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European countries urged to hold former Guatemalan officials to account

    September 04, 2012

    Guatemalan ex-officials who fled to Europe to escape allegations of involvement in extrajudicial executions must face justice, Amnesty International said today.

    On Monday night a court in Geneva ordered that Erwin Sperisen – Guatemala’s former National Director of Police – remain for at least three months in administrative detention as he faces trial for murder charges stemming from his time in that role from 2004 to 2007.

    Swiss authorities had arrested Sperisen – who cannot be extradited to Guatemala because he also holds Swiss nationality – on Friday, 31 August. He faces charges linked to a number of alleged extrajudicial executions carried out by members of the Guatemalan police force under his command.

    Other Guatemalan former officials believed to be in Europe – including in Austria and Spain – have yet to be held to account for alleged crimes committed in the Central American country.

    “Erwin Sperisen’s arrest in Switzerland should give pause for thought to all those who think that rank and status – or indeed holding a different passport – will allow them to evade justice,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Amnesty International's Researcher on Guatemala.

    Sperisen is suspected of criminal responsibility for the extrajudicial executions of four escaped prisoners from Guatemala’s El Infiernito prison in 2005 and seven inmates at El Pavón prison in 2006.

    In 2007, Sperisen resigned as police chief and fled to Europe along with several of his co-accused in an apparent attempt to escape justice. The former police chief took up residence in Switzerland, while former Interior Minister Carlos Vielman fled to Spain, and the former deputy director of police investigations Javier Figueroa to Austria, where he was granted refugee status.

    While the case against those who remained in Guatemala has advanced slowly through the national courts – where seven are awaiting trial and five have arrest warrants pending – it has been more difficult to bring Sperisen, Vielman and Figueroa to justice abroad.

    Spanish authorities arrested Vielman in October 2010, and he is currently being investigated in Spain for his role in the alleged extrajudicial executions.

    Austrian authorities arrested Javier Figueroa in May 2011, after an extradition request to Guatemala was turned down. He is currently in custody while the investigation continues.
    “With Guatemala’s ex-police chief Erwin Sperisen set to commence trial within months, the focus must shift to what the Austrian and Spanish authorities are doing to ensure such serious allegations of human rights violations are promptly and impartially investigated,” said Elgueta.

    “Sperisen’s arrest proves that the pursuit of justice knows no borders – with the co-operation of national prosecutors and investigators around the world, those suspected of criminal responsibility for serious human rights violations can be held to account. We urge the Austrian and Spanish authorities to ensure that the families of those who were extrajudicially executed in Guatemala can see justice delivered.”

    Beth Berton-Hunter,
    Media Relations,
    Amnesty International Canada
    416-363-9933, ext. 332