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Kidnappings Return to Guatemala

Although peace was signed in Guatemala in December of 1996, violations of human rights, and attacks against activist continue unabated, the perpetrators of these acts, enjoy total impunity.
The son of a leading campaigner for the rights of shanty-town dwellers has been kidnapped, and his captors have told his family they are torturing him.

Carlos Ignacio Orellana was snatched from the Avenida Bolivar, in Zona 3 of Guatemala City, on 18 September. His captors have used his mobile phone to call his mother and describe how they are torturing him.

Carlos Ignacio's mother, Albertina Castillo Perez, is one of the leaders of the Frente de Pobladores de Guatemala (FREPOGUA), Guatemalan Shanty-town Dwellers' Association. She is the president of the 17 December Shanty-town Neighbors' Committee. FREPOGUA members campaigning for the right to decent housing for more than 5,800 families, have been on hunger strike outside the President's official residence in Guatemala City since 25 September.

They have faced serious intimidation. Early on 3 October, while it was still dark, they were shot at from a car with tinted windows. At about 1.00pm that day they were attacked by a large group of ex-civil patrollers. The civil patrols operated as the army's auxiliary during Guatemala's civil conflict and were involved in many human rights violations, including massacres of entire villages. They were formally
disbanded after the Peace Accords which ended the conflict were signed, but are still said to be active in several areas of the country.

The government has recently made a number of very worrying
statements, implying that human rights activists are part of a campaign to destabilize the country, and also that they may be attacked by these same people. Analysts in Guatemala believe that these statements may have served, intentionally or not, as a signal that NGOs and human rights activists are fair targets for attack, putting them at particular risk.

On 28 September, the Minister of the Interior declared that 'there are groups that want to cause instability, to create chaos and anarchy.' Such groups, he said, 'plan to set off bombs that will scatter propaganda leaflets when they explode...they will also burn the central offices of NGOs'. The Vice-president of the Guatemalan Congress, Leonel Soto Arango, declared two days later: 'The Minister
of the Interior and the director of the National Civil police have informed us that there are some individuals, who claim to be human rights activists, that want to create instability in the country by causing confrontations.'

A few days after these statements, two heavily-armed men attacked members of an organization involved in exhuming the mass graves of villagers killed during Guatemala's civil conflict and stole one their pick-up trucks. The following day, the offices of the Students' Association at the Autonomous State University of Guatemala (USAC) were broken into. The Students' Association has been outspoken on political and human rights issues.

The wave of common crime currently afflicting Guatemala makes it difficult to be certain who lay behind these two incidents. However, as described above, they come in a context of threats and abuses against members of human rights organizations.



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