On October 28, 2010, two former Guatemalan police officers accused of the 1984 abduction and forced disappearance of Labour Party activist, Edgar Fernando Garcia, were sentenced to 40 years in prison. The indictments and sentencing were long overdue. Last week Kate Doyle, a Senior Analyst at The National Security Archive (NSA), and Daniel Guzman, a statistician with Benetech, testified as expert witnesses for the prosecution in the trial of ex-police officers, Hector Roderico Rios and Abrahan Lancerio.
I was introduced to the Guatemalan National Police Archives and the contributions made therein by Kate Doyle, by way of award-winning documentary filmmaker Pamela Yates (Pamela was generous with her time in explaining to me her own projects which shed light on the atrocities in Guatemala). Doyle’s earlier assessment of the Death Squad Dossier a military logbook documenting the disappearances of Guatemalans during the civil war violence of the mid 1980s, provided the watershed moment that allowed families of victims to pursue collective legal action. Doyle has been a committed advocate of truth commissions in Latin America for nearly two decades. Her work with the NSA, a long-standing partner of the Guatemala Human Rights Office, has brought justice by advocating openness in society and transparency in government. Doyle currently serves as advisor to the archivists of the Archives of the National Police in Guatemala.
Last week’s successful trial highlights some points on the importance of records for use as legal evidence. In an interview with The WITNESS Blog, Doyle portrays this case as representative of a serious violation of one’s right to information. Edgar Fernando Garcia’s wife, Nineth Montenego de Garcia, was for years denied access to information as to her husband’s disappearance. A vigorous proponent of Freedom of Information (FOI) laws, Doyle condemns this silence of the state and continues to stress the use of archival records as evidence of human rights violations to seek justice. Needless to say, the availability of the records from the archive undoubtedly opened the Garcia case. According to a post on the NSA blog, Unredacted, Doyle writes that the “indictments…were the first to be based on evidence found by the investigators among records inside the Historical Archive of the National Police.”
Another impressive feature of the proceedings was the testimony of statitician Daniel Guzman. Guzman is a consultant with the Benetech Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG). HRDAG performed a, sort of, records forensics analysis on a sampling of the records to produce a statistical analysis of the data in the records, which was then presented in court. The prosecution used the analyzed data to make it abundantly evident that Garcia’s disappearance was part of a systematic pattern of the state to eliminate opponents during the 1983-86 regime of General Oscar Mejia.
HRDAG is a project offshoot of Benetech and it’s work exemplifies one of the novel ways archival records may be used in similar legal cases. Benetech’s purpose to apply technology in effecting change is strategic. They target three thematic areas in their work: Environment, Literacy, and Human Rights. The defend human rights by using information management to analyze records and provide technical assistance to other organizations, commissions, and groups to resolve conflicts and improve lives. HRDAG is a unique and promising amalgam of information management, statistics, and technology for the human rights movement. Their success in Guatemala, which made the arrests of the ex-police officers possible, may prove to have similar applications in places like the Congo where civil war fuels human rights abuses.