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Scientists and Human Rights in Guatemala: Report of a Delegation Findings and Conclusions The CHR/CHHR mission verified and expanded the information it has on cases in Guatemala (see Appendix B), working contacts were established with Guatemalan government officials, and the depth of the committees' concern about human rights abuses of Guatemalan colleagues was made clear. The CHR and the CHHR intend to pursue the cases of colleagues who have disappeared or are believed to have been victims of political killings and hope they will be joined by many other scientific colleagues and human rights organizations. THE GUATEMALAN GOVERNMENT The government of Guatemala supported the efforts of the CHR and CHHR and encouraged their human rights mission to Guatemala to make independent inquiries. Every effort was made by the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs to ensure that all appointments with senior government officials that were requested by the delegation were organized and facilitated. In response to the representations made by the delegation, all officials with whom the delegates met were courteous, and most cooperated fully to answer the delegates' questions and address their expressed concerns. Contrary to the experience of the committees on previous missions to other countries, no effort was made by Guatemalan officials to dismiss the
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Scientists and Human Rights in Guatemala: Report of a Delegation delegation's human rights concerns; in fact, most of the officials with whom the delegates spoke acknowledged and condemned the abuses. When asked by the delegation for direct telephone and telefax numbers and a commitment to respond promptly to future requests for information or expressions of concern about scientific colleagues, the officials immediately provided the numbers and assurances of prompt replies were given. (The CHR has subsequently received timely replies to its case inquiries from the army and the Supreme Court. COPREDEH has also sent information on human rights issues of interest to the CHR.) The delegation was encouraged by the open and frank manner in which the meetings were conducted and impressed by the consistency with which government officials considered human rights progress an important issue. We are hopeful that this promising beginning will continue and that a dialogue will be maintained as the human rights situation and the committees' concerns evolve. The government of Guatemala has clearly made some progress on human rights in the last year, and the delegation recognizes that any progress in a country with an entrenched military and a history of horrendous violence and impunity from prosecution for human rights crimes deserves credit. At the same time, the delegation concludes that the government of Guatemala must take stronger action to stop the ongoing political murders and bring those responsible for such abuses to justice. The government of Guatemala cannot wait for peace to undertake its responsibility to protect and defend those whose lives continue to be in jeopardy because they choose to exercise their basic human rights and freedoms or because they are involved in the judicial processes of politically sensitive cases. NONGOVERNMENTAL HUMAN RIGHTS EFFORTS With the emergence of free and fair elections and efforts to establish democracy in Guatemala, there is a sincere desire on the part of our Guatemalan scientific colleagues to use this opening to speak out against human rights abuses and to report them to groups such as the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese and the ombudsman's office, as well as other human rights groups both within and outside the country. Nongovernmental human rights organizations appeared to be encouraged by President Serrano's expressions of support for the promotion and protection of human rights. There was, nevertheless, a palpable concern on the part of these organizations for the safety of human rights activists. There was also concern because the families of disappeared or murdered people are often too fearful to press charges, so that investigations cannot even begin. Guatemalan scientists and others involve themselves in human rights
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Scientists and Human Rights in Guatemala: Report of a Delegation efforts out of personal courage, and they put themselves, their families, and their careers at serious risk. Their human rights efforts must be recognized, applauded, and strongly supported and protected. INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT What we did not fully understand at the outset of the mission, but what was repeated to us over and over again by those with whom we met, was the importance attached to groups actually traveling to Guatemala City to express their concerns and exert pressure on the Guatemalan government to respect human rights, to show solidarity with colleagues working for positive change, and to gain a better understanding of the human rights situation there. Such a presence appears to be particularly important to colleagues in science and human rights who told us how the moral support and encouragement provided to them by delegations of scientists and others raise their profile within Guatemala, thereby giving them a degree of protection from acts of political violence. There is an urgent need for colleagues around the world to support the courageous efforts of scientists and others in Guatemala who, despite great vulnerability and the risk of retribution, are working to gain respect for human rights. POLITICAL KILLINGS AND DISAPPEARANCES The delegation found that the criteria to be used in determining whether a killing or disappearance was carried out for political reasons are difficult to establish and to apply: many common homicides may be committed with shots to the back of the head to make them look like political executions; conversely, political murders are sometimes made to look like common homicides, for example, by inflicting multiple stab wounds. There are several criteria most often used to determine positively that a killing or disappearance is political: prior death threats; inquiries (including showing a picture of the victims and asking where they live); the use of unmarked vehicles (often vans with dark windows) and automatic weapons; groups of men in civilian clothes who work with precision; a single shot to the back of the head; signs of torture before execution; the failure of police who witness these events to intervene; and victims of particular profile—a leftist faculty member or student activist who has worked with urban poor or indigenous people and who does not have a criminal record. Although a majority of politically motivated killings and disappearances are accurately believed to be committed by the security forces, care should be taken not to make such allegations as a matter of reflex. Inquiries and expressions of concern should be made quickly after learning of a
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Scientists and Human Rights in Guatemala: Report of a Delegation colleague's disappearance or murder, but any allegations as to those believed responsible should be made carefully and on the basis of a thorough analysis of the criteria indicating political motives and then only when a significant number of criteria are met. THE CASE OF MYRNA MACK Everyone agrees that Myrna Mack was a victim of political murder (although there was early speculation by the Guatemalan government, considered disingenuous by the human rights and scientific communities, that she was killed while illegally changing money). Her family, the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese, and AVANCSO are all tirelessly pressing charges. The importance of bringing those who committed the crime to justice is recognized by all, inside and outside the government. There is some recognition on the part of government officials that if the murder was planned by people other than the actual perpetrators, they should be prosecuted as well. The investigation and prosecution of the Myrna Mack case must move forward in a timely and thorough manner, and all of the individuals responsible for her murder, including those responsible for planning the crime, must be prosecuted and punished. SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH The murder of Myrna Mack has caused AVANCSO to discontinue its research on internally displaced Guatemalans because of the physical danger that researchers would face. Thus, the murderers of Myrna Mack killed both the scientist and the likelihood of scientific research on this important subject. In addition, research has all but come to a standstill at the University of San Carlos (USAC) because of bombings, death threats, kidnappings and murder, as well as governmental neglect that has demoralized and emasculated the scientific enterprise. In terms of human rights abuses, the situation of faculty and students at the USAC is serious and frightening. International attention from members of the institutions represented by the delegation and others could provide them with some measure of protection. This international attention could also help persuade the government of Guatemala to do everything in its power to rectify the intolerable situation faced by those at USAC. Scientific progress in Guatemala will continue to be impeded until the ongoing persecution of scientists, engineers, and health professionals is ended and the threats and violence against students and faculty at the USAC is
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Scientists and Human Rights in Guatemala: Report of a Delegation stopped. Immediate steps must be taken by the Guatemalan government to provide protection of colleagues and others who are working and conducting research in areas of conflict or who are vulnerable, because of their work, to acts of vengeance. Further strengthening of civilian control over the armed forces must occur to improve this situation.
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