Tagged: national police archive

Amnesty International Urgent Action

(the urgent action below is reposted from here)

(EDIT: below I have also posted updated information and other ways to take action as shared by the Guatemala Human Rights Commission)



Several members of an indigenous peoples organization have been physically attacked and threatened in recent weeks in northern Guatemala. One member was killed. The others remain at risk.

The Council of K’iche’ Peoples (Consejo de los Pueblos K’iche’, CPK) is an organization based in Santa Cruz del Quiché in the department of Quiché that works on Indigenous Peoples rights, extractive industries and corruption issues. Aura Lolita Chavez is one of its leaders.

On 4 July CPK organised a peaceful demonstration against discrimination, alleged economic mismanagement and abuse of power by the mayor. At 4.15pm, after the demonstration, participants were returning to their community by bus when their vehicle was stopped by a group of 8 people, armed with stones, pocket knives, machetes and batons. As the group threw stones at the bus, several CPK members got off it to see what was happening. The group asked where Aura Lolita Chavez was and violently attacked two women and a girl who participated in the demonstration. The activists were injured, with two women reporting a knife wound and a fractured ankle respectively.

Previously, on 27 June, Gaspar Tipaz, CPK member and local leader, had received phone calls threatening him to death. A male caller asked him about the number of people who were going to attend a demonstration planned for 28 June and told him “tomorrow I’m going to kill you” (“Mañana te voy a matar”).

Weeks earlier, on 12 June, José Tavico Tzunun, another CPK leader, was killed by armed gunmen who raided his house at night. The house was a meeting point for CPK activists.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

  • Urging them to take immediate steps to provide appropriate protection to members of the executive committee of the CPK according to their wishes;
  • Calling on the authorities to order an independent, thorough and impartial investigation into the killing of José Tavico Tzunun, and the threats and attacks against CPK members;
  •  Reminding them that human rights defenders have a right to carry out their activities without any unfair restrictions or fear of reprisals, as set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.


Attorney General
Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey
Fiscal General de la República
Ministerio Público
15a Avenida 15-16, Zona 1, Barrio Gerona Ciudad de Guatemala,
Fax: +502 2411 9210 Twitter:@mpclaudiapaz
Salutation: Estimada Sra. Fiscal General

Presidential Commission for Human Rights Carlos Morales
Executive Director
Comisión Presidencial para los Derechos Humanos (COPREDEH)

2 Av. 10-50 Zona 9, Guatemala City Guatemala
Fax: + 502 2334 0119

Salutation: Dear Director / Estimado Sr.Director

And copies to:
Consejo de los Pueblos K’iche’
Email: consejodepuebloskiches@yahoo.es


In Guatemala human rights defenders, including journalists and trade unionists, continue to be threatened, harassed and attacked, by those seeking to dissuade them from their work. In 2011 local organizations documented 402 cases of attacks and intimidation against local human rights defenders, whose work ranges from the protection of human rights of forcibly evicted indigenous communities to the investigation of human rights violation committed during the internal armed conflict. For more information, please see “Guatemala – Submission to the UN Human Rights Committee for the 104th session of the Human Rights Committee (12-30 March 2012)” (AI Index AMR 34/001/2012)”, available at http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/AMR34/001/2012/en


(what follows is reposted from the Guatemala Human Rights Commission listserv)

