A. General Considerations
1. As stated in the First Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, political rights, to which every human being is entitled as a citizen with the capacity to participate in the conduct of the country’s public affairs were mainly based in principle on the Constitution of the Republic then in force and were also regulated by the legal system’s body of laws in this area, which stressed the free and democratic exercise of such rights.
2. It is also said, however, that in practice political rights were not exercised to the fullest, and the situation was not keeping with the provisions of the Constitution.
3. The failure to respect such rights reached its most critical level in March 1982 when, as a result of the elections at that time, all of the country’s political sectors agreed on rejecting and challenging the results of the elections and accused the Government of General Romeo Lucas García of electoral fraud. At that point the military revolt occurred that brought to power General Efraín Ríos Montt, who accuses and holds responsible deposed General Lucas García for violating the political rights of the people of Guatemala by conducting “an electoral process plagued with manipulations.”2
B. Political Rights Under the Repealed Constitution
1. Regardless of whether the government of deposed General Romeo Lucas García observed or did not observe the 1965 Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, it cannot be ignored that the Constitution, while less than perfect, gave Guatemala the essential characteristics of a free, sovereign, independent and organized country—pursuant to Article 1—to guarantee its people freedom, security and justice within the legal framework of a republican, democratic and representative government.
2. The repealed Constitution established the division of public powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, and stated that none of them would be subordinate to the others. It established the basic political rights of citizens, such as the right to participate in government and in the conduct of public affairs, the right to vote, the electoral system, and the organization and operation of political parties. These rights are included in the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Guatemala is State party.
3. The Constitution states that all Guatemalan men and women over 18 years of age are citizens.3 The following rights and duties are established as inherent in citizenship: to elect and be elected; to apply for government posts; to safeguard the freedom and effectiveness of suffrage and the integrity of election procedures; to defend the principle of rotation and non-reelection to the Office of the Presidency of the Republic, in any manner that it may be exercised, as an invariable rule in the political system of the State; to be registered on the electoral rolls; and to vote, except when this is optional.4
4. The Constitution provided that “suffrage is universal and secret, compulsory for voters who can read and write and optional for illiterate voters.” All Guatemalans who enjoyed the rights of citizenship and were registered on the electoral rolls were voters. The Constitution provided that anyone preventing or attempting to prevent citizens from registering to vote or from exercising the right of suffrage or who compelled or tried to compel persons to vote in a particular way; or who by any coercive means compelled or tried to compel illiterates to go to polls should be punished in accordance with criminal law.5
5. The Constitution provided that “The State guarantees the free establishment and operation of political parties that have democratic standards and principles;” and “it prohibits the establishment or operation of parties or entities that advocate the communist ideology or if their doctrinal leanings, modus operandi or international connections threaten the sovereignty of the State or the foundations of Guatemala’s democratic system.”6
Legally registered political parties are public law institutions, and the law governing them determines how they should be organized.7
6. The Constitution established the institutional bases of the electoral authorities, which are governed by the corresponding law. In that regard, the Constitution established the electoral register and the electoral council, which have independent functions and jurisdiction throughout the Republic.8
C. Political Rights Under the Government of General Efrain Ríos Montt
1. The coup d’etat of March 23, 1982, which deposed General Romeo Lucas García, not only suspended political rights in Guatemala but also abrogated the laws that recognized and regulated such rights and the political institutions through which they are exercised, protected, oriented and implemented.
2. At the press conference on that date, General Ríos Montt announced: “None of us are interested in participating in politics,” and stated that it was a goal of the movement to hold elections, but he did not say when. At that time, he also said: “Arms are for the military. So we need hardly say that differences must be settled by vote, in the exercise of constitutional rights.”9
3. While the constitutional, republican, democratic and representative framework remained, Guatemala from that time on was under a de facto government system whose characteristics were set by the Fundamental Statute of Government, which provides, with regard to political rights, that the system “has as a fundamental basis the establishment of a national juridical structure guaranteeing that the country would move toward a regime of constitutional legality that would lead to a political system and a democratic government based on popular elections.”
4. The Fundamental Statute also suspended and abolished most political rights, as can be seen in the text of Article 112, which reads as follows:
The political rights of Guatemalans are recognized, including those projected through the political parties, but the parties are suspended by the proclamation of the army of Guatemala to the people, dated March 23, 1982.
