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									GUATEMALA
HUMAN RIGHTS
COMMISSION/USA
                     AFFIDAVIT OF XX


My name is XX. I have been working in the field of human rights since 1992, when I
joined the staff of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA (GHRC). Since 1997
I have been a member of the Board of Directors of GHRC, and from April 2004 to
September 2005 I was the organization‘s Interim Executive Director.
GHRC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, humanitarian organization established in 1982. Our
mission is to monitor, document, and report on the human rights situation in Guatemala,
advocate for and support survivors of human rights abuses, and work toward positive,
systemic change.
Since 1989, GHRC has published the Human Rights Update, a biweekly, eight-page
report on the human rights situation in Guatemala. I was the editor of this publication
from 1992 to 1997 and again in 2004 and 2005, during my time as Interim Director of
GHRC. I also wrote a series of reports analyzing the human rights situation in
Guatemala, including annual and quarterly human rights analyses from 1993 to 1997 and
annual and periodic human rights reviews in 2003, 2004, and 2005. Information issued
by GHRC is used widely by researchers, journalists, members of Congress, and national
and international organizations, including the Bureau of Citizen and Immigration
Services, and the United Nations.
I am familiar with the facts of XX‘s case and I believe he has a well-founded fear of
persecution if he is deported to Guatemala.


I. Guatemala’s Internal Armed Conflict

The internal armed conflict in Guatemala lasted more than thirty-six years, ending with
the signing of peace accords in 1996. The brutal conflict left an estimated 200,000 dead
and 47,000 disappeared, as well as over one million internally displaced and well over
200,000 refugees.

One of the most profoundly affected populations was Guatemalan youth. A report by the
United Nations Verification Mission to Guatemala (MINUGUA) found that fifty-one
percent of the population was under eighteen years old in 2000. 1 As the generation that
lived through the final stage of the war, as well as the period immediately following it,
these youths continue to experience the after-effects of the internal armed conflict.2


1 United Nations Verification Mission to Guatemala. The Situation of Children and Adolescents in the
Peace Process in Guatemala. Guatemala City: December 2000.
2 Center for Human Rights Legal Action, ―Some Reflections on Femicide in Guatemala,‖ 2004.

3321 12th Street N.E., Washington, D.C. 20017  (202) 529-6599  Fax (202) 526-4611  www.ghrc-
                                              usa.org
II. Rising Violence

The Guatemalan government is increasingly unable to afford security for its citizens.
Homicides in Guatemala rose by forty percent from 2001 to 2004, and the increase in
murders continues. The police reported 5,338 murders in 2005, which represents an
average of more than 14 murders a day. These numbers indicate a 15 percent increase
over the previous year, when 4,507 murders were registered. In fact, between 2001 and
2005 the total number of registered homicides increased by 60.51 percent. Guatemala
has a population of 14 million. By way of comparison, New York City, with a
population of 7.4 million, averages fewer than 600 murders per year.

In 2005, the homicide rate in Guatemala rose to 44 per 100,000 inhabitants, a number
well above the average rate in Latin America3 and above the average rate in Guatemala
during the final decade of the war. The average murder rate throughout the world,
according to the World Health Organization, is 10 per 100,000. After a particularly
violent week in June 2005, Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales
remarked, ―Last week was the most violent in the last sixty years. The number of people
murdered last week reached 137, which is more than the number of murders recorded per
week during the internal armed conflict.‖4 According to Morales, the violence plaguing
Guatemala ―has become an epidemic.‖
Guatemala‘s youth has been disproportionately affected by the violence. Of all murder
victims in 2005, 42.28 percent were between eleven and twenty-five years old.5
Guatemalan homicide Investigators attribute forty percent of the deaths to gang-related
fights, though some experts consider gangs responsible for half that number.6

In part because of the government‘s inability to provide security, Guatemala made
Foreign Policy magazine‘s May 2006 list of ―failed states.‖ The magazine defined the
term as follows: ―For the purposes of this index, a failing state is one in which the
government does not have effective control of its territory, is not perceived as legitimate
by a significant portion of its population, does not provide domestic security or basic
public services to its citizens, and lacks a monopoly on the use of force. . . . The index
measures vulnerability to violent internal conflict.‖ On failures of the security apparatus
as a contributing factor to destabilization, Guatemala ranked 7.5 (with 10 being the worst
rating). Guatemala ranked 7.5 on government delegitimization as a destabilizing force,
and on human rights violations ranked 7.1.




