Rights Groups Lobby U.N. Against Guatemala

Fiercely criticising Guatemala's human rights record, civil society groups are pressing the U.N. General Assembly not to endorse that country's bid for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council.

By Haider Rizvi - IPS
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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 9 (IPS) - Fiercely criticising Guatemala's human rights record, civil society groups are pressing the U.N. General Assembly not to endorse that country's bid for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council.

By supporting Guatemala to be on the U.N.'s most powerful body, the international community will be abandoning many of the human rights principles the institution was created to uphold, say Guatemalan activists and their allies in the United States and other countries.

"Having failed to solve its own peace and security problems," they said in a letter to the General Assembly, "our country has very little to contribute to solving problems related to international peace and security."

The letter, drafted by the Guatemalan NGO Association for the Study and Promotion of Security and Democracy and the U.S.-based Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala and signed by nearly 90 other organisations, accuses the Guatemalan government of lacking respect for the rule of law and highlights its continued inability to protect human rights defenders.

A second letter, organised by the Guatemalan Peace and Development Network and signed by over 30 groups and 230 notable individuals from 25 countries, said that the "State of Guatemala has allowed, and occasionally has contributed to, the deterioration of the situation of human rights and the proliferation of violence, again making these issues a matter of profound concern for the international community."

With strong backing from the United States, Guatemala is seeking to fill the Security Council seat reserved for Latin America and the Caribbean. That seat is due be vacated by Argentina by the end of this year.

The U.S. is supporting Guatemala's candidacy because it does not want to see Venezuela, the other candidate, on the Council. The socialist-leaning government of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a staunch critic of Washington's role in international politics.

With a General Assembly vote scheduled for next Monday, observers say the U.S. is stepping up pressure on many countries in the region that may support Venezuela.

For example, the U.S. has agreed to sell F16 fighter jets to Chile, but, according to the Los Angeles Times, warns that Chilean pilots "will not be trained to fly them if the government supports Venezuela's bid".

Observers say that under increasing pressure from Washington, many Central American governments are expected to vote for Guatemala. However, the U.S. strategy of "carrots and sticks" has failed to produce similar results in the Caribbean region.

Last July at its summit, the 15-member Caribbean Community, whose region controls 14 votes in the General Assembly, publicly announced that it would opt for Venezuela as the non-permanent member of the Security Council.

In South America, both Brazil and Argentina have also expressed full support for Venezuela, whose leaders have said and time and again that, if elected, they would represent the voices of the global south.

Though cautious in their optimism, Venezuelan diplomats say they expect that a large number of members of the Non-Aligned Movement would support their candidacy.

"We are hopeful. Many members have assured of their support," the Venezuelan ambassador told IPS. "It's a secret ballot, so we would not exaggerate our claims."

In their letter, rights groups said the Guatemalan government remains "hostile" to the "precepts and contents" of the U.N. Charter and of the international agreements related to security and human rights.

"Even though the Peace Accords were signed in 1996," they said, very "little has been done to combat impunity and strengthen the judicial system to prevent the reoccurrence of genocide, crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations carried out during the conflict."

U.S.-based rights groups who have been monitoring human rights violations in the country for the past 25 years have faulted the George W. Bush administration for backing Guatemala's candidacy.

"It's bad indicator," Andrew De Souza of the Washington-based Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala told IPS. "The government in Guatemala has an anti-human rights trend. We don't agree with the U.S. position."

Reports by various U.N. missions to monitor human rights abuses in the past confirm these observations. Concluding its study of the post-civil war peace process, a U.N. commission said in a December 2004 report that Guatemala still suffered from crime, social injustice and human rights violations.

Most of the violations are directed at the indigenous Mayans who make up 60 percent of the population.

Past abuses included 200,000 deaths, more than 600 massacres and over 50,000 disappearances, according to the U.N. Commission for Historical Clarification.

In 1999, a U.N.-backed commission said government security forces were behind 93 percent of all human rights atrocities committed during the civil war.

Rights groups say in the absence of rule of law in Guatemala, many victims have been force to seek justice in Spain, Belgium and the Inter-American Court for Human Rights, whose decisions and resolutions have yet to be complied with by the Guatemalan government.

"Due to these reasons, and in the name of Guatemalan victims who seek justice and an end to impunity," activists said in the letter, "we ask that you do not favour Guatemala with your vote."

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