Later, a law will regulate the existence, activities and other functions of political entities in accordance with Article 5 of these Statutes. Decree Law 382, of October 23, 1975, on the electoral law and political parties is repealed.
D. Political Parties
1. In its 1981 report, the Commission said that in the realities of Guatemalan political affairs the army had had a predominant participation, to such a degree that in the last three constitutional terms, the country’s presidents had been military officers and that in the last two terms, all of the presidential candidates were high ranking members of the army, including General Efrain Ríos Montt himself.
2. By express mandate of Article 112 of the Fundamental Statute, political party activities were suspended until the recent enactment of Decree Law 32-83, but in addition, according to repeated reports to the Commission, most of the parties were continuously harassed and persecuted during the year in which their activities were proscribed.
3. On November 5, 1982, the Commission received a report that the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party had been raided and searched, an action that coincided with the break-in and search of the residence of the party’s Secretary General, Vinicio Cerezo.10
4. On August 14, twenty members of the National Liberation Movement (MLN) were arrested and accused of taking part in a plot against the Government of General Ríos Montt. Some of them were later released because no connection at all was found between them and the acts attributed to them.
5. In September 1982, the political parties National Liberation Movement (MLN), the Authentic National Center (CAN), the Guatemalan Christian Democracy (DCG) and the National Renewal Party (PNR), organized a multi-party committee following the establishment of the Council of State, in order to stand up against alleged political rights violations, which, as reported to the Commission, had been committed against those parties.
6. Regarding political rights violations attributed to the regime of the deposed General Romeo Lucas García, the political parties criticized the government of General Ríos Montt for among other things, not having tried and punished the officials responsible for such irregularities after the coup d’etat of March 23, 1982, in light of the fact that the alleged fraud of March 1982, aside from having served to justify the overthrow of the General Lucas García’s government, also resulted in the elimination of elections.
E. Legislative Measures of March 23, 1983
1. On March 23, 1983, on the first anniversary of his government, General Efrain Ríos Montt enacted Decree Laws 30-83, 31-83, and 32-83, which constituted the basic political laws that would govern what was termed the return to the constitutional life of Guatemala.
2. On March 23 of that year, under the laws enacted by the government of General Efrain Ríos Montt for opening up the political system, Decree Law 30-83 or the Organic Law of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal was issued. Under that Decree, the recently created agency will have autonomous duties with jurisdiction throughout the Republic, and will not be subject to any government authority or agency.
Its duties were to ensure compliance with the laws and provisions guaranteeing the citizens’ right of political organization and participation; to be responsible solely for organizing the electoral process and ruling on the validity of elections and adjudicating posts; and to make decisions on all the various situations that occur in organizing and conducting an election.
The Electoral Supreme Court is composed of five magistrates elected by the Supreme Court of Justice and has a president, a secretary general and an election inspector. Its decisions and determinations must be signed by all of the magistrates. Petitions for expansion or clarification and the remedy of amparo may be filed against rulings of the Supreme Electoral Court.
A nominating commission draws up a written list of 20 candidates every 30 months for the posts of magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Court. The Commission is composed of the Rector of the University of San Carlos de Guatemala, a representative designated by the Assembly of Presidents of Professional Colleges, and the Dean of the Political and Social Sciences Faculty of each university in the country.
The electoral organs are: the Citizens Registry, the Departmental Election Boards, the Municipal Election Boards and the Polling Boards. The Departmental and Municipal Election Boards are temporary organs responsible for preparing, conducting and monitoring elections in their respective departments or municipalities. The board members are appointed by the Supreme Electoral Court, and their seat is the departmental capital or the municipality concerned.
The Polling Boards are responsible for installing and closing the voting tables, reviewing election materials and documents, identifying the electors, receiving and counting the ballots, and computing the vote. The boards are composed of a president, a secretary, an assistant and the election authorities accredited to each board.
3. Decree Law 31-83 also established the Citizens Registry as a technical agency of the Supreme Electoral Court. The agency’s duty is to supervise and monitor the registry of citizens and the issuance of personal identity cards and to prepare and keep current the voting list. The registry will be in charge of a director general and a secretary.
4. The Lat of Political Organizations, Decree 32-83, has also been put into force. Its main purpose is to set the legal framework to permit and promote democratic, free and peaceful participation of citizens in national political activities, through various forms of organization.
