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Guatemala: Release Key Military Files Now!

The Guatemalan government is opposing the release of past

military files which could contain essential information
about war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity
committed during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996).
These military documents have been requested by the
prosecution in the context of the judicial cases against
former president General José Efraín Ríos Montt and other
high-ranking officials. Please join AIUSA in urgent action
now and encourage others to take action before the current
government leaves office on January 15, 2008.


The Guatemalan government has opposed the release of documents called Plan
Victoria 82 and Plan Operativo Sofía, which are alleged to detail military operations
which resulted in massacres, many of which are recounted in the 1997 Commission
for Historical Clarification Report (Informe de la Comisión de Esclarecimiento
Histórico). Amongst the massacres that could have resulted from military
operations contained in the documents are six massacres which took place
between July and September 1982: in the towns of Barillas and Nentón (both in the
Huehuetenango department), Plan de Sánchez (Baja Verapaz), San Francisco Javier,
Vibitz and Chicamán (all Quiché), up to 750 people were killed by government
forces who also raped and tortured the victims. Those military operations which are
alleged to have led to the massacres took place when Ríos Montt was head of state.

The Ministry of Defense has opposed the release of the documents or their
submission to the courts. Their position is based on Article 30 of the constitution,
which establishes that all government information is public but makes an exception
for military, diplomatic or national security related information. Their position is
also based on Ministry of Defence decree No. 06-2005 (Acuerdo Ministerial del
Ministerio de Defensa Nro. 06-2005, hereafter Ministerial Agreement 06-2005),
which establishes that it will be the Ministry of Defense itself that regulates the
classification and declassification of documents.

NGOs working on this case managed to access copies of both plans in 2006, and
sent them to the prosecutors, who asked the judge to summon the Minister of
Defense to provide them with the originals in order to confirm their authenticity.
Over the following months, the courts, the Ministry of Defense and Ríos Montt’s
lawyers carried out various legal proceedings to release or avoid the release of the
On July 19, 2007, the First Chamber of the Court of Appeal (Sala Primera de la
Corte de Apelaciones) ruled against the Ministry of Defense and Ríos Montt,
ordering the Ministry of Defense to present the documents to the court and confirm
their authenticity. At that time, human rights NGOs in Guatemala expressed concern
that the Army could decide to destroy the documents before they were forced to
make them public. Following this decision, Ríos Montt’s lawyers lodged a further
appeal with the Constitutional Court. At the time of writing, the Court has still not
ruled on the appeal. The revoking of the Ministerial Agreement 06-2005 would go a
long way to advancing the case for the release of the documents as it would
partially eliminate the legal basis for the appeal opposing their release.

On October 15, 2007, Guatemala’s Vice-president, Eduardo Stein, met with

Amnesty International’s representatives in London and committed himself to
looking into the issue of the Ministerial Agreement 06-2005 and the role that the
executive branch of government ought to play in the release of the military files.

The Rights of Victims

A number of international standards clearly define the rights of victims of human

rights violations, including the right to truth, and the duty of states to ensure access
to archives concerning those violations.

In terms of national standards, legislation is yet to be passed in order to regulate

Article 30 of the constitution. This has given rise to the Ministry of Defense
formulating its own regulation, the Ministerial Agreement 06-2005. 1 Ministerial
Agreement 06-2005 essentially stipulates that it is the Ministry of Defense itself
(and the President as Commander-in-Chief) that will decide what information can be
withheld from the public on grounds of national security. However, it fails to comply
with international standards that establish that information can be withheld for
national security reasons only if the government has demonstrated that the
restriction is necessary in a democratic society to protect a legitimate national
security interest. 2 In addition, Ministerial Agreement 06-2005 does not make any
provision or reference for the release of documents that may aid the investigation
and/or prosecution of cases of under international law such as war crimes, crimes
against humanity and genocide.

In September 2007, Ríos Montt was again elected to Congress. As congressman-

elect, he enjoys parliamentary immunity. His immunity can be removed by the
Supreme Court of Justice if they believe there are enough reasons to suspect him of
a crime and that he should stand trial.

