University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, Inter-Am. C.H.R., OEA/Ser.L/V/II.61, Doc. 47 rev. 1 (1983).




A. Conclusions

In light of the foregoing information and considering the legislation enacted and the measures taken by the Government of Guatemala as of March 23, 1982, the Commission concludes that the human rights situation in that country can be described as follows:

1. With regard to the right to life:

a) The Commission has no knowledge that the Government of Guatemala has conducted investigations on, and punished those responsible for, the illegal executions and disappearances that occurred before March 23, 1982;

b) The announced disbanding of paramilitary groups by the government of General Ríos Montt has meant that the widespread and decentralized violence that prevailed previously in the urban centers has been reduced to a smaller number of violations of the right to life for the inhabitants of Guatemala City and the main cities in the country;

c) The Special Courts that operated in secret and did not observe the basic guarantees of due process decreed, to the time of approval of this report the death of 15 persons, for crimes that, under the terms of the American Convention on Human Rights, could not juridically be punished by the death penalty;

d) In rural areas, although the Commission has received information that guerrillas and insurgent forces have committed serious acts of violence, the Guatemalan army has been principally responsible for the most grievous violations of human rights, including destruction, burning and sacking of entire towns and the death of both combatant and noncombatant populations in those towns.

2. With regard to the rights to liberty and personal security, the Commission notes:

a) That under the state of siege both habeas corpus (the writ ordering that a party be brought before a court) and the writ of amparo were suspended. This allowed Government security agencies to act with total impunity in illegally detaining persons;

b) That kidnapping by security agents continues to occur, and in some cases, these have resulted in prolonged illegal detentions, which were initially denied by the authorities. In other cases, these kidnappings have resulted in disappearances, mainly of high school and university students and the academic and administrative staff of the University of San Carlos;

c) The practice of torture continued until the military pronouncement of August 8, and was applied both to persons detained and held incommunicado in the detention centers, and to peasants and Indians in the rural conflict areas who were accused of having connections with subversive forces.

3. As to the right to a fair trial and due process, the Commission believes:

a) That the judicial branch has been stripped of its independence, autonomy and impartiality and safeguards for ensuring stability for its members, which has resulted in serious limitations on the exercise of its sensitive and important functions;

b) The Special Courts—whose secret status the government continued to maintain, even after the state of siege had been lifted, and whose procedures violated the most elementary guarantees of due process—were antijuridical agencies whose composition, actions and rulings violated basic provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Guatemala is a state party.

4. With regard to freedom of thought and expression, the Commission notes that during the periods in which the state of siege was in force, these liberties were seriously affected, both by the terms of the law that established it and by the climate of insecurity that the law produced in the country. This prompted those responsible for the communications media to impose self-censorship.

5. With regard to the freedom of conscience and religion, the Commission finds that although these liberties formally exist in the country, they were being exercised during the Government of General Ríos Montt amid a disquieting religious polarization between the Catholic Church and Protestant fundamentalist groups; and that Catholic priests were unjustifiably hampered in the exercise of their ministry, all of which affects the full observance of the freedoms of conscience and religion.

6. As to political rights, the Commission feels that despite the enactment of the laws of March 23, 1983, which call for the early opening up of Guatemala to democracy, such rights were found to be suspended and the political parties faced unwarranted obstacles in their normal operations throughout the term of General Efrain Ríos Montt’s government.

7. Regarding freedom of movement and residence, the Commission finds that:

a) While Guatemalans have the right to move freely throughout most of the territory of the Republic, the climate of insecurity prevailing in the country has, in practice, substantially reduced the possibility of exercising this right;

b) Thousands of Guatemalans have had to leave their country because of the insecurity and persecution they have suffered. The Commission is especially concerned about the thousands of peasants and Indians who have sought refuge in border areas, fleeing the violence unleashed by the army in the rural areas of conflict;

c) Hundreds of thousands of Indian peasants have been uprooted from their traditional homes and relocated in camps organized by the government as a means of exercising control over them.

B. Recommendations

In light of the conclusions indicated, the Commission recommends that the Government of Guatemala take the following steps:

1. Investigate and punish with the full force of the law those responsible for the serious violations of the right to life and personal security that occurred before and after March 23, 1982.

2. Order a complete review of the trials of the Special Courts.

3. Take whatever steps are needed to end repression immediately in the rural areas of conflict and to investigate and punish, with the full force of the law, those responsible for the massacres of peasants and Indians that have taken place in those areas.

4. Take the necessary steps to end the kidnappings and disappearances of persons, and to investigate and punish those responsible.

5. Appoint a special committee of Guatemalan jurists with sufficient authority and power to conduct investigations to clarify the cases of missing persons and to recommend prosecution of those responsible.

6. Ensure the unrestricted exercise of the writ of habeas corpus, or the writ ordering that the accused be brought before a judge.

7. Ensure that the judicial branch has the independence, autonomy and stability essential for performing its duties.

8. Take the necessary measures to assure effective observance of freedom of expression.

9. Establish whatever measures are needed to bring an end to the difficulties between the Government and the Catholic Church raised by the Government of General Ríos Montt and to avoid religious polarization in Guatemala. To that end, immediate measures should include returning properly restored properties of the Catholic Church in El Quiché; amending the immigration laws to prevent them from becoming a means of exerting improper pressure on foreign priests; and