Thursday, May 18, 2006

48 million Guatemalan Secret Police Documents

On Wednesday, May 10, the Guatemalan National Police Archives Project found a bottle filled with petrol in flames on their premises. It was apparently an attempt to intimidate the project to secure and preserve the estimated 48 million police records found by the Human Rights Ombudsman's office in 2005.

Benetech's Human Rights Program is helping the Ombudsman's Office in Guatemala with the Archives Project. Benetech staff Tamy Guberek, Romesh Silva and Daniel Guzmán are currently in Guatemala City helping the Ombudsman's Office to refine and implement a series of statistical pilot studies conceived by Benetech's Human Rights Program Director Patrick Ball. A volunteer group from the American Statistical Association has provided invaluable guidance on the statistical sampling issues. The knowledge gained in the pilot will to guide the overall design and implementation of a large-scale scientific study.

To date, the history of state violence in Guatemala has been understood primarily through accounts by victims, witnesses, and the press, because these were the main sources of available data. The National Police was accused by victims of being responsible for much of the violence in Guatemala. Consequently, the National Police Archives provide a important opportunity to learn about the chain of command, the flow of communication, policies, and links between the National Police and other groups. The analysis could be used to shape institutional reform within the new civilian police and other public security institutions, and it could contribute further to historical clarification in Guatemala.

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