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(Washington, D.C.) - Amnesty International today urged Guatemalan presidential candidates to prioritize tackling human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands in the country.
In an open letter sent to all presidential candidates, Amnesty International wrote that the new government should improve investigations into past human rights abuses, tackle the alarming rate of violent crime and killings of women, provide long term solutions to land conflicts and protect the work of human rights activists.
"Human rights abuses are a common problem in Guatemala today. Those particularly affected tend to be the most vulnerable, the ones who are most discriminated against: women, indigenous peoples and those living in poverty," said Sebastian Elgueta, Guatemala researcher at Amnesty International.
"The political will of the future President will be crucial in ensuring human rights are protected in Guatemala. This is why it is so crucial that candidates commit to addressing the human rights challenges ahead," he said.
Elections are scheduled for Sept. 11 2011. If none of the candidates receives more than fifty percent of the votes, a second round will take place on Nov. 6 2011. Municipal and legislative elections are scheduled on the same day.
Violence against candidates has been reported, including the killing of three candidates since their campaigns started in May 2011.
Over the past decades Amnesty International has documented alarming levels of human rights abuses in Guatemala. The internal armed conflict, which ended in 1996, left 200,000 victims of torture, killings and enforced disappearances. Those responsible for the harm have only been brought to justice in a handful of cases and few victims have received reparations.
Today Guatemala is a country with one of the highest rates of homicide and violent crime in the Americas. Many of the victims are women -695 were violently murdered in 2010 alone, according to official figures. Most of those responsible for the abuses never face justice.
Land conflict and forced evictions are two issues that most affect rural communities across Guatemala. The country's government has so far failed to address the underlying causes of land conflicts and instead prioritized short-term violent solutions.
In recent years, Amnesty International has also documented a large number of threats and attacks against human rights activists, particularly those who focus on economic, social and cultural rights such as activists who work on land disputes, mining projects and labor disputes.
In the first six months of 2011, local human rights organizations reported 273 incidents of intimidation, threats and or attacks against activists. The vast majority has not been investigated.
"Justice for human rights abuses in Guatemala can be done. What is needed are efficient investigations, effective prosecutions and the political will of the authorities," said Elgueta. "We urge all presidential candidates to commit to protecting and improving human rights in Guatemala."
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.
For more information, please visit: www.amnestyusa.org.