GHRC Denounces Attack on Lolita Chavez                                    


On July 4, Lolita Chavez, indigenous activist and human rights defender, narrowly escaped being lynched as four others were beaten by a violent group of people allied with Estuardo Castro, the mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiché and member of the ruling Patriot Party.
Although she avoided harm this time, GHRC is gravely concerned for Lolita’s ongoing safety and well-being. Likewise we are distressed by the harassment and attacks against other members of the K’iche’ People’s Council.
Lolita Chavez is a indigenous woman known for her warm smile, energetic personality, and her selfless commitment to the rural communities of Guatemala’s Quiché department. As a leader within the K’iche’ People’s Council (Consejo de Pueblos K’iche’s – CPK) Lolita has accompanied 87 communities in their struggles for self-determination and resistance to harmful development projects which could threaten the health of families and cause irreversible damage to the environment.
This opposition to “development at any cost” has placed these communities, and in particular the members of the CPK, at great risk. Powerful local, departmental, and national political figures — closely aligned with transnational corporations — have made it perfectly clear that they are not interested in consulting with indigenous communities or entering into real dialogue with local organization and leaders. Guatemalan authorities have instead responded with threats, defamation, intimidation, and violence.
On June 12th of this year José Tavico Tzunun, a member of the CPK who hosted meetings at his home, was assassinated by armed gunmen who broke into his house after midnight. A few days previous to the attack he had received a phone message that threatened: “If you continue to bring people together for meetings, you will pay the consequences…”
On June 26th Lolita, in representation of the CPK, presented a formal accusation against the mayor of Quiché, Estuardo Castro, for “abuse of power, racial discrimination, arrogance and authoritarianism, exclusion and marginalization” in his dealings with the indigenous communities. She also denounced a death threat against another community leader, Gaspar Tipaz Gómez, for his participation in the protests. Lolita added: “We hold the mayor and the municipal government responsible for anything that happens to us or our families.”
The Attack against Lolita
Around 4:15pm on July, 4, Lolita and other women were returning home from a peaceful gathering in Santa Cruz del Quiché to protest Mayor Castro’s blatant disregard for the opinions and proposals of the indigenous communities. When they arrived at the community of Xatinap Quinto La Laguna their bus was intercepted by eight people armed with knives, rocks, machetes, and other sharp objects. The assailants shouted “Mayor Castro is in charge here and we’re here to do the mayor’s justice.” They demanded that Lolita be handed over to them. When the community members refused, the mob threw rocks at the bus and forced three women and a child off the bus.
One woman, age 20, had her arms held behind her back while being beaten with a piece of wood. She also received a knife cut to her right wrist. Another woman, age 40, had her left eye scratched and her blouse torn. The third woman, 52, had her lip split open and her front teeth shattered when struck in the face by a rock. The 11 year-old girl had her left ankle fractured by another thrown rock.
Lolita avoided falling into the hands of the attackers because the bus driver decided to make a break for it and escape. Lolita immediately contacted the police, who took nearly half an hour to arrive on the scene. Once there, the officers instantly sided with the attackers saying that Lolita and the other members of the K’iche’ People’s Council were “delinquents and agitators” and that the authorities were “tired of having to listen to all of their demands.”
The tense situation was only diffused by the arrival of ambulances to attend to the injured women. None of the assailants was detained or arrested. In fact, in a perverse distortion of justice, the attackers claim that they were the victims and have filed charges against Lolita and the others. While absurd, these bogus charges could likely result in arrest warrants for Lolita and others.
Also troubling are reports from El Quiché that Lolita’s name is being disparaged during “official” news broadcasts on the local radio station accusing her of provoking disturbances in the area, an obvious attempt to criminalize her activism.
GHRC’s Concerns
GHRC laments that this incident is just the latest in a series of violent attacks against human rights defenders, particularly those defending the collective rights of indigenous communities to self-determination and the protection of their natural resources and the environment.
GHRC calls on the Guatemalan government to fully guarantee the safety and security of Lolita Chavez and the other members of the Consejo de Pueblos K’iche’.
GHRC calls on the Public Ministry to transfer the case of the murder of José Tavico Tzunun to the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor, to guarantee that the investigation take into account the relevant human rights elements surrounding his assassination.
GHRC calls on the Interior Ministry to investigate the conduct of the police officers in the aftermath of the attack, in particular their refusal to arrest those responsible for this crime.
GHRC calls on the Mayor of Santa Cruz del Quiché and his municipal government to engage in honest dialogue with the participation of independent observers, to attend to the just demands of the communities and to immediately cease any and all actions designed to provoke division, discord and violence amongst the communities.
GHRC fully supports the rights of the indigenous communities of El Quiché to determine the type of development that best respects their rights and embodies their beliefs and world view. We reject the imposition of any external model that is based on exclusion and exploitation.
GHRC presents petition in case of Yolanda Oquelí

The attack against Lolita and her companions is the second against women community leaders in the last month. On June 13, anti-mining activist Yolanda Oquelí was shot on her way home. GHRC’s petition to support Yolanda and her community collected 772 signatures and was presented to the Guatemalan and US authorities. Yolanda is in stable condition and GHRC continues to monitor her situation and push for protection for the community and the arrest of her aggressors.

(photo courtesy of mimundo.org)

Send a postcard to Lolita and the members of the CPK!
GHRC will be delivering postcards with messages of support to these brave activists as they continue with the difficult and often dangerous work of defending indigenous rights and natural resources.
You can send a postcard to the GHRC office before July 27th, and GHRC staff will deliver it to Lolita and the K’iche’ People’s Council in Guatemala.
3321 12th St. NE
Washington, DC 20017
Don’t write in Spanish? Don’t worry!  You can start the postcard with “Estimados miembros del Consejo de Pueblos K’iche’s”. Below are some sample messages that you could send. Feel free to mix and match.
  • _Estoy_____ en solidaridad con Los Pueblos K’iche’s. (Or you can fill in the name of your group to say “_____stands in solidarity with the K’iche’ people”)
  • Respaldamos su lucha por sus derechos y la madre tierra. (We support your struggle for your rights and Mother Earth)
  • Que sigan adelante con la lucha para la dignidad de los pueblos K’iche’s. (Keep up the fight for the dignity of the K’iche’ people)
  • El pueblo de _____ presente en la lucha. (The people of ______ present in the struggle)
  • El pueblo unido jamás será vencido. (The people united will never be defeated)
  • Lamentamos la violencia contra de los miembros del Consejo de Pueblos K’iche’s. (We lament the violence against the members of the K’iche’ People’s Council.)
  • Apoyamos los derechos colectivos de los pueblos indígenas de Guatemala. (We support the collective rights of the indigenous people of Guatemala)
You can also write a letter to the Guatemalan Prosecutors Office and the Presidential Commission for Human Rights urging them to provide protection to the K’iche’ People’s Council and investigate the recent acts of violence.

