As part of an Amnesty International research mission to
Guatemala, Barbara Bocek was trying to document an escalation in
abuses against human rights workers.
Her research last month was unexpectedly bolstered by first-hand
Ms. Bocek says that, just days after Amnesty International had
issued a press statement calling for an end to intimidation of
Guatemalan human rights activists, two armed men forced her into
her Guatemala City hotel's stairwell, bound her mouth, feet, and
hands in tape, and then left, saying they would return. She was
found hours later by hotel security and a colleague.
Interior Minister Byron Barrientos, the only government official
to comment on the incident, says the abduction never happened.
The case is heightening fears here among local human rights
workers, who say that the government is increasingly attempting to
pass off harassment as the work of common criminals.
"This case seems to go a step further, the international impact
is greater, and it's hard to construe this act as common crime,"
says Guillermo Fernandez-Maldonado, the director of Minugua, the
human rights program for the United Nations Mission in Guatemala.
He says that while the government response to many recent
incidents involving human rights workers has been to dismiss them
ascommon crime, "the hypothesis that a serious institution, like
Amnesty International, fabricated this attack is even more bold."
Guatemala "approaches being one of the worst situations in Latin
America vis-a-vis threats against human rights workers, and that
wasn't the case a year ago," says Andrew Miller, a Latin American
specialist for Amnesty International.
According to Mr. Fernandez-Maldonado, in Minugua's upcoming human
rights report for July 2000 to June 2001, one of the important
topics covered will be the "elevated number of complaints" that
human rights organizations operating in Guatemala have filed with
Minugua, the organization responsible for monitoring the
implementation of the country's 1996 peace accords, which ended the
nation's 36-year civil war.
While Minugua officials declined to give figures until the report
is released, they say the most disturbing factor is not the number
of incidents, but the increasing boldness of the attacks, which
range from phoned death threats to physical attacks to office break-
ins in which hard drives and files are stolen.
Fernandez-Maldonado says most of these acts have the appearance
of common crime, the hypothesis the government has maintained in a
number of these cases. Nonetheless, he says the concentration of
similar complaints in such a short time period is "absolutely