Guatemala: son of human rights defender murdered

From the Guatemala Human Rights Commission-USA (GHRC-USA), Sept. 11:

José Emanuel “Pepe” Méndez Dardón, son of longtime human rights defender Amílcar Méndez, was shot to death in Guatemala City on the afternoon of August 17 by assailants with high caliber weapons. Pepe Méndez leaves behind a wife and seven year-old twins.

For most of his life, Pepe Méndez worked alongside his father through “Runujel Junam” Ethnic Communities Council (CERJ) to empower Guatemalan indigenous communities and defend their human rights. The day before Pepe Méndez was assassinated, he and his father submitted an urgent communiqué to the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Human Rights Center at the request of Dr. Rafael Espada, vice presidential candidate of the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party, who feared that his life was at risk. There was a rising tide of violence against candidates and human rights activists in the run-up to Guatemala’s elections that took place this past Sunday (September 9). GHRC is deeply concerned that Pepe Méndez’s death may be associated with these activities. Moreover, we fear that Amílcar and other members of his family may be in grave danger.

Pepe and his father, Amílcar, had received a number of death threats within the last month, which were reported to the Public Prosecutor’s office.

Since 2000, Guatemala has seen a drastic surge in attacks against human rights defenders, increasing by more than 370% in six years. Human rights defenders suffered 136 attacks in the first six months of 2007, a 12.4% increase from 2006 during the same time period. Attacks range from death threats, surveillance, wire tapping, illegal raids, sexual assault, and kidnappings, to assassination. Moreover, political violence reached all time highs during this election cycle. Officials have registered fifty murders of political candidates and activists in the last year. Even more unbelievable is the fact that the perpetrators have been able to act with complete impunity, undermining the rule of law in Guatemala.

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