1. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has been following the human rights situation in Guatemala with real concern for several years. This concern is due to the generalized violence that country is undergoing, from which –to use the words of the IACHR itself—the “agents of the Guatemalan Government or persons who have had the approval or tolerance of that government” have not been excluded.1
2. In view of this serious situation and in consideration of the several accusations received, the IACHR decided at its thirty-first session, held in October of 1973, to ask the Government of Guatemala for permission to make an on-site observation. The government, in a cable dated November 3, 1973, answered this request by the IACHR as follows:
THE GUATEMALAN GOVERNMENT RESPECTS AND GUARANTEES HUMAN RIGHTS AND, JUST AS IT RESPECTS SOVEREIGNTY OF OTHER STATES, IT IS WATCHFUL OF ITS OWN. DUE TO THE FOREGOING, AND BECAUSE THE COUNTRY IS IN THE MIDST OF PRE-ELECTORAL DEMOCRATIC ACTIVITIES, GUATEMALA DOES NOT GIVE PERMISSION FOR VISIT BY THE COMMISSION, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT COULD LEND ITSELF TO POSSIBLE DISTORTIONS BY POLITICAL PARTIES IN THE MIDST OF CAMPAIGNING FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ALREADY SCHEDULED. SINCERELY YOURS, JORGE ARENALES CATALAN, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS.
In a note dated April 16, 1974, the Chairman of the Commission, Dr. Justino Jiménez de Aréchaga, answered that telegram refuting the argument that the request for permission for an on-site investigation could be interpreted as harmful to the sovereignty of an OAS member state.
3. Subsequently, the IACHR continued to consider at several sessions the increasingly deteriorated situation of human rights in Guatemala, and at some of those sessions it adopted various resolutions on individual cases.
At its forty-eighth session, held from November 29 to December 14, 1979, the Commission, in view of the serious turn the continuous violations of human rights, especially those affecting the right to life, was taking, decided to prepare a report on the human rights situation in Guatemala and to make this decision known to that country's government.
4. Having been informed of this position taken by IACHR, the Guatemalan Government decided to invite it to make an on-site observation. In a note dated January 29, 1980, addressed to the Chairman of the IACHR, Dr. Luis Demetrio Tinoco Castro, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated the following:
My dear Mr. Chairman:
I am happy to inform you that my government has been pleased to learn of the intention of the honorable Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit Guatemala and to prepare a report on the human rights situation in my country.
The news has been received with approval by the democratic government of my country, which not only respects human rights universally recognized—and in Guatemala elevated to the category of constitutional precepts—but which also guarantees their enjoyment and observance.
At precisely the same time, the Government of Guatemala, representing its people, has issued an invitation to the citizens of all the countries of the world to visit Guatemala in order to personally enjoy conditions in my country, its progress in every area, the soundness of its institutions, the full exercise of human rights and of the basic liberties, the nonexistence of prisoners or of persons persecuted for political reasons, the normal functioning of labor unions, as well as the simplicity and friendliness of the Guatemalan people and their moral and spiritual greatness.
Thus, in our opinion, the honorable Commission does not need a special invitation by the Government of Guatemala to come to the country. Nevertheless, in order to fulfill statutory requirements, I beg you to take this note as a formal invitation by my government and will appreciate your kindly informing me of the dates on which your visit would occur.
The Government of Guatemala suggests that the full Commission make the visit, that is, that its seven members come to the country, and it is very pleasant to report that one of its distinguished members resides in Guatemala as ambassador of one of our sister countries.
It is also suggested that the visit be extensive and that the Commission receive information from the representative sectors of the 7 million inhabitants of the nation—congressional representatives, officials of the executive branch, justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the judicial branch, national, departmental and municipal leaders of the eight legally registered political parties, leaders of unions, workers and campesinos, leaders of agricultural cooperatives, directors of the chambers of industry and commerce, farmers associations, bankers, directors of the social communications media, university authorities and student leaders, ministers of the various religions, etc.—so that your report will be as objective and complete as possible.