Ministerial Agreement 06-2005, has force in Guatemala (most countries allow ministers to issue
secondary legislation) but it is not a full law in the sense that it has not been passed by Congress.
There are a wide variety of measures that courts can take to ensure that any information which would
genuinely endanger national security if the information was made public can be protected from public
distribution, but still made available to the prosecution and defence to ensure a fair trial.
In addition to Ríos Montt, the court cases opened in Guatemala in 2000 and 2001
are also against seven high-ranking officers, one of whom died in 2006. These
cases have not made any real progress.

Spanish National Court’s investigation

In 1999, Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchú also filed cases of genocide,
torture and murder in Spanish courts. The Spanish National Court (Audiencia
Nacional) took jurisdiction of the case in 2006, after Spain’s Constitutional Court
(Tribunal Constitucional) ruled in 2005 that Spanish courts can exercise universal
jurisdiction over crimes under international law committed during Guatemala’s
internal armed conflict.

Spanish National Court Judge Santiago Pedraz carried out a fact-finding trip to
Guatemala in June 2006 but was forced to return to Spain empty-handed due to the
“obstructionism” and lack of cooperation of those accused of atrocities and of the
Guatemalan judicial system. However, despite these obstructions, in July 2006
Judge Pedraz charged five former Guatemalan military officers, including Ríos
Montt, with genocide, torture, and other crimes against humanity, and issued
international arrest warrants for their involvement in atrocities committed under
their command. Ríos Montt has avoided being arrested by appealing against the
arrest warrants on various different grounds. Of the other four officers, one died
weeks before the arrest warrant was issued, two are detained awaiting extradition
and one is on the run.

Although the Plan Victoria 82 and Plan Operative Sofía have not been requested by
the Spanish judge so far, it is probable that they contain valuable evidence which
could also be used in the Spanish cases.

Take Action

>> Please take urgent action and share this action with others before the current
government leaves office in mid-January 2008. You can use the attached sample
letter as your guide.

>> Organize a local screening of AIUSA’s newest film, Justice Without Borders (37
minutes, 2007) to learn more and educate others about the global campaign to
bring Ríos Montt and other former Guatemalan officials to justice. Watch the film
online and signup to host a local screening at

Send letters to: Send copies of your letters to:

Sr. Eduardo Stein Ambassador José Guillermo Castillo

Vice-presidente de la República Guatemalan Embassy
Casa Presidencial 2220 R Street North West
6 Avenida 4-19 Zona 1 Washington D.C. 20008
Guatemala, Centro America Fax: 1-202-745-1908
Fax: (502) 2238-0106 Email: embestadosunidos@minex.gob.gt
Email: webmastervice@vicepresidencia.gob.gt

Dear Sir,

I am writing to urge the Guatemalan government to take action on the issue of the military files Plan
Victoria 82 and Plan Operativo Sofía, which have been requested in the context of the judicial
investigations for genocide brought against former president General José Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-
1983) and other high-ranking officials.

The documents are believed to hold information which could help determine individual criminal
responsibility. As such, they are fundamental tools in fighting impunity for extremely serious human
rights violations committed in Guatemala between 1982 and 1983.

I am concerned that the Ministry of Defense is aiding in efforts prevent the release of these
documents by taking the position that it would be a risk to national security under Article 30 of the
Constitution and Ministerial Agreement 06-2005 (Acuerdo Ministerial del Ministerio de Defensa No.

International standards establish that information can be only be withheld for national security
reasons if the government has demonstrated that the restriction is necessary in a democratic society
to protect a legitimate national security interest.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, in the case of Myrna Mack Chang vs. Guatemala, noting
the use of Article 30 of the Constitution, has already ruled that “in cases of human rights violations,
the State authorities cannot resort to mechanisms such as […] national security, to refuse to supply
the information required by the judicial or administrative authorities […]”. “In cases of human rights
violations, […] resorting to official secret with respect to submission of the information required by
the judiciary may be considered an attempt to privilege the ‘clandestinity of the executive branch’
and to perpetuate impunity.”

Amnesty International believes there is no legitimate national security interest in denying documents
that could hold evidence relating to crimes against humanity and other crimes under international
law and urges the Guatemalan government to take concrete action to demonstrate its commitment
to advancing the cases.

I therefore urge the President of Guatemala to revoke Ministerial Agreement 06-2005 immediately
and make available all documents concerning human rights violations to those prosecuting cases for
crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law, in line with international