War crimes go unpunished in Guatemala
On 31 January 1980, Guatemalan police stormed the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City where protestors had sought refuge. Thirty-seven people inside the building died as a result. Twenty-eight years on, no one has been held to account. Over a decade after the end of Guatemala's armed conflict, many of those responsible for its most brutal crimes continue to evade criminal prosecution. A ruling releasing two former officers from pre-extradition detention in Guatemala is the latest obstacle to justice for the victims of the 36-year conflict, which ended in 1996. In December, former army General Angel Aníbal Guevara Rodríguez and ex-Police Chief Pedro García Arredondo won an appeal to be released from provisional detention pending extradition. Spain has requested the extradition of both men, along with five others (including ex-president Efraín Ríos Montt), and wants to investigate them for crimes under international human rights law committed in Guatemala between 1978 and 1986. 31 January marks the 28th anniversary of one of those crimes: the massacre of 37 people in the Spanish Embassy fire is a brutal act for which no one has been punished. The Guatemalan court's decision in favour of the retired officers wrongly questions the well-established principle of universal jurisdiction for crimes against humanity. It also suggests the crimes were political, and interprets this as meaning criminal responsibility could be waived. Amnesty International calls on the new administration - led by President Alvaro Colóm - to tackle the ongoing impunity for crimes under international law committed during the armed conflict. Mr Colóm's government must ensure the investigation and prosecution of these crimes. None of the cases brought against the ex-ruling military regime have advanced, while witnesses and victims with the courage to participate in them have faced intimidation, threats and attacks. The decision to release two of the officers severely undermines the possibility of a future extradition and strengthens the reign of impunity in Guatemala. Until those responsible are held accountable for the 200,000 disappearances and extrajudicial executions committed during the armed conflict, Guatemala’s victims will continue to be denied justice.