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News > Guatemala

Guatemalan Congress Debates Amnesty For Genocide Masterminds

  • Dead Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt who ordered the military and paramilitary killing of at least 2,000 Indigenous. 2002

    Dead Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt who ordered the military and paramilitary killing of at least 2,000 Indigenous. 2002 | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 March 2019

Amid protests outside of Congress, legislators debate giving immunity to dictators and those who carried out the 35-year Mayan genocide.

Congressional debate regarding reforms to Guatemala's National Reconciliation Law are set to continue Wednesday, meanwhile victims and survivors of the Mayan genocide (1960-96) continue their protest efforts.

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Discussion regarding the reforms introduced in late January by President Jimmy Morales’ National Convergence Front (FCN) party will start up again Wednesday in an effort to protect war criminals.

The current law allows for amnesty for civilian crimes.

The proposed amendments would grant immunity from prosecution for crimes of genocide, torture and forced disappearances, all of which plagued the country for three and a half decades when an estimated 200,000 Indigenous people and Campesinos were ordered “exterminated” and at least 45,000 were disappeared by several consecutive presidential dictators. The proposals would also be applied retroactively to those under investigation or already being punished for their crimes.

The monumental law passed in 1996 states: “The State as a humanitarian duty will assist the victims of human rights violations during the internal armed confrontation.”

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On Monday, activists, including those from Amnesty International who still demand the state follow through with its legal obligation to punish those responsible for the genocide and systematic rapes during the genocide, were demanding the reforms be removed from the table.

Many say the changes have a strong chance of going through as the FCN has a majority in the country’s unicameral Congress.

"We are appalled by the proposal of the Guatemalan Congress to grant amnesty for war criminals. During the long civil war, the Guatemalan people, especially the Indigenous communities, suffered indescribable horrors. Entire towns were massacred, women were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery, and thousands were disappeared and tortured," read a document introduced to Congress by Impunity Watch Guatemala (IWG).

Americas director at Amnesty International Erika Guevara-Rosas said, “These legislative initiatives put at risk the progress of the last decade in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations in Guatemala. ... These laws would also put in doubt the future of the fight against impunity.” 

During a protest against the proposal outside of Congress in late February, genocide survivor and winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize Rigoberta Menchu said of the reform "We are going to challenge it. We are going to challenge it again and again. We are not going to let this law (reform) happen."

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