In the hope that the report the distinguished Inter-American Commission on Human Rights prepares will be a document that will help find solutions in my country's evolutionary process, my government suggests that it take into account the country's structures, its political history, its social, cultural and material evolution, the profound changes that have occurred, its economic system based on free enterprise and the defense of private ownership in social terms, its status as a developing country, its moderate transition from the system of agricultural economics to a budding industrial development, and the inevitable impact external factors have on small countries.
The Government and people of Guatemala will provide the distinguished Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with facilities of every kind for the efficient performance of its undertaking.
(signed) Rafael Eduardo Castillo Valdez
Minister of Foreign Affairs
5. The IACHR, gathered at its forty-ninth session, held from March 27 to April 11, 1980, accepted the invitation issued by the Guatemalan Government and instructed its Executive Secretariat to arrange with the Guatemalan authorities the most appropriate date for making the visit. After consultation with the members of the Commission, the Executive Secretary proposed, in a note addressed to the Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the Organization of American States, that the on-site observation take place in late September 1980.
6. In view of the profound nature of the crisis the Guatemalan society was suffering, the Government's invitation and the subsequent acceptance by the Commission to go to that country naturally brought enormous satisfaction to those institutions and leaders having major responsibility with regard to the protection of human rights in Guatemala.
Thus the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, through resolution Nº 32 (XXVI) of March 11, 1980 indicated the following in its operative paragraph 3:
To take note with satisfaction of the decision adopted by the Government of Guatemala to invite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit that country and to prepare a report on the situation of human rights.
The Vice President of Guatemala, Dr. Francisco Villagrán Kramer, in a public statement issued on July 13, 1980, after stating his profound consternation with the series of violent acts which were occurring with increasing intensity in the country, indicated the following:
In view of the fact that the Executive Branch gave its permission in January 1980 for the presence of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights, the Vice President of the Republic urges that Commission to make an effort to help us Guatemalans to channel the problems which afflict us within the institutional framework. The experience of other countries, including Colombia, shows how valuable it is to have the cooperation of that organ for the due confidence of those who question the legality of the government's acts.
7. Nevertheless, adducing the safety of the Commission's members, the Government of Guatemala indicated its preference that the visit not be carried out on the dates suggested. The note addressed to the Executive Secretary of the Commission by the Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the OAS states the following:
My dear Mr. Executive Secretary:
I have the honor to refer to your kind notes dated June 30 and July 14 of this year, concerning the on-site observation visit the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights plans to make in Guatemala based on the invitation my government has extended in due course.
In response, at the instruction of my government, I am pleased to inform the Executive Secretary as follows:
The Government of Guatemala is holding open the broad invitation extended to the entire Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit Guatemala.
Nevertheless, the Government of the Republic feels that the date proposed for beginning the Commission's visit, that is, the 27th or 29th of the current month of September, is not desirable. This is because, unfortunately, there has been an escalation of violence by subversive groups encouraged from abroad by fanatic organizations which are unaware of the social reality of Guatemala, and which intends to ignore the great strides the people of Guatemala are making toward speeding up the process of integral and harmonious development of the country to the benefit of al sectors of its population. It is assumed that these factions, which operate clandestinely, will increase their criminal activities. Consequently, for the safety of the Commission's members, it is preferable that the visit not be made on the date suggested.
The Government of Guatemala will take the liberty, in due course, to suggest to the Commission the most appropriate date for visiting my country.
I most respectfully ask the Executive Secretary to kindly convey the foregoing to the members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Very truly yours,
(signed) Gustavo Santiso Gálvez
8. The Commission, gathered at its fiftieth session, held in October 1980, decided to emphasize the need for the Guatemalan Government to establish a firm date for the visit. In a note dated October 3, 1980, addressed to the Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the OAS, the Chairman of the IACHR stated the following:
I have the honor of referring to the note dated September 5, 1980, in which Your Excellency's government adduces the undesirability of the date proposed by this Commission for making an on-site visit to Guatemala.
