International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) students Carmen Atkins ’08, Katherine Burdick ’09, and Jason Guerrero-Phlaum ’09, recently traveled to Washington, D.C. with the clinic’s associate director, Roxanna Altholz, to advocate on behalf of Guatemalan survivors of human rights violations.
On October 12, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights heard both expert and witness testimony about Guatemala’s failure to investigate forced disappearances carried out by security forces during that country’s civil war. Family members of 28 of 183 victims are represented by the Myrna Mack Foundation (Fundación Myrna Mack), a Guatemalan human rights organization, with the support of the IHRLC. The two witnesses who testified at the hearing were family members of victims.
The victims’ names were recorded in a logbook known as the “Death Squad Dossier,” which was found among secret Guatemalan military files and which was made public in 1999. It also contains photos of 183 victims, as well as coded references to secret executions for which nobody has been held responsible. (A copy of the logbook is available.)
Guatemalan prosecutors have virtually ignored the logbook despite its evidentiary value. At the hearing, Atkins conducted the direct examination of the expert, Kate Doyle, who testified that the Death Squad Dossier is an authentic document created by Guatemalan military intelligence. Doyle is a Guatemala expert at the National Security Archives and has compiled more than 15,000 declassified U.S. documents on Guatemala.
Witnesses Elizabeth Josefa Andrade and Mirtala Linares testified about their two-decade long struggle to bring those responsible for their family members’ disappearances to justice. Burdick and Guerrero-Phlaum prepared the witnesses’ written affidavits and oral testimonies. “Attending the hearing made abstract concepts about human rights real,” said Guerrero-Phlaum.
The families are asking that the commission rule on the complaint and hold Guatemala accountable for the disappearances of their loved ones and for its failure to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. “If Guatemala is serious about human rights, it must prosecute those responsible for these crimes,” says Altholz.
(A video of the Death Squad Dossier hearing is available and listed under Case 12.590 -José Miguel Gudiel Alvarez and Others)
After the hearing, Burdick said, “The experience reminded me of why I wanted to be a lawyer in the first place, and it will make me a better advocate.”