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Guatemala: Stop Violence and Intimidation against Rights Advocates

The Guatemalan government must take effective measures to stop violence and intimidation against members of the country's human rights community, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President Alfonso Portillo today. Two days ago, Guillermo Ovalle de León, a member of the Rigoberta Menchú Foundation, was shot to death, and in recent weeks other rights advocates have received death threats.

It is time to put a stop to these acts of aggression against the human rights community in Guatemala," said José Miguel Vivanco, executive director of the Americas Division of Human Rights Watch. "The Guatemalan government must ensure that those responsible for these incidents are brought to justice."

On April 29, Guillermo Ovalle de León, a member of the Rigoberta Menchú Foundation was shot to death under suspicious circumstances in a restaurant in Guatemala City. The Menchú Foundation reported receiving two anonymous phone calls minutes after the killing in which funeral music was heard on other end of the line.

Guatemalan nongovernmental organizations have been subject to an alarming number of acts of intimidation in recent weeks. People participating in efforts to exhume clandestine cemeteries have received death threats, and the offices of the Association for the Advancement of Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO), a research an organization, have been vandalized.

In its letter to President Portillo, Human Rights Watch said that his administration had already taken some steps to respond to the problem, including providing protection to individuals who have received threats and opening a dialogue between high-level cabinet officials and representatives of the targeted organizations. "These are certainly welcome measures," Vivanco wrote. "However, they have clearly proven to be insufficient."

Human Rights Watch specifically urged President Portillo to:

· Ensure that those charged with investigating these crimes are provided the material and technical resources, as well as the personnel, necessary to carry out an exhaustive investigation;

· Ensure that the investigators receive the full cooperation of all state institutions, especially the security forces;

· Facilitate the active participation of civil society organizations in the investigative process, keeping them adequately informed on the progress on the various cases.

"We understand full well that cases of this sort can often be difficult to investigate," Vivanco said. "That is not an excuse for failure, however, but rather the most compelling reason to try harder

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