Andrés
Sajcabaja, El Quiché department, began at the end of April 1997. Since then
at least two relatives of victims have suffered direct death threats and
intimidation. Others have received indirect threats.
At 3pm, on 25 April 1997, a few days after the exhumations began, the mother
of one of the indigenous people killed by the army in 1982, was walking at
the crossroad between San Andrés Sajcabajá and the village of Chukuxb. She
was approached by a former military commissioner. He asked her what she was
doing there and she replied that she had come to see the dead. The man then
began to threaten her, saying, “You are working with the guerrilla women. You
can be 20 and 30 women but I can kill you with a gun or machete. Just wait
until all the people who are with you have gone, then will see what we can
do: your life is mine, -Ustedes están trabajando con las mujeres guerrilleras,
aunque sean 20 o 30 mujeres las voy a matar con pistola o machete, te esperas
un poco a que se vaya toda la gente que te acompaña y después veremos que vamos
a hacer, tu vida es mía-.
The United Nation Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) received a formal complaint
about the threats against the woman and the local Public Ministry was also
informed. The woman concerned is a member of the Coordinadora Nacional de
Viudas de Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), National Coordination of Guatemalan Widows,
a well-known national human rights organization.
On 15 May 1997, the same woman was told through other persons to go to the
house of the former military commissioner who had previously threatened her,
to talk with him. She refused to do so.
Also in May, another woman, whose husband had been killed by the army in the
1980s in San Andrés Sajcabaja, was indirectly threatened by one of the former
members of the Comités Voluntarios de Defensa Civil, (CVDCs), Voluntary Civil
Defence Committees. He told someone to pass the message to her that if she
continued with the exhumations and he was accused of being involved in the
killings, then sooner or later he would have revenge. The woman refused to
make a formal complaint for fear of reprisals.
Local people have told Amnesty International that unknown individuals visited
the site of the exhumations on several occasions in May.
Amnesty International is extremely concerned for the safety of witnesses to
the massacres and that of the victims’ relatives: exhumations have been
temporarily stopped and the women have been left alone, living at close quarters
with the people who allegedly threatened them.
Following hundreds of massacres of civilians by the Guatemalan army during
counter-insurgency operations in the late 1970s and early 1980s, thousands
of corpses, the majority those of Mayan peasants farmers, were thrown,
unidentified, into unmarked graves. According to current estimates, there are
over 500 clandestine cemeteries in the country, few of which have been excavated.
Renewed efforts to exhume those killed continue to be thwarted by constant
death threats against relatives and others involved in the exhumations.
The civil defence patrols, comprising some 300,000 armed men under the control
of the army, were set up in the 1980s, and together with the military
commissioners, were responsible for innumerable human rights violations. The
disbanding of the CVDCs began in August 1996 and was expected to have been
completed by the end of that year.
However positive the disbanding of the military commissioners,
in September 1995, and the CVDCs - to the extent that it eliminates
from state structures the army auxiliary bodies responsible for
serious human rights violations - it is nonetheless of concern
that former military commissioners and CVDC members continue to
commit serious human rights violations with the guaranteed
protection of the army. Nor has demobilization resulted in
investigations into human rights violations. The majority of
human rights violations committed by the CVDCs and military
commissioners in the past have gone unpunished.
In many cases, former CVDC members and military commissioners,
who are allegedly responsible for killings, live in the same
community or town as their victims’ families, or in neighbouring
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send telegrams/faxes/express/airmail letters in
Spanish or your own language:
- expressing concern for the safety of those involved in the exhumation of
the clandestine cemetery in San Andrés Sajcabajá, El Quiché department;
- calling for immediate and adequate measures to guarantee the safety of those
involved in the exhumation;
- calling for an immediate and thorough investigation into the reported threats
and intimidation, and urging that those responsible be brought to justice.
1) President of the Republic
S.E. Álvaro Arzú Irigoyen
Presidente de la República de Guatemala
Palacio Nacional,
6ª Calle y 7ª Avenida, Zona 1
Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Fax: +502 221 4537
Telegrams: Presidente, Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Salutation: Sr. Presidente /Dear President
2) Minister of Interior
Lic. Rodolfo Mendoza
Ministro de Gobernación
Ministerio de Gobernación
Despacho Ministerial, Of. Nº 8
Palacio Nacional
6ª Calle y 7ª Avenida, Zona 1
Guatemala , GUATEMALA
Tel: +502 221 4428 Ext.1500
Fax: +502 251 5368
Telegrams: Ministro del Interior, Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Salutation: Sr. Ministro / Dear Minister
3) Departmental Governor
Sr. Miguel Medrano Bulux
Gobernador Departamental
Santa Cruz de El Quiché
Telefax: +502 755 1433
Telegrams: Gobernador Departamental de El Quiche, Guatemala
Salutation: Sr. Gobernador / Dear Governor
1) Presidential Human Rights Commission
Licda. Marta Altolaguirre
Sra. Presidenta de la Comisión Presidencial
Coordinadora de la Política del Ejecutivo en Materia
de Derechos Humanos
15 Avenida 18-38, Zona 13
Guatemala , GUATEMALA
Fax: +502 334 1615/334 1407
2) Human rights organization
8 Avenida 2-29
Zona 1
Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Tel/fax: +502 232 5642
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 10 July 1997.

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