Thursday, January 17, 2008

Spanish judge calls for evidence in Guatemala genocide case

Spanish judge Santiago Pedraz yesterday issued a call to anyone having information about the genocide of Mayan people in Guatemala in the 1970s and 80s to forward the information directly to him. The call is a response to a decision of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court in December to deny extradition of high-ranking former members of the army and police for the crimes of genocide, terrorism, torture and forced disappearance. Pedraz had asked for extradition last year, and the lower courts in Guatemala responded by executing the arrest warrants. Two of the defendants had spent the last year under guard in a military hospital, and another two in hiding. The Constitutional Court ruled right before the new government of Alvaro Colom took power, presumably to avoid any chance that the new government might approve the extraditions.
This back and forth between the Spanish and Guatemalan courts is the latest salvo in an effort to shake loose the continuing impunity for international crimes in Guatemala through combined internal and external efforts. The lower courts actually responded well, finding that extradition was proper under a hundred-year old treaty, and that the Spanish courts had jurisdiction. The Constitutional Court has always been heavily politicized, and the tone of its decision was dismissive of the genocide claims and bordered on abusive towards the Spanish courts. Apparently, the result so far has been to annoy the Spanish judge and generate protests from human rights organizations.
The Center for Justice and Accountability, which represents complainants in the case (with a multinational legal team overwhelmingly made up of women), has asked individuals, groups, and organizations to write to the incoming president asking him to comply with the state's obligation to extradite or prosecute and further obligations under the Genocide Convention not to label these as political crimes. It's a good moment to push for a serious domestic investigation into the past: the UN-sponsored Investigatory Commission, focused on helping the prosecutors' office do a better job of prosecuting more recent crimes involving powerful crime/drug/smuggling/ex-military networks, has just started work as well.

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