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Guatemala: ICRC calls for creation of a national search committee

22-02-2010 News Release 10/23

Guatemala City (ICRC) – Years have passed since the end of the armed conflict in Guatemala, yet thousands of people are still searching for relatives who disappeared during the violence.

These people have a right to know what happened, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) stressed today.

The vice-president of the ICRC, Ms Christine Beerli, has submitted a report to the vice-president of Guatemala, Mr Rafael Espada, and the president of the country's Congress, Mr Roberto Alejos, highlighting the needs of the families of the missing. As part of her official visit to Guatemala, Ms Beerli will also meet with civil-society organizations.

" The relatives of those who went missing during the armed conflict are still in great distress; the story is not over yet, " declared Ms Beerli as she submitted the report. " The Guatemalan government has a responsibility towards these thousands of families still hoping to clarify the fate of their missing loved ones and awaiting full compensation through the national reparations programme. "

The report, which discusses the benefits and limitations of this programme, puts particular emphasis on the plight of the relatives of the missing and the anguish they have suffered for over three decades. It urges the government to establish " absence through disappearance " as a legal concept, to introduce tracing mechanisms and to speed up exhumations.

In her discussions with the Guatemalan authorities, Ms Beerli pushed for the creation of a national search committee, as outlined in bill 3590, which has been pending approval in Congress since 2007. This committee would be responsible for coordinating the government's response to the issue – in cooperation with family associations and other civil-society organizations – as well as for implementing a policy ba sed on international standards to tend fully to the needs of affected families.

In Guatemala, the ICRC supports civil-society organizations in their efforts to trace those who disappeared during the armed conflict and offers legal advice to the government. In 2009, the ICRC succeeded in reuniting separated relatives in 37 cases, facilitated over 150 exhumations and burials, and helped procure 570 legal documents – mainly birth and death certificates.

  For further information, please contact:
  Carlos Batallas and Catalina Godoy, ICRC Guatemala, tel. +502 22 61 70 75
  Dénes Benczédi, ICRC Mexico, tel. +52 55 25 81 21 10
  Marçal Izard, ICRC Geneva, tel. +41 22 730 2458 or +41 79 2127 32 24