The law authorizes the establishment of political parties and other organizations that are the legitimate expression of the citizens’ expectations and ideological conceptions. It also regulates the formation and operation of political organizations in general, and regulates and promotes the exercise of internal democracy in them.
Under the law, the following are political organizations: political parties, committees for forming political parties, civic election committees and associations with political purposes. To be recognized and operate as a political party requires 4,000 members who know how to read and write, are fully entitled to their political rights and are registered in the citizen’s registry.
Every political party must have the following organs: nationally, a national assembly, a national executive committee and a national secretary; at the department level, a departmental assembly, a departmental executive committee, and a secretary general; at the municipal level, a municipal assembly, a municipal executive committee and a secretary general. The law establishes the terms of reference for these organs.
F. The Future of Democracy in Guatemala
1. According to his own statements, the government of General Efrain Ríos Montt was temporary. The Fundamental Statute itself reiterates the provisional and temporary character of this period of government, whose function is to lead the country toward a regime of constitutional legality through popular elections that will install a lasting pluralist democracy aimed at the common good.
2. To that end, President Ríos Montt reported on January 6 of this year that his government would end the state of siege on March 23. He also reaffirmed in those declarations his decision to hold political elections, in which all political parties, including the communist party, would participate. It was also stated that political opening of the government would begin with the installation of a constituent assembly, in whose election all political parties that meet minimum requirements, including the Socialist and Communist Parties, would be able to take part.
3. In fact, on March 23, 1983, the Decree Law establishing the state of siege was repealed, and three political laws were enacted on the Supreme Electoral Court, the registry of citizens and the political organization described in this chapter.
4. Enactment of these provisions immediately caused the political parties of Guatemala, whose activities had been suspended, to declare themselves in permanent session to study the contents of the laws and publish their views on them.
5. Subsequently, the Commission learned of General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores’ announcement that he had accelerated the political timetable established by General Ríos Montt, which had fixed March 23, 1984 for convoking a Constituent Assembly, July 1 of the same year for Assembly elections, installation of the Assembly on September 15, 1984 and presidential elections to be held in 1986. The new electoral calendar calls for Assembly elections in November 1983 which would advance its installation as well as the presidential elections, which, according to one official source would allow the formation of a government under a democratically elected president by July 1, 1985.
1 Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights states as follows regarding political rights: Article 23. Right to Participate in Government. 1. Every citizen shall enjoy the following rights and opportunities: a. to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; b. to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expression of the will of the voters; and c. to have access, under general conditions of equality, to the public service of his country. 2. The law may regulate the exercise of the rights and opportunities referred to in the preceding paragraph only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings.
2 Decree Law 2-82, first clause of the preamble.
3 Article 13 of the 1965 Constitution.
4 Article 14 of the 1965 Constitution.
5 Articles 19, 20, and 21 of the Constitution. Article 22 established penalties for individuals prohibited from participating in active politics and government officials who violated freedom of suffrage. Article 23 provided that from the time a candidate was nominated, he enjoyed personal immunity, except where otherwise provided for in the law. Article 24 stated that numerically determinable minorities should be entitled to representation in the associate bodies chosen by popular election. Article 25 provided that the law should prescribe rules for the exercise of suffrage “in order to guarantee its freedom and integrity, so that it may constitute a true expression of the popular will.”
6 Article 27 of the 1965 Constitution.
7 Article 29 of the 1965 Constitution.
8 The matter of electoral authorities is covered in Chapter VI of Title I of the 1965 Constitution.
9 Associated Press. Guatemala, March 22, 1982.
10 The text of the report, which was submitted to the Government of Guatemala, states as follows: This afternoon, three Guatemalan army patrol cars carrying approximately 20 uniformed soldiers entered the house of Raquel Blandon de Cerezo. The house, which had been rented since February 1981, is located at 7th Street 20-53, Zone 11 of Colonia Mirador, Guatemala City. Witnesses said that nobody was home when the soldiers broke in. They added that to enter, the soldiers rammed the door of the house with one of their patrol cars. The soldiers then proceeded to demolish the house systematically, throwing books and other belongings on the floor and out the window. In addition, they stole the television set, phonograph records and other belongings of the occupants of the house, who are terrorized and are afraid to return to their home.