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Guatemala must still seek to solve human rights issues: UN rights chief

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] stated on Thursday that Guatemalan government authorities remain willing to solve human rights issues in the country but nonetheless have failed to comply [press release] with the 1996 Peace Accords [text] which ended the country's 36-year civil war. Pillay focused on three issues: impunity for certain individuals, insecurity and violence, and rights of indigenous peoples. Pillay commended Guatemala for ratifying the Rome Statute [text] and bringing some human rights violations to justice, such as the Dos Erres massacre [JURIST report], but said additional reform was still needed before courts were truly independent and impartial. Pillay urged the government to continue fighting against crime, without using the high crime rate as an excuse to operate outside the law, by addressing the root causes of crime. Finally, Pillay stated that indigenous peoples must be allowed to participate in government decisions and be allowed to defend their rights.

The Guatemalan civil war, which lasted from 1960-1996 [BBC timeline] resulted in more than 200,000 deaths, mostly among Guatemala's large indigenous Mayan population. According to a UN report [text, in Spanish] released in 1999, the military was responsible for 95 percent of those deaths. Earlier this month a Guatemalan judge denied amnesty [JURIST report] to former dictator Effan Rios Montt, who was in power during the Dos Erres massacre. In February, JURIST guest columnist and Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission Kelsey Alford-Jones opined [JURIST op-ed] that prosecuting Rios Montt was necessary to bring justice to his victims, as well as strengthen the Guatemalan judiciary. In August a Guatemalan court sentenced four former soldiers [JURIST report] to over 6,000 years in prison on war crimes charges related to the Dos Erres massacre.

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