UN expert concerned at reported death threats to rights activists she met in Guatemala

UN expert concerned at reported death threats to rights activists she met in Guatemala

A United Nations human rights expert who has just returned from Guatemala has expressed concern about the reports that the activists she had met during her visit received death threats following her departure.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Hina Jilani, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, voiced “deep concern” about a 7 June fax sent to 11 representatives of human rights organizations reportedly accusing them of being “enemies of the State.” Using violent insults and death threats, the faxed message signed by “True Guatemalans” told the group that they were only the first targets of a longer list.

Reacting to the reported threat, Ms. Jilani sent on 11 June an urgent appeal to the Guatemalan Government, expressing deep concern “for the security and the physical and moral integrity of the human rights defenders.” She was joined in her appeal by Asma Jahangir, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions of the UN's Commission on Human Rights. Both experts called for a thorough investigation of the death threats and protection for those named in the fax.

During her six-day visit to Guatemala in late May, the Special Representative met with government officials as well as human rights defenders from various walks of life. Based on the information she gathered, she pointed to “the existence of a climate of fear.” According to her findings, human rights defenders faced “threats, intimidations, disappearance and even killings.” Those who were targeted included people seeking truth on past violations, those fighting for economic and social rights, those denouncing corruption, and indigenous people.

“The perpetrators of these attacks are reportedly illegal clandestine groups,” she noted. “Allegedly, some of them have links with State institutions, in particular the police and the army.”

In addition, Ms. Jilani expressed concern about “the lack of proper implementation of the peace accords, in particular the Global Accord on Human Rights,” which she said went together with “the persistence of impunity and an increased militarization.”

While acknowledging that the Government had taken some concrete steps to deal with human rights issues, Ms. Jilani “considered these measures to be insufficient mainly because they suffer from lack of coordination and of political and financial support.” She urged the Government to implement the peace accords, particularly the human rights component, to put an end to impunity, and to conduct a thorough and independent investigation into the allegations of violations against human rights defenders and the alleged existence of clandestine groups.