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RIGHTS-GUATEMALA: 1,200 Letters Against Genocide

Inés Benítez

GUATEMALA CITY, Jul 31 2007 (IPS) - Guatemala&#39s attorney general received 1,200 letters from people in 23 countries urging him to speed up the cases against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and other military officers accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

"As long as the intellectual authors of the genocide enjoy impunity, there will be neither reconciliation nor sustainable peace," said Chris Hansen in a statement issued by the U.S.-based Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA), which collected the letters and delivered them on Monday.

Two courts in Guatemala are trying the 81-year-old Ríos Montt for crimes committed during his time as de facto president (March 1982-August 1983), considered the bloodiest period of the 1960-1996 armed conflict.

The civil war left more than 200,000 people dead and disappeared, mainly rural indigenous people, who the army considered to be the support base of the leftist guerrillas, according to a 1999 report by the United Nations-sponsored Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH).

Under the scorched earth counterinsurgency policy applied in the early 1980s, some 440 indigenous villages were completely destroyed in Guatemala, along with all of their inhabitants, by the security forces and the roughly 50,000 members of the paramilitary "civil defence patrols" armed by the military.

Spain’s high court, the Audiencia Nacional, issued international arrest warrants in July 2006 for Ríos Montt and seven former military officials of his government, seeking their extradition to Spain on charges of torture, state terrorism, and genocide.

NISGUA activist Neela Ghoshal, who travelled to Guatemala from the eastern U.S. state of Connecticut to meet with representatives of the attorney general’s office, told IPS that "We want to make it clear to the attorney general’s office that the international community is concerned about the state of justice in Guatemala and that it is paying attention to the genocide cases."

"These cases have stagnated for more than seven years in Guatemala&#39s judicial system. The massive quantity of letters to the attorney general demonstrates the international community&#39s increasing impatience for justice," Hansen said in his communiqué.

In May, Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Court allowed Ríos Montt to run for the legislature in the September general elections, triggering a national and international outcry.

As the candidate heading the parliamentary list of the right-wing Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), the second-largest party in Congress, Ríos Montt is not only basically guaranteed a seat in the legislature but has already obtained a certain degree of immunity from prosecution, even before his election. Once he is elected, he will enjoy immunity as a lawmaker.

The letters submitted by NISGUA refer to two international statements: a European Parliament resolution and a letter from members of the U.S. Congress that stress the importance of clarifying the crimes against humanity committed during the 36-year armed conflict and bringing those responsible to justice.

The 1,200 signatories of the letters told Attorney General Juan Luis Florido that he can go down in history "either as the attorney general who allowed impunity to reign, or as the attorney general who courageously made history by pushing these benchmark cases forward."

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