No. 11/03




The Unit for Human Rights Defenders of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses its concern over the murder of Diego Xon Salazar, a Mayan priest and human rights defender of the Mutual Support Group (GAM), who worked and lived in the town of Chamanchaj in the municipality of Chichicastenango, Guatemala.  It also expresses concern over the safety of Mario Polanco, director of the GAM, and his wife, Nineth Montenegro, a Guatemalan deputy.


According to information received by the Unit, Diego Xon Salazar was abducted on Thursday, April 3, 2003, and was found murdered, with bullet wounds, on April 5.  The information indicates that Mr. Xon had allegedly been receiving death threats since March 2000.  In recent months he had filed various complaints about the reorganization of the former civil self-defense patrols (PAC) in the department of Quiché.


The Unit for Human Rights Defenders also received information on an illegal search and robbery in the home of Mario Polanco and Nineth Montenegro.  On April 7, 2003, several men entered Mr. Polanco’s house and stole all his personal files and his computer equipment, which are essential for his work in human rights.


Following its visit to Guatemala last March, the IACHR expressed its concern over alarming indicia suggesting the possibility of backsliding in the progress made towards consolidating the rule of law.  In particular, the Commission noted a significant increase in the intimidation of human rights defenders and judicial officers, including illegal searches of the offices of human rights organizations, the theft of equipment and information, death threats, attacks on physical integrity, being followed, kidnappings, and even assassinations.  The IACHR reiterates that the Guatemalan State must investigate these acts and punish their perpetrators.


The IACHR recalls that, at the last regular session of the General Assembly in Barbados in June 2002, the member states adopted a resolution on human rights defenders in the Americas, in which it agreed to condemn actions that directly or indirectly prevented or hampered their work in the Americas.  In the same resolution, it urged member states to step up their efforts to adopt the necessary measures, in keeping with their domestic law and with internationally accepted principles and standards, to safeguard the lives, personal safety, and freedom of expression of human rights defenders.


Washington, D. C., April 11, 2003