Threats against Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Francisco Menchú and other FRMT staff

Re: Threats against Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Francisco Menchú and other Fundación Rigoberta Menchú Tum (“FRMT”) staff.

To: Lic. Alfonso Portillo Cabrera, Presidente de la República de Guatemala

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier, LRWC member

Date: 2003-08-15

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (“LRWC”), a committee of Canadian lawyers, provides support internationally to human rights defenders and promotes the enforcement of human rights standards and the rule of law.

LRWC is extremely disturbed by reports from Amnesty International concerning acts of violence, threats and intimidation against Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Franciso Menchú, and other staff members and supporters of FRMT.

In particular:

  • On August 8, 2003 at 7:00 am, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Laureate, was followed in her vehicle from her home to the FRMT’s offices by a lone driver in a white truck who attempted to crash into her vehicle during the pursuit. Notably, the white truck was parked outside Ms. Menchú Tum’s home before she departed, and had been previously observed outside the FRMT’s offices.
  • On August 10, 2003 at 9:25 pm, Franciso Menchú, who works as a security guard for FRMT, was violently apprehended by two men who forced him into a white taxi in Zone 1 of the capital, beat him severely for 10 minutes, stole his identity papers, credit cards and firearm licence, and then pushed Mr. Menchú out of the vehicle close to where he was apprehended. After returning home, Mr. Menchú received anonymous telephone calls at 9:55 pm and 11:00 pm. In the first, the sound of a man laughing was audible, but the caller did not speak. In the second, the caller threatened, “dejen que estar chingando porque ya quienes son y dónde viven y pronto van a estar allí con ustedes”.
  • It is significant that on July 26, 2003, a number of members of FRMT were told by various sources that there allegedly exists a death list targeting human rights defenders, and that those carrying out the actions would be driving white taxies.
  • Further, on five occasions between July 26 and August 7, 2003, FRMT’s offices were observed and staff members harassed by several individuals, one of whom carried a revolver and wore military-issue boots.

LRWC is also aware of other acts of violence against individuals linked with Ms. Menchú Tum, FRMT and other human rights groups. In particular, Gustavo Meoño Brenner, the Director of FRMT, was subject to intimidation earlier this year. In 2002, Mr. Guillermo Ovalle León, an administrative worker at FRMT and the nephew of the Executive Director, was killed in an alleged robbery in Zone 1 of Guatemala City. We share the concern of Guatemalan human rights groups that this killing may not have been a common crime but an execution meant to intimidate staff of the FRMT.

LRWC also notes the extent of the abuses of human rights defenders documented in the December 6, 2002 Report of Hina Jilani, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on the situation of human rights defenders in Guatemala (E/CN.4/2003/104/Add.2). In her report, Ms. Jilani concludes:

[T]he Special Representative notes a deteriorating situation of human rights in the country, an increase in cases of violations against human rights defenders in the past two years, and a decline in the commitment of the Government to pursue the goals set by the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights (Acuerdo Global sobre los Derechos Humanos) and the human rights components of the peace agreements.

Mr. President, LRWC is gravely concerned for the safety of Ms. Menchú Tum, Mr. Menchú, Mr. Brenner and other staff and supporters of the FRMT. We are also alarmed by the apparently deteriorating situation with respect to Guatemalan human rights defenders, in general. We urge you to order effective security for all FRMT staff, in accordance with their wishes. Further, we urge you to order an immediate, impartial and exhaustive investigation into Mr. Menchú’s kidnapping and other incidents of intimidation against those connected with FRMT, including Ms. Menchú Tum herself. It is imperative that the results of this investigation be made public and that those responsible be brought to justice.

LRWC also reminds the Government of Guatemala of its legal obligations to protect human rights defenders. Guatemala is party to the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, among others. It would be inconsistent with Guatemala’s legal obligations under these treaties to fail to investigate abuses against human rights defenders and prosecute those responsible.

Further LRWC notes the 1998 UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. This Declaration evidences the international community’s general acceptance of an obligation to protect those who work in the cause of human rights protection and promotion. LRWC expects, and sincerely hopes, that Guatemala will fulfill its moral obligation as a member of the international community to protect those human rights defenders who live and work within the country’s borders.

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.