Urgent Action: Human Rights Defenders Threatened in Guatemala

Amnesty International sent out the following urgent action today about death threats against the staff of the Asociacion para el Estudio y Promocion de la Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM) and the Unidad de Proteccion de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos (UDEFEGUA). DJPC encourages you to send a letter to Guatemalan authorities requesting the protection of those working at SEDEM and UDEFEGUA:

06 May 2009

UA 121/09 – Fear for safety/Death threats

GUATEMALA Staff members of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security under Democracy (Asociacion para el Estudio y Promocion de la Seguridad en Democracia, SEDEM) and the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (Unidad de Proteccion de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos, UDEFEGUA)

Nine members of staff at two prominent Guatemalan human rights organizations based in Guatemala city have received over 40 SMS text messages containing death threats. One of them has also been followed by armed unknown men. The SMS text messages make reference to their work seeking justice for the crimes committed during the 1960-1996 internal armed conflict. The lives of these activists could be at risk.

Between 30 April and 5 May over 40 SMS text messages were received by nine members of staff at SEDEM and UDEFEGUA. In some cases the same message was sent to several staff members. For example, on 2 May two of the staff members received the following message, although badly spelled: “You’ve got 1 hour, this is the last warning. Stop messing with us, military declassified files. We’ll kill your kids first, then you” (“Tienen 1 hora esta es la ultima advertencia. Dejense de meter con nosotros, archivos desclasificados del ejercito. Le quebraremos el culo a sus hijos despues sera a usted.”) Both organizations have asked Amnesty International to withhold the names of the victims.

On 4 May, two unidentified men in a deep green car with tinted windows parked outside the house of one of the staff members. The staff member called the police, who interviewed the suspects on the spot. The police later informed the victim that the two men were armed and that they had a valid license to carry the weapons. The police officers also said that they let the two men go because there was no evidence to think that they were posing a threat. On the same morning two other staff members received an SMS text message, which read: “I am watching you…It’s good that you didn’t go to work, I have my sight set on you. Son of a bitch…you’re scared.” (“Te estoy vigilando… Que bien que no fuiste al trabajo, te tengo bien en la mira. Puta de mierda… Tenes miedo.”)

The spate of death threats and intimidation seems to be linked to the campaign that SEDEM and other Guatemalan human rights organizations have carried out in order to secure the release of all military files containing information about gross human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict. After an almost 3-year-long judicial battle, on 9 February 2009 the Constitutional Court ordered the Guatemalan authorities to hand over some of these files. The government partly complied with the order on 6 March but said that the rest of the files were missing. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has been charged with an investigation into the loss of the remaining files.

SEDEM has been working to promote police and military reform since 2000 and has campaigned for the declassification of information relating to human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict. It has also trained human rights defenders on risk assessment and self-protection measures.

UDEFEGUA works with and for human rights defenders in Guatemala. Since 2000 it has documented thousands of attacks, threats, acts of intimidation and even killings against Guatemalan activists in connection with their legitimate work. It has also supported them with the legal procedures and follow-up with the authorities.

RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible:
– expressing concern for the safety of all members of staff working for the Guatemalan human rights organizations SEDEM and UDEFEGUA;
– urging the authorities to provide effective protection for them, in strict accordance with their wishes;
– calling on the authorities to order a swift, full and impartial investigation into the incidents, to make the results public and to bring those responsible to justice;
– reminding the authorities of the right of human rights defenders to carry out their activities without any restrictions or fear of reprisals, as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals, Groups and Institutions to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

President of the Republic
Lic. Alvaro Colom
Presidente de la Republica
Casa Presidencial, 6a Avenida, 4-18, Zona 1.
Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Fax 011 502 2221 4423 
011 502 2238 3579
Salutation: Dear President/Estimado Sr. Presidente

Minister of the Interior
Sr. Salvador Gandara
Ministro de Gobernacion
6a Avenida 13-71, Zona 1,
Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Fax: 011 502 2413 8658
Salutation: Dear Minister/Estimado Sr. Ministro

Attorney General and Head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office
Lic. Jose Amilcar Velasquez Zarate
Fiscal General de la Republica y Jefe del Ministerio Publico
8a Avenida 10-67, Zona 1, Antiguo Edificio del Banco de los Trabajadores,
Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Fax: 011 502 2411 9124
011 502 2411 9326
Salutation: Dear Attorney General/Estimado Sr. Fiscal General

Asociacion para el Estudio y Promocion de la Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM)
6 avenida 1-73, Zona 1
Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA

Ambassador Jose Guillermo Castillo
Embassy of Guatemala
2220 R St. NW
Washington DC 20008
Fax: 1 202 745 1908
Email: info@guatemala-embassy.org

Check with the AIUSA Urgent Action office if sending appeals after 17 June.

Tip of the Month:
Use shortcuts: Do whatever is necessary to make your letter 
writing as quick and easy as possible. This way, letters 
will not be put off and they can be sent out sooner. Start 
by making a generic file for each type of concern; 
paragraphs on torture, the death penalty, disappearances, 
denial of medical care and so on, can be copied into your 
working file and edited as needed.

Within the United States: 
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To Mexico and Canada:
$0.72 – Postcards 
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To all other destination countries:
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$0.94 – Airmail Letters and Cards (up to 1 oz.)

Amnesty International is a worldwide grassroots movement 
that promotes and defends human rights.

This Urgent Action may be reposted if kept intact, including 
contact information and stop action date (if applicable). 
Thank you for your help with this appeal.

Urgent Action Network
Amnesty International USA
600 Pennsylvania Ave SE 5th fl
Washington DC 20003
Email: uan@aiusa.org
Phone: 202.544.0200
Fax: 202.675.8566



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