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6 April 2001

Oral intervention on the protection of freedom
of opinion and expression in Guatemala

cf. WCC Press Release, PR-01-09, 16 March 2001
cf. WCC Update, Up-01-06, 28 March 2001
cf. WCC Update Up-01-09, 2 April 2001

The following is the full text of the intervention made by Monsignor Alvaro Ramazzini, Bishop of the San Marcos Diocese, Interdiocesan Project for the Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI), on behalf of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (WCC) on 6 April, to the 57th Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights:

Mr Chairman,
As organisations belonging to civil society in Guatemala engaged in the defence of human rights, justice and security, we wish to emphasise the need to resist impunity and reinforce justice, especially in countries where the people are constantly harassed by violations of human rights that are never clarified or brought to trial; and where they are tyrannised by the cruelty spawned by organised crime, drug-trafficking and general delinquency.

Guatemala is one of these countries. We acknowledge the efforts of some authorities to keep alive the processes of change started after the signing of the peace in 1996, especially in the area of justice. Nevertheless, against the background of political instability and general ungovernability that marks our country, these efforts are not enough. Added to this is a reluctance to embark upon democratic change, and the absence of political will.

A concrete case concerns the independence of the judiciary and the lack of legal certainty and confidence in the administration of justice. Compared to previous years, the figures for 2001 show an increase in the incidence of intimidation, harassment and fatal attacks against authorities and officials working in the field of justice. In the space of only two months this year we had reports of the lynching of a judge and two armed attacks on the president of the Constitutional Court and the judge in the Gerardi case, as well as eight cases of intimidation of judges. We therefore foresee the year ending in a climate of still greater fear and anxiety.

Clearly, Guatemala is facing a new kind of violence aimed at interfering with the independence of the judiciary, obstructing justice and creating more impunity, while at the same time preventing justice from being administered in a climate of security and trust.

This Commission is not unfamiliar with this situation, having been presented with the report and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Mr Param Cumaraswamy, during its 56th session. The government of Guatemala undertook before this Commission to heed the Rapporteur's report and recommendations but, to date, the government has fulfilled only two of the thirty-two recommendations made by the Rapporteur.

With regard to human rights, we note a significant deterioration in the situation. This is reflected in the number of cases of police abuse and systematic attacks on human rights organisations in the form of threats, harassment, illegal searches and theft of documents relating to crimes against humanity.

The set of rights relating to freedom of opinion, expression and information are also under pressure because of the political refusal to tolerate any form of criticism; certain independent journalists and media have been subjected to attacks and denigration campaigns. In recent weeks six journalists have reported being threatened or physically aggressed.

It is essential to create favourable conditions to overcome the problems which have caused division among us as people belonging to the same nation. We ask for the support of the international community, and in particular of this Commission, to help achieve progress in the areas we have mentioned by urging the government of Guatemala to reaffirm its commitments and implement them in practice.

Specifically, we ask that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala be reopened, with a mandate enabling it to monitor efforts within the country to create the conditions necessary for the respect of human rights and freedoms. We also request that the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers should return to Guatemala to review the present state of the justice system and assess for himself the extent of compliance with his recommendations.

We consider that the human rights situation is such that the Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders should take cognisance of the events of the past year; and that the office of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of freedom of opinion and expression should turn its attention to the difficult situation experienced by independent journalists and communications media.

For more information contact:
the Media Relations Office
tel.: (+41 22) 791 6153 (office);
e-mail: media
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The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of churches, now 337, in more than 100 countries in all continents from virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general secretary Konrad Raiser from the Evangelical Church in Germany.