Threatened and attacked – the dangers of opening Guatemala’s police files

Officials involved in opening Guatemala’s police archives and members of their families have been threatened and attacked in recent days. The wife of the Director of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office was kidnapped on Wednesday and tortured.

One official was beaten up, whilst a number of threats have been made against other officials of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office. These include a bomb threat and a threat against the life of the Director of the Office.

The police archives contain information on atrocities committed by the security forces during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. The archives were discovered in 2005 by members of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office who have since been organizing and classifying the information available and this week made 12 millions documents, of an estimated 80 million, available to the public.

Amnesty International has said that the organization believes the attacks and threats have been made to intimidate the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office and stop them from carrying out their work. Two former police officers have already been charged in a case of enforced disappearance as a result of information uncovered in the archives.

The organization has urged the Guatemalan authorities to immediately and thoroughly investigate the attacks and threats against the officials and their families.  

“The ghosts of the past have no place in Guatemala today,” said Kerrie Howard, Americas Deputy Director at Amnesty International. “The Guatemalan authorities must ensure that people responsible for the attacks and threats against those who work to bring to light the abuses committed during the armed conflict do not get away with it.

“The opening of the police archives is a huge step towards real justice in Guatemala. The key now is to ensure that the information is used to deliver justice to thousands of victims of human rights violations in Guatemala.”

Guatemala’s internal armed conflict cost the lives of approximately 200.000 people, most of them members of Mayan Indigenous groups, who were killed or subjected to enforced disappearance. The conflict began in 1960 and ended in 1996 with the signing of the Peace Accords between the Guatemalan Government and the armed opposition group. The archives discovered by the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office belonged to the now extinct National Police, which was replaced by the National Civilian Police, a new body created by the Peace Accords.