Death Threats Against Luis Alberto Pérez Barillas, Journalist Mariá del Rosaio Pérez Barillas and her children

Re: Death Threats Against Luis Alberto Pérez Barillas, Journalist Mariá del Rosaio Pérez Barillas and her children

To: Nicolaz Garcí a Fuentes, Prosecutor

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier of LRWC

Date: 2003-07-11

LRWC is extremely concerned by information received from Amnesty International reporting that Luis Alberto Pérez Barillas, a journalist in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz department, his sister Mariá del Rosaio Pérez Barillas, and Ms. Barillas’s children have been intimidated are under threat of death by unknown persons, apparently in reaction to Mr. Barillas’s work as a journalist.

Early on the morning of July 4, 2003, a home-made bomb was thrown into Mr. Barillas’s home in Rabinal by unknown person(s). The next day, an anonymous note was slipped under the door of Ms. Barillas’s home threatening to kill Ms. Barillas’s children if she failed to keep her brother quiet.

The actions against Mr. and Ms. Barillas in July followed two anonymous telephone calls to Mr. Barillas on June 23 and 24, 2003, in which the caller instructed Mr. Barillas that he would be killed if he did not keep quiet.

Mr. Barillas has been forced to flee his home for his own protection.

The demand for Mr. Barillas to “keep quiet” appears to relate to Mr. Barillas’s extensive newspaper and radio reports in recent weeks on the June 14, 2003 rally in Rabinal that President of the Congress Efraín Rios Montt was forced to abandon due to protests from members of the community.

It is distressing to LRWC that a pattern of serious intimidation against journalists reporting on the Montt rally, and their families, appears to have emerged in recent weeks. In this regard, I note other recent reported acts of intimidation against Carmen Judith Morán Cruz, from the news agency Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala (“CERIGUA”), and against Rubén Zamora, editor of El Periódico. LRWC is extremely concerned that this pattern of intimidation may escalate in the run up to the presidential elections scheduled for November.

In Mr. Barillas’s case, LRWC understands that he is receiving some protection from the police, but we fear that this protection may not be adequate. LRWC is also concerned that Ms. Barillas and her children remain unprotected.

LRWC urges you to apply the principles articulated in the following international conventions and declarations affirming the right of journalists to express themselves and pursue their profession free from harassment and violence:

  • Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression [including] . . . freedom . . . to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”;
  • Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, which establishes that the right to freedom of expression comprises the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas by any means of communication;
  • Resolutions 59(I) and 45/76A of the United Nations General Assembly, adopted on December 14, 1946 and December 11, 1990, in which the General Assembly affirmed that freedom of information is a fundamental human right and resolved and that information in the service of humanity deserves protection;
  • Resolution 1997/27 of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
  • Resolution 29, “Condemnation of violence against journalists”, adopted at the 27th Plenary Meeting of UNESCO on November 12, 1997; and
  • Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression, approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (“ICHR”) during its 108th regular session in October 2000. I note that at the time the Declaration was adopted, the President of the ICHR, Dr. Helio Bicudo, stated, “It is important that States begin to bring their laws into compliance with the principles of this Declaration.”

More particularly, LRWC urges you to take immediate measures to ensure the safety of Mr. and Ms. Barillas, and Ms. Barillas’s children, in accordance with their wishes. We request that your office order an immediate, impartial and exhaustive investigation into the threats against the Barillas, to make the results public, and to bring those responsible to justice.

More generally, LRWC also wishes to express its concern at the recent escalation of attacks against, and intimidation of, human rights defenders following the signing of the Comisión para la Investigación de Cuerpos Illegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad (“CICIACS”) document, which is intended to lead to the formation of a commission to investigate human rights abuses allegedly committed by illegal armed groups and clandestine security apparatus. We urge all elements of the Government of Guatemala to collaborate fully with the work of the proposed CICIACS, and to take steps to ensure that the commission comes quickly into being.

Please advise LRWC, by mail, e-mail or fax, of the actions that you are taking in relation to the matters discussed above. LRWC awaits your response.