Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Guatemalan Police Archive Finds Evidence in Disappearance Case

A Guest Beneblog by Tamy Guberek (Benetech HRDAG team member from Colombia)

There is important news this month from our partners at the Guatemalan National Police Archive, which has worked since 2006 with Benetech’s Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG). Workers at the archive discovered documents that led to the arrest of two active duty police officers suspected in the 1984 disappearance of university professor and labor leader Édgar Fernando Garcia. Garcia disappeared after being placed in police detention in Guatemala City.

While there is no public information about exactly what evidence these documents contain, prosecutors ordered the arrest of officer Abraham Lancerio Gomez on charges of illegal arrest, forced disappearance, kidnapping, abuse of office and breach of humanitarian duties. According to the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre, Officer Ramirez Rivers, a former officer in the Guatemalan National Police, was also arrested.

The National Police, which was implicated in widespread human rights abuses during the country’s 36 years of internal armed conflict, were disbanded during the 1996 Guatemalan Peace Accords. Records in the archive contain critical information about police procedures during this conflict which resulted in an estimated 200,000 deaths and disappearances. Many families of the estimated 40,000 people who disappeared never found out what happened to their missing relatives.

The disappearance of Édgar Fernando Garcia is one of the best known cases because he is the husband of Nineth Montenegro who now serves as a deputy in the Guatemalan legislature. Montenegro founded the Mutual Support Group (GAM), one of the largest organizations representing the families of the disappeared in Guatemala. We congratulate our partners on the staff of the Guatemalan National Police Archive for discovering information which could finally help these families discover what happened to their loved ones - and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Garcia’s disappearance is one of the cases cited in the Report of the Commission for the Historical Elucidation supported by the Guatemalan government. The Guatemalan Supreme Court has mandated that these forced disappearances be investigated by the criminal courts under the nation’s Penal Procedural Code. piles of documents, workers in masks
The Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH), which is a cabinet level position in the nation’s executive branch, has been tasked with examining the estimated 80 million documents in the Guatemalan National Police Archive. The archive, which is the largest single cache of documents ever made available to human rights investigators in the Americas, was discovered by accident in 2005 when government officials investigated a crumbling building on the grounds of the former National Police headquarters in Guatemala City.

HRDAG has worked with the archive staff to map the contents and select a scientific random sample of the data. Members of the HRDAG team have conducted an initial analysis of this data to determine how communications moved within the police and between the police and other institutions. The analysis also attempts to answer what kind of policies and practices the police employed in relation to human rights abuses. The initial results of the HRDAG analysis will be presented at a special session of the meetings of the American Statistical Association in August, 2009.
Abraham Lancerio Gomez in helmet and handcuffs, in a crowd
Caption for photo: Abraham Lancerio Gomez, an active officer in the Guatemalan National Civil Police, is a suspect in the 1984 disappearance of university and labor leader Édgar Fernando Garcia. Photo by Prensa Libre

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