The National Police Archive Project

During the civil war that raged in Guatemala from 1960 to 1996, over 200,000 people were killed and over 45,000 were disappeared. The UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission (commonly known as the “Comisión de la verdad” or “Truth Commission”) concluded in a 1999 report that that the state was responsible for 93% of the human rights violations committed during the war, including over 400 massacres committed by the Guatemalan army and paramilitary.

The majority of the violence was carried out by the police force in urban centers, and by the army and paramilitary forces in rural areas. In a single day of June or July in 1980, it is estimated that over 100 cadavers were “processed” by  police forces around Guatemala City alone. In the early 1990s as the peace process was beginning (peace accords formally ending the conflict wouldn’t be signed until December 1996), the Truth Commission asked to gain access to the archives of the national police; the government repeatedly denied the existence of any such archive. This continued to be the government’s line during the entirety of the peace process.

In July 2005, a large explosion took place at a military munitions dump in a residential neighborhood in Guatemala City. Residents were concerned that other explosives were being stored nearby and asked investigators to inspect the area, including a decaying building used by the National Civil Police (the successor to the National Police, which were disbanded after the civil war).

A team from the government-backed Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH) walked up to the building and asked the person at the door what it was being used for. Without hesitating, he stated that it was the National Police Archive. Inside, the team discovered an enormous stockpile of documents.

The PDH immediately took legal steps to gain access to the archive. In July 2005, the Civil Court of Guatemala issued a historic ruling enabling the PDH to investigate the documents. This marked the first time in Guatemalan history that human rights investigators had received judicial support from the courts.

Alberto Fuentes points out the signatories of the Archive’s  founding statement, including the former president of Costa Rica, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and the directors of various historical archives and international human rights organizations.

At the time of discovery, the archive contained over 80 million sheets of paper, making this the largest single cache of documents made available to a human rights investigation process in history. If stacked, these documents would stretch over 8 km.

These police records were stored in a building that had only been half built, and into which water was constantly leaking. Stacks of documents were crammed into every possible building alcove. The structure was also infested by rats, cockroaches, bats, and other animals.

The PDH immediately repaired the building’s roof, installed a security system, and conducted a number of fumigations to rid the building of the pests.

Alberto Fuentes has been one of the coordinators of the project since the archive was discovered.

“When we found the archive, it was still in use. Police were still using it to look up information. It had never been shut down.” Fuentes explained. “It is completely impossible that the higher levels of government didn’t know it existed. In the 1990s, when they were asked about it, they made a political decision to not reveal its existence.”

These documents are still in the bundles and boxes in which they were originally found.

The PDH quickly realized the enormity of the task that lay ahead of them in organizing the millions of documents contained in the archive, but also the potential of the project to reveal the workings of the “machina de terror” (machine of terror) that ruled the country during the civil war.

“This archive enables us to move closer to the truth and to contribute to the reconstruction of memory and history,” Fuentes said.

While the project is working on preserving and creating digital copies of all of the documents, their focus is on those from the years 1975-1985, when the worst violations of the civil war took place.

As of last February, over 10 million documents from that decade have been preserved and digitized.

The project has already made a number of disturbing discoveries about the policies the police established during those years, such as those concerning the handling of cadavers.

Even some of the most innocuous documents have provided valuable insights. One administrative record simply logged repairs conducted on vehicles owned by the police. Using this document, the project has been able to positively link a number of abductions in which witnesses recorded vehicle license plate numbers to the police force.

Large efforts are also being made to uncover the police forces’ internal structure.

“Understanding the chain of command is fundamental to the pursuit of justice in Guatemala,” Fuentes said. “While the agents that actively captured and assassinated citizens lie at the very bottom of the chain, the orders and true responsibility for what took place occurred at higher levels.”

Charts created and posted at the Archive to demonstrate the chain of command within the police force.

As of March 2009, all of the digitized documents have been made available to the public. Since then, the project has received 1278 requests for information; to 86% of the requests, they have been able to supply information. Of the requests that have been made, around 350 have come from individuals, most often by family members of a disappeared person seeking any information on what happened.

One of the machines used to digitize documents.

For decades, and especially since the discovery of the police archives, many have speculated that the military must possess similar archives. Six months into his presidency, the current President, Álvaro Colom, gave orders for these to be opened. Two years later, no steps have been taken to reveal or give access to these archives. This shows the enormous power the military in Guatemala continues to hold today, almost 15 years after the Peace Accord ending the civil war was signed.

Nevertheless, for me, the fact that the investigation of at least the police archive has been allowed to take place is eminently hopeful. Impunity is one of the most serious problems in Guatemala, and this project has the potential to gradually erode at this, while providing invaluable support to other organizations and individuals with similar goals. And, while it does not constitute justice, and will never be close to enough, it is heartening that the project can finally give some answers to those with loved ones who were killed or disappeared by the police.

A sign posted in one of the Archive’s rooms.