The Commission, at its fiftieth session, has instructed me to inform Your Excellency that it considers it necessary and desirable to make the observation in reference as soon as possible, and it takes the liberty of suggesting to your government that a date be established for such visit to be made during the first quarter of the upcoming year.
Taking into account the intensity of its program of activities and other obligations assumed, the Commission would like to receive an answer from your government concerning the final date within the next thirty days.
Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
(signed) Tom J. Farer
As of the date this report was approved, the note had gone unanswered.
9. At its fifty-second session, the Commission, in addition to continuing to analyze the situation of human rights in Guatemala, decided to address that country's government again in order to ask it to kindly determine the precise date on which the Committee might go to Guatemala.
A cablegram send to His Excellency, Mr. Rafael Eduardo Castillo Valdez, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, stated the following:
MR. RAFAEL EDUARDO CASTILLO VALDEZ
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, AT ITS FIFTY-SECOND SESSION, DECIDED TO ADDRESS YOUR EXCELLENCY TO REAFFIRM THAT IT IS PREPARING REPORT ON HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN GUATEMALA.
IN VIEW OF YOUR GOVERNMENT'S COMMUNICATION OF JANUARY 29, 1980, INVITING COMMISSION TO CARRY OUT ON-SITE OBSERVATION AND ITS DESIRE THAT THE REPORT REFLECT THE GUATEMALAN REALITY IN A MOST FAITHFUL AND OBJECTIVE MANNER, I WILL APPRECIATE YOUR EXCELLENCY'S KINDLY DETERMINING THE PRECISE DATE DURING THE SECOND QUARTER OF THIS YEAR ON WHICH THE COMMISSION MAY COME TO GUATEMALA.
LIKEWISE, I WILL APPRECIATE YOUR EXCELLENCY'S ANSWER TO THIS COMMUNICATION BEFORE MARCH 6, THE CLOSING DATE OF THE CURRENT SESSION OF THE IACHR.
ACCEPT, EXCELLENCY, THE RENEWED ASSURANCES OF MY HIGHEST CONSIDERATION.
TOM J. FARER
The Government of Guatemala has not answered this communication wither, thus far.
10. The lack of response to these two communications, together with the fact that the several representations made by the Chairman and the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR to the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the OAS have failed to establish a precise date for the Commission's visit, leads the Commission to assume, that, for the time being, the Government of Guatemala is not interested in having the Commission observe the human rights situation in situ.
This has led the Commission to regret having to do without the information that it would have gathered in Guatemala if it had had an opportunity to visit that country, in preparation of this report.
B. Method employed
1. Despite the foregoing, in preparing this report, the IACHR has taken into consideration all information it has been able to obtain, including that provided by the government, by various Guatemala entities, and by international organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental.
2. Likewise, the terms of reference the Commission has considered include the constitutional and legal regulations, which have been subjected to a careful analysis.
3. Also, as it has done in all of its previous reports, the Commission has taken into account, pursuant to its Statute and Regulations, the denunciations which have been presented to it on alleged violations of human rights. The Commission wishes to reaffirm its opinion that the inclusion of individual cases, when their processing has not been concluded, does not imply prejudging their grounds. Each individual accusation, upon concluding the prescribed process, will be subject to a final decision.
4. This report follows in general the format used by the Commission in other reports on the human rights situation in various countries. In keeping with the information it has been able to obtain, the IACHR has divided this report into separate chapters, analyzing in each of them the main rights established in the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights or Pact of San José, Costa Rica, to which Guatemala is a party. Those rights regarding which the Commission has not received denunciations or has lacked sufficient information have not been considered.
1 Resolution 1702 and 1748 (Guatemala), Doc. OEA/Ser.L/V/II.30, April 17, 1974.