December 8, 2000

Interamerican Court Rules Against Guatemalan Army: Triumph In Harbury/Bamaca Assassination Case

WASHINGTON -- The Inter-American Court on Human Rights of the Organization of American States, ("OAS") has reached a final ruling in the case of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, finding the Guatemalan military guilty of secret detention, torture, and extrajudicial execution, as well as obstruction of justice.

Bamaca was a Mayan resistance leader in Guatemala, and was captured alive by the Guatemalan army on March 12, 1992. He was secretly detained and tortured for more than a year. His wife, U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury, engaged in lengthy hunger strikes in both Guatemala and Washington D.C. in an attempt to save his life. In 1995 Senator Torricelli confirmed his extrajudicial execution at the hands of Guatemalan military officials, one of them a paid CIA informant.

The Inter American Court made clear in its historic ruling that international law will not tolerate the use of secret prisons, torture or assassination by any government officials under any circumstances. This ruling comes as a clear and sharp rebuke to military strongmen throughout the Americas, who have long sought to justify such abuses by claiming that their victims were either members or sympathizers of local guerrilla forces. From Pinochet in Chile, to army leaders throughout Central America, it has been urged that counterinsurgency efforts make such abuses permissible.

International laws and treaties prohibit such human rights violations. As the Inter American Court made clear in its resounding opinion, such legal prohibitions are absolute.

The case of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez has long been embarrassing to the United States government, given its close collaborative relationship with the Guatemalan military, and its employment of certain officials directly responsible for torture and murder. The United Nations Truth Commission found the Guatemalan security forces to be responsible for 94 percent of the human rights
violations which occurred during the war, and rebuked the United States for its relationship with the military regimes.

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