Amnesty International has strongly condemned the failure of the Guatemalan authorities to investigate thoroughly the extra-judicial killings in which police officers have been implicated.
In a report released on 15 December 2009, the human rights NGO says that killings by police officers, often of young people who have either a criminal record or are suspected of involvement in crime, continue to be reported.
“Despite repeated reports and investigations by local and international human rights organisations, the problem of police involvement in extra-judicial killings continues" said Kerrie Howard, deputy director of the Americas Programme at Amnesty International.
“The Guatemalan authorities must take seriously these allegations and investigate effectively and thoroughly”, added Howard.
The media and the authorities have frequently referred to these extra-judicial killings as “social cleansing”, taking the law into their own hands to “rid” society of people they suspect involved in criminal activity.
Guatemalan officials are failing to investigate these killings. Amnesty is asking that the authorities fulfil their obligations under international human rights law to protect the right to life and to bringing to justice those responsible for violating this right.
Guatemala has a very high level of violent crime, yet has a very low conviction rate. It is estimated that 98 per cent of homicides go unresolved in the Central American country.
Amnesty says it has received frequent reports of individuals who came into contact with the police and were then never seen alive again. The bodies of the victims, some as young as 13, were mostly discovered in vacant lots or on rubbish tips with their hands tied behind their backs, strangled or with multiple gun shot wounds inflicted at close range.
Investigations into the cases often take many months to begin, by which time much of the evidence which could be used to identify the perpetrators is lost.
Amnesty says it believes that to date, there has been no serious initiative to hold to account those responsible for these serious human rights violations. It is calling on the Guatemalan president to guarantee an end to extra-judicial killings and to bring to justice those responsible for these crimes.