3 Centro de Estudios de Guatemala, ―Informe de Naciones Unidas ubica a Guatemala como uno de los
países más violentos,‖ 18 June 2006.
4 Prensa Libre, 26 June 2005.
5 El Periódico, ―Investigación: Violencia en Guatemala,‖ 10 April 2006.
6 Stephen Johnson,―North American Youth Gangs: Patterns and Remedies.‖ Congressional Testimony,
Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Washington, DC. 20 April 2005.


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III. Gang Violence

United States-based gangs that originated in the 1960s are now connected to 130,000-
300,000 members in Central America and Mexico. In Guatemala‘s post-war era, street
gangs have flourished, and their influence continues to grow. No longer confined to the
large cities, they have spread throughout rural Guatemala. Statistics from the National
Civil Police show a presence of gangs in almost all departments of the country.7
Therefore, moving to the countryside is no longer a solution for someone wishing to be
safe from the gangs. As Lainie Reisman, of the Inter-American Coalition for the
Prevention of Violence, noted in her opening remarks at the Pan American Health
Organization‘s February 23, 2005 conference on gang violence in Central America,
―Most of us are probably familiar with gang activity in urban areas, but are you aware
that these gangs also operate in extremely remote areas? Gangs are now flourishing in
tiny Central American towns like Nebaj, Guatemala, estimated population of 16,000 and
which until only a few years ago was only accessible via a rather tortuous dirt road.‖8

Many youths join gangs after being forcibly recruited. Others are driven to join to
compensate for socio-economic marginalization, lack of family coherence, and few
promising alternatives. Some young men and women refuse to join the gangs, however,
and others attempt to leave once initiated, but there are severe reprisals for such actions;
gangs target individuals who defy their authority.

The case of Edgar Chocoy demonstrates the dangers faced by those who refuse to
participate any longer. Edgar was twelve years old when he joined a street gang in
Guatemala. At the age of fourteen, he tried to leave that gang. As a result, he was
threatened, beaten, forced into hiding, and pursued at gunpoint. When Edgar was
fourteen, he fled to the United States. An immigration judge denied his request for
asylum, and Edgar chose not to appeal. Seventeen days after his deportation, Edgar was
shot to death by the same group that had persecuted him—the same group he told the
immigration judge would kill him if he returned to Guatemala.9

The retaliation for a perceived lack of loyalty is often brutal, involving torture, as well as
death. On January 16, 2005, for example, a bullet-riddled body with signs of torture was
found in a soccer field in Villa Nueva, Guatemala. A note attached to the body stated,
―This is how traitors die.‖ It was signed, ―Mara Salvatrucha‖ (Salvatrucha Gang).10

Not everyone is convinced that such murders are carried out by gang members, however.
Many Guatemalan analysts believe signs of torture indicate that the victim was targeted

7 Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Gang Presence Expands to Rural Areas, UPDATE, 1
February 2005, at 7.
8 Reisman, Lainie, Opening Remarks, PAHO – Voices from the Field: Local Initiatives and New Research
on Central American Youth Gang Violence, Washington, D.C., 23 February 2005.
9 Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network, sign-on letter to Secretary Tom Ridge, Department of
Homeland Security (DHS), Dr. Nguyen Van Hanh, Director, Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), and
Judge Michael Creppy, Chief Immigration Judge, Executive Office of Immigration Review, 12 May 2004
(draft).
10 El Periódico, ―Cadáveres que hablan,‖ 28 August 2005.


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for ―social cleansing‖ by members of the security forces and others interested in deterring
gang activity.


