Justice for Human Rights Defenders in Central America

In many parts of the world, human rights activists become targets of violence. One such place is Guatemala where impunity is widespread and the most violent crimes rarely get investigated or prosecuted. Many of those responsible for committing some of the worst human rights violations during Guatemala’s 36-year civil conflict — during which more than 200,000 were killed and tens of thousands disappeared — have yet to be brought to justice, and there has been a proliferation of clandestine armed groups, many including former human rights violators. These groups are frequently responsible for attacks against human rights activists; the Guatemalan Congress voted to approve an international commission to investigate and assist in prosecuting their activities, but it has had limited success.

Case of Pepe Méndez

CGRS joined others in the international community in outcry over the failure of the Guatemalan government to properly investigate and prosecute the 2007 murder of 28-year-old José Emanuel “Pepe” Méndez Dardón.  While the Guatemalan justice system is notorious for its deficiencies, there were hopes that Amílcar’s high profile, as an internationally recognized Guatemalan human rights activist, would prompt the authorities to carry out a credible investigation of Pepe’s death. The Guatemalan Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Ombudsman) passed resolution 423-2007/DI declaring Pepe’s murder a human rights violation and ordered the chief of the Public Ministry section on Crimes Against Life and the Integrity of the Person to carry out an exhaustive investigation of the case. However, serious failures characterized the investigatory process, including the loss of critical evidence and the lack of basic forensic examinations. The murder trial ended in a verdict of guilty against the material author of the crime, but the intellectual authors were not pursued.

At the request of Amílcar Méndez, CGRS and the UC Hastings Refugee and Human Rights Clinic submitted a 2007 petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to extend protections that the Commission has previously ordered the government to provide to Amílcar to his wife, two daughters, and Pepe’s widow and children. The Commission promptly granted the request and has ordered the Guatemalan government to provide physical accompaniment for the family as they seek justice for Pepe. CGRS also participated in a campaign calling on Guatemala to accept the assistance of the FBI in the investigation and seeking Congressional support for this assistance, as well as coordinated a petition demanding justice for Pepe.

Pepe’s case remains an important and emblematic case in the struggle of all Guatemalans against impunity. CGRS continues to follow the case and stay in touch with the Méndez family that is committed to bringing those responsible for this horrific crime to justice. Despite setbacks and threats to their own safety, the Méndez family is determined to keep fighting. On the 6th anniversary of Pepe's assasination, Andreas Boueke discussed the persistance of impunity for the perpetrators of this and many similar crimes.


CGRS Press Release

CGRS Petition

October 31, 2007 Advertisement in La Prensa Libre (Spanish Translation)

October 31, 2007 Advertisement in La Prensa Libre (English Translation)

Justicia para Pepe y Guatemala