Subj: Guatemala (Human Rights Watch)

Title: 1/28/96 Repatriation Grows Increasingly Dangerous



Human Rights Watch/Americas strongly condemned recent cases of

state violence against Guatemalan refugees returning from Mexican

camps, asserting that they cast serious doubts on the government's

commitment to safe refugee repatriation. Return to Violence in

Guatemala: Refugees, Civil Patrollers, and Impunity, released today,

calls on officials to prosecute soldiers and civil patrollers

responsible for abuses.

"Recent human rights violations against former refugees reflect

deep resistance to repatriation by military officers and civil

patrollers, which the government of Ramiro de Leon Carpio failed to

overcome," commented Anne Manuel, deputy director of Human Rights

Watch/Americas. "President Alvaro Arzu must demonstrate his commitment

to the safety of refugees, by prosecuting those responsible for

violating their rights. He must effectively counter the stance of army

officers and civil patrollers who continue to view refugees as

potential subversives, even as the peace process progresses."

Massive forced dislocation occurred in the early eighties

throughout Guatemala as the army systematically massacred civilians

and razed hundreds of villages. Tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled

to southern Mexico in the early eighties and hundreds of thousands

more are believed to be internally displaced. Refugees began to return

in small numbers after the army allowed a civilian president to take

office in 1986. An organized process of refugee return did not begin,

however, until the government reached agreement with refugees in

Mexican camps in October 1992. Roughly 9,000 Guatemalans repatriated

with international funds and assistance during 1995. "Urgent steps

must be taken so that refugees who have lost so much do not become

victims again. Safe refugee return is indicative of the government's

commitment to the peace process," added Manuel.

On October 5, 1995, twenty-six soldiers opened fire on a crowd

of unarmed civilians in Xaman, Alta Verapaz Department, killing eleven

returned refugees and wounding more than thirty. Human Rights

Watch/Americas, which visited the site after the killings, concludes

in the report that the soldiers used "deadly force on an unarmed crowd

as well a carrying out deliberate, execution-style killings of some of

those fleeing the scene" in violation of international standards

restricting the use of force. Guatemala's defense minister was forced

to resign after initially accusing civilians of opening fire on the

government troops. The soldiers are facing trial before a military

tribunal. Human Rights Watch/Americas urges the Guatemalan government

to transfer the case to a civilian court, however, in order to comply

with its international obligations to ensure an impartial trial. The

rights group cites reports of deficiencies in prosecuting the case,

including the failure to preserve key evidence during the initial

investigation. The Xaman killings constituted the first large-scale

army massacre since soldiers fired on a crowd in Santiago Atitlan in

December 1990, killing and injuring dozens of people.

Human Rights Watch/Americas also finds that the Guatemalan

authorities have failed to disarm and prosecute army-sponsored civil

patrollers responsible for human rights violations against returning

refugees and international observers in El Quiche Department. The

report describes how a regional association of local authorities,

armed civil patrollers, and military commissioners blocked refugees

returning to the Zona Reyna del Ixcan. Zona Reyna civil patrollers

began to attack returning refugees and their supporters in September

1994, and dramatically escalated their abuses during the first half of

1995. In June, the patrollers took United Nations officials and other

foreign aid workers hostage for twenty-six hours in the Zona Reyna

village of San Antonio Tzeja in El Quiche Department. Their

ringleader, de facto patrol chief Raul Martinez, has been a fugitive

from justice since an arrest warrant was issued in May 1995, yet the

government has made no attempt to apprehend him or seven other

villagers named in later warrants.

"The police and then President de Leon Carpio claimed they could

not arrest Martinez because the patrollers he controls are armed and

dangerous, yet the army refuses to disarm the patrollers," said Gretta

Tovar-Siebentritt, who conducted on-site research in the Zona Reyna

for Human Rights Watch/Americas. "In effect, a handful of abusive

civil patrollers, with army-issued weapons, is successfully holding

the state hostage."

The report recounts how the government discriminated against

refugees and contributed to violence through its failure to adjudicate

fairly competing land claims between returnees and more recent

settlers. Government officials fanned the flames of local conflicts by

publicly accusing returning refugees of sympathizing with the


Human Rights Watch/Americas calls on President Arzu, who took

office on January 14, to place the security of returning refugees high

on his agenda. Even as the group prepared -Return to Violence in

Guatemala for publication, information on new attacks against refugees

became public. "We continue to receive disturbing reports of violence

against returning refugees, including the killing of a repatriated

child in December," said Human Rights Watch/Americas Deputy Director

Anne Manuel. Preliminary information available indicates that on

December 16, one or more unidentified assailants fired from close

range on children in a temporary refugee settlement in Cantabal, El

Quiche Department, killing nine-year-old Magdalena Caal Coc and

wounding Santiago Quix Caal, aged twelve. Human Rights Watch/Americas

called on the government to conduct a full investigation into the


Return to Violence in Guatemala contains a series of

recommendations to end human rights violations against former and

returning refugees and restore confidence in the viability of


-- The Guatemalan government should investigate and prosecute

vigorously the perpetrators of the October 5, 1995 massacre in

Xaman, Alta Verapaz. The Public Ministry should petition for the

transfer of the case to a civilian tribunal to ensure an

impartial and independent proceeding consistent with Guatemala's

international obligations.

-- The army should issue clear and public instructions to its

officers and troops regarding the proper handling of tensions

and disturbances involving unarmed civilians, using standards

found in the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials

and Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law

Enforcement Officials.

-- President Arzu should order the prompt disarming of abusive Zona

Reyna civil patrollers and former military commissioners and

their dismissal from any position within the military structure.

Defense Minister Julio Balconi Turcios should ensure military

police compliance with judicial orders to apprehend Martinez and

seven other villagers with outstanding arrest warrants for

threats, intimidation, and hostage-taking to prevent refugee

return. The National Police should employ the resources and

logistical support necessary to ensure the arrest of Martinez

and the other alleged violators.

-- The Public Ministry should pursue actively the arrest,

investigation, and prosecution of Martinez and abusive civil

patrollers. The judge should reiterate the warrant against

Martinez adding new charges stemming from his seizure of

hostages in June.

-- The government must observe due process and adhere to the

internationally supervised accords relating to forced

displacement in resolving competing land claims.

-- The United Nations human rights observer mission (MINUGUA) must

be particularly vigilant in verifying progress in both the Xaman

and the Zona Reyna del Ixcan cases, given their significance in

the fight against impunity and the safe repatriation and

reintegration of Guatemalan refugees.

-- The international community, including the United States and

Western European governments which are actively involved in

refugee repatriation and the peace process, must press the

Guatemalan government to achieve justice in these cases. The

U.S. government should evaluate Guatemalan military cooperation

with efforts to resolve these cases as a condition for security

assistance and training. Great Britain should reconsider its

recent decision to lift the ban on arms sales to Guatemala until

the government demonstrates a serious effort to prosecute and

punish human rights violators.

Copies of this publication are available from Human Rights Watch,

Publications Department, 485 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10017-6104 for

$6.00 (domestic shipping) and $7.00 (international shipping).

Human Rights Watch/Americas

Human Rights Watch is a nongovernmental organization established in

1978 to monitor and promote the observance of internationally

recognized human rights in Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Middle East

and among the signatories of the Helsinki accords. It is supported by

contributions from private individuals and foundations worldwide. It

accepts no government funds, directly or indirectly. Its Americas

division was established in 1981 to monitor human rights in Latin

America and the Caribbean.