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  • A Mayan spiritual guide takes part in a ceremony at the embassy building where 37 protesters were burned alive by security forces. Guatemala City. Jan. 31, 2019.

    A Mayan spiritual guide takes part in a ceremony at the embassy building where 37 protesters were burned alive by security forces. Guatemala City. Jan. 31, 2019. | Photo: EFE

Published 2 February 2019

Social organizations oppose the bill that would forgive those responsible for grave crimes during the internal armed conflict.

Social organizations in Guatemala are demanding Congress stop an “amnesty” bill that would forgive those responsible for grave human rights violations during the civil war.

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In a public statement, over 100 organizations state that the reform to the “Law of National Reconciliation” violates international agreements on human rights and puts at risk “the integrity of the victims, witnesses, prosecutors and judges” that have participated in cases.

The original law is a result of the Peace Accords reached between 1991 and 1996, which ended a decades-long internal conflict between the government and several armed groups that were fighting against dictatorships in Guatemala. Thousands of people, especially from Indigenous groups, were killed or disappeared, including large-scale massacres by the military and paramilitary groups.

The reforms aim at extending the amnesty to a new set of crimes, including genocide, forced disappearance and torture. Since it’s retroactive, those responsible could have their sentences immediately revoked and be released within 24 hours.

In a public statement, the Rigoberta Menchu Foundation recalled the long processes that victims and their relatives have endured to find justice.

On Jan. 31, 1980, Guatemalan security forces burned down the Spanish Embassy with 37 demonstrators that were occupying it, including Menchu’s father. It wasn’t until 2015 that a court declared Pedro Garcia Arredondo guilty for the crime and sentenced him to 90 years in prison. The new reforms could overturn that sentence.

“We reject the actions resulting from a pact of corrupt people within the Congress of the Republic, who in the name of the most obscure alliances between military officers, business people and politicians, directly or indirectly responsible for the history of blood baths in our country, pretend to reform the Law of National Reconciliation…” the statement reads.

For Michelle Bachelet, former Chilean president (2014-2018) and current U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the bill would bring “total impunity for all involved in truly horrible violations, even crimes against humanity.”

“The National Reconciliation Law, in its current form, has been the legal basis for the historical trials at national tribunals for cases related to grave human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict,” Bachelet said. The proposed reform would “reopen old wounds and destroy the victims’ trust in the State and its institutions.”

Fernando Linares Beltranena, the lawmaker who proposed the reform, says the amnesty would benefit both parts, “end with the conflict and bring peace to Guatemala.”


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