IV. Social Cleansing of Gang Members

In January 2006 Amnesty International cited social cleansing as one of its human rights
concerns regarding Guatemala, defining the term as ―killings by state and private security
forces, targeting street children, lesbian-gay-bi-transgender people, sex workers, alleged
youth gang members, and others.‖ The United Nations Committee against Torture in its
36th session (May 1-19, 2006) also mentioned ―issues related to social cleansing‖ as a
new concern for Guatemala. Likewise, the Department of State‘s 2005 country report on
Guatemala noted unlawful killings by members of the security forces: ―Although the
government and its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings, members of
the police force committed a number of unlawful killings. A weak investigative,
enforcement, and prosecutorial system, however, prevented adequate investigation of
many such killings and other crimes, as well as the arrest and successful prosecution of
perpetrators.‖ The United Nations Verification Mission in its final report on Guatemala,
in November 2004, also expressed concern about police participation in social cleansing,
as did the the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in its 2003 report, ―Justice
and Social Inclusion.‖ Reuters reporter Frank Jack Daniel put it bluntly: ―some police
are executing suspects in tactics reminiscent of the region‘s Cold War era death squads.‖
The growing pattern of social cleansing as it relates to gang members in Guatemala
claimed international media attention in late 2005 and in early 2006. Articles on the issue
appeared in the Christian Science Monitor (October 6, 2005—―In Guatemala, a Rise in
Vigilante Justice‖), the New York Times (January 1, 2006—―Guatemala Bleeds in Vise of
Gangs and Vengeance‖); the Washington Post (February 24, 2006—―Self-Styled Justice
in Guatemala‖); London‘s The Independent (February 28, 2006—―Vigilantes Back to
Restore ‗Justice‘ to Guatemala‖); and the Boston Globe (January 23—―Guatemala Swept
by Vigilante Killings in Crime Backlash‖ and April 19, 2006—―Death Squads Said to
Target Youths‖). Articles were also published by the Associated Press (October 18,
2005—―Guatemala Squads Leave Trail of Bodies‖) and Reuters (March 7, 2005—
―Police Blamed in Central American Gang Murders‖).
Such media attention was warranted. A wave of murders of suspected gang members in
early 2006 shocked Guatemala; more than 550 people were murdered from January 1 to
February 11. In February the Myrna Mack Foundation, a Guatemalan think tank,
denounced the existence of a campaign of social cleansing, after the appearance in one
week of some twenty bodies showing signs of torture in Guatemala City. The murdered
individuals had been tied hand and foot, tortured, and strangled. Minister of the Interior
Carlos Vielmann argued, ―It‘s not a government policy,‖ referring to the extrajudicial
executions. Carmen Aída Ibarra, of the Myrna Mack Foundation agreed, but countered,
―It is not credible that social groups can with total impunity mount operations to
eliminate five, seven, or more people, and that this would escape the notice of security
forces.‖ As Emilio Goubaud, an expert on Guatemala‘s gangs, explained it, ―The State
doesn't have the resources to solve the problem with social programs so it uses


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‗dissuasive violence‘ as a control mechanism.‖ The Mack Foundation‘s Ibarra went on to
say that in murders resulting from turf wars or stemming from vengeance, members of
organized crime open fire on their targets and eliminate them, rather than tying them up
and torturing them first.
In some cases, social cleansing has been linked to groups of private citizens frustrated
with crime. In February police arrested seven armed men wearing ski masks near Lake
Atitlán. The presumed leader of the group, a 60-year-old peasant, and the other group
members are suspected of carrying out social cleansing in San Lucas Tolimán, small
town near the lake. The men, who called themselves the ―Social Cleansing Group,‖ are
alleged to have killed as many as five people they considered criminals. In September, an
armed group calling themselves the Guardians of the City claimed the deaths of six
alleged gang members in Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango.11 In pamphlets distributed
throughout the city, the group claimed that they would confront the downward spiral of
violence in Guatemala, exacerbated by the inefficiency of the police, with vigilante
justice.

Human Rights Ombudsman Sergio Morales said police officers were involved in the
early 2006 wave of murders and contributed data concerning the links of the security
forces to extrajudicial killings, for example, the fact that individuals in National Civil
Police uniforms were seen seizing people prior to their being found dead. The
Ombudsman arrived at this conclusion after investigating 87 homicides that shared
common characteristics, such as prior abduction, strangulation, bullet wounds, and the
dumping of the bodies in distant places. ―Fifty-six percent of the victims were youths
involved in gangs, but the remaining fourty-four percent had nothing to do with those
groups,‖ he said. He added that the officers responsible for the murders could be
members of the Criminal Investigation Service of the Police and belong to a parallel
structure. ―Members of the security forces are involved,‖ he asserted. ―They have
information and logistical capabilities, which allow them to act with security.‖ He noted
that such parallel groups operate in almost all areas of the country. According to
Morales, the phenomenon of social cleansing corresponds to a selective and arbitrary
mechanism of repression that is systematically produced through actors linked to the
State or through private individuals. They act with acquiescence, tolerance (deliberate or
involuntary), complicity, and support from the State and attack the right to life of those
that are considered as undesirables.12 This practice depends on the implicit guarantee of
impunity for the authors of these crimes, while the State carries out useless and deficient
investigations that do not allow for identification or punishment.

The situation was of great concern to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human
Rights in Guatemala. On presenting the UN Office of the High Commissioner for
Human Right‘s first report at the beginning of 2006, Anders Kompass expressed concern
about the existence of illegal groups that try to exterminate supposed juvenile gang
members by themselves. He stated that on the part of the authorities and society in

11 Guatemala Human Rights Commission / USA, UPDATE, Vol 17 No 18 and 19, 1 October 2005.
12 Human Rights Procurator‘s Office, ―The characteristics of violent deaths in the country.‖



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general there is a tolerance that allows these types of incidents, and that it can be
understood but cannot be tolerated. ―Social cleansing,‖ he stressed, ―is carried out with
the acceptance of authorities and society and is a remedy that is always worse than the
disease, because it is illegal and undemocratic.‖ The UN representative‘s concern led
him to offer to provide technical assistance and advice to the Guatemalan government to
detain the social cleansing of suspected criminals. The US State Department also
expressed concern, citing extrajudicial killings by police, vigilantes, or former members
of security forces as the leading human rights violation in both Honduras and
Guatemala.13


Examples of Social Cleansing


       On October 13, 2005, thirteen-year-old Kevin García and his friends were playing
        soccer when a white Isuzu Trooper without license plates screeched to a halt
        nearby. Armed men in unmarked black uniforms and sunglasses leaped out and
        ordered the teenagers to the ground. Kevin screamed for help, and a woman
        nearby called to the gunmen to let him go. Residents say one of the men pointed a
        gun at the woman, but let go of Kevin. His three friends, ages 15, 16, and 18,
        were kicked and forced into the vehicle. The next day, their lifeless bodies were
        discovered 30 miles away, bound and strangled, showing signs of torture,
        according to local newspapers.
       On August 27, Mario Toscano, 19, was shot by two men as he was having a drink
        in a store, according to witnesses. The men then drove Toscano away in a green
        car with tinted windows. Witnesses said they saw a police cruiser follow the car.
        Toscano‘s wife, Ingrid Castro, said a motorcycle cop passed by shortly after and
        she asked him for help, ―but he just left.‖ Toscano has not been seen or heard
        from again. According to Toscano‘s father, six months earlier police had burst
        into his home and carried away Toscano, refusing to show a warrant. Toscano
        was released two days later by a judge who ruled the arrest illegal.
       According to youth worker Elubia Velásquez, twenty suspected gang members
        were kidnapped and killed in Villa Nueva, a gang-ridden suburb of Guatemala
        City, in 2005, including a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old boy who were found with
        their lips sliced off. Emilio Goubaud, director of a nonprofit, US-funded
        organization dedicated to rehabilitating Guatemalan gang members, believes
        police in Villa Nueva were behind the slaying of 19 of his program's participants
        between November 2002 and February 2003.

       Eyewitnesses to the disappearance of two young men, ages fifteen and sixteen, in
        April of 2006 said they were taken away in a car belonging to agents of the
        Criminal Investigations Office and even identified the police officers involved.
        The bodies of the two teenagers were discovered two days later. They had been


13 Cited by Indira A.R. Lakshmanan, Boston Globe, 19 April 2006.


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        beaten and strangled and their hands and feet were bound. Both of the young men
        had criminal records and neighbors claimed that they were members of a gang
        that was robbing homes in the area.

       Estuardo Munoz Sinar, 17, was last seen July 18 in a National Civil Police
        cruiser, according to the boy‘s parents and witnesses. Police said they have no
        information and have listed him as a missing person.

In just the first month and a half of 2006, forty-five suspected gang members were
murdered, many of them first tortured and later abandoned in desolate areas. As of
February 2006, only eight of these cases had been investigated and just four arrest
warrants had been issued, none of which had been served. The PNC Homicide Unit
argues that it is difficult to find those responsible, especially given the lack of
cooperation on the part of families and witnesses. ―When gangs are mentioned it becomes
very difficult, because no one wants to testify in court,‖ claimed one PNC detective.14


Other Police Abuses of Suspected Gang Members

The 2005 Department of State Country Report on Guatemala notes, ―Critics accused the
police of indiscriminate and illegal detentions when conducting anti-gang operations in
specific high-crime neighborhoods. Suspected gang members allegedly were arrested and
imprisoned without charges or on the basis of false drug charges, and in some instances
were arrested without a warrant and not in the commission of a crime. . . .There was no
reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions, although most accounts indicated that
police forces routinely ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention,
particularly during neighborhood anti-gang operations.‖


V. Increasing Repression

Although crime has received much attention, crime is not the only growing problem in
Guatemala. The human rights situation in Guatemala has reached its worst point since
the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996. The number of attacks on human rights
defenders has steadily risen for the past few years: in 2003, 125 attacks on human rights
defenders were reported; in 2005, the number of attacks rose to 224. The government of
Oscar Berger is widely viewed as tending to use repression, rather than working to solve
the root causes of conflict. Human rights defenders, journalists, labor leaders,
environmental and indigenous activists, and others who oppose the policies of the
government or who are deemed undesirable have come under increasing attack. ―This
situation is nothing new; it‘s just getting worse,‖ the Guatemala-based Myrna Mack
Foundation asserts. ―The state apparatus has historically been selective about whom it
serves and protects, and the demands of people who participate in social movements

14 CDHG, Expertos Señalan que no hay Seguimiento a Casos de Muertes de Pandilleros, Informe Semanal
sobre Derechos Humanos, No. 04/06, 3 de febrero 2006.


                                                                                                 7
continue to be ignored. The only new aspect is that these people are also suffering
criminal persecution, police abuse, and jail for even expressing their claims.‖15 Those
suspected of belonging to gangs fall squarely into the category of the unprotected and, in
fact, of the targeted.


VI. Conclusion

In Guatemala, social cleansing is a serious threat to anyone who is suspected of being a
gang member. XX‘s tattoos indicate gang affiliation, and if he were returned to
Guatemala, he could suffer arbitrary detention, torture, other forms of cruel and
inhumane treatment, and even murder at the hands of National Civil Police officers. He
would also face danger from private citizens intent on ridding Guatemala of gangs by
carrying out brutal exemplary killings of suspected gang members. Gang-perpetrated
violence is another serious threat to the life and wellbeing of anyone who once was a
gang member and no longer participates. Members of his own former gang, 18 th Street,
might well retaliate against him because he is not participating in the gang any longer, yet
clearly was once a member. He would also face danger from the rival gang, Salvatrucha,
which would assume him to be a member of 18th Street, as his tattoos declare.

In light of the probable violence he would face from government-linked actors, private
citizens committed to social cleansing, and/or gang members, I believe XX has a well-
founded fear of persecution and would be unsafe if he returned to Guatemala.


I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct to best of my
knowledge.


Date: ______________________



___________________________
XX
Board Member
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA




15 ―The United States Finds the Groundwork Laid,‖ by the Myrna Mack Foundation, published in Revista
Envío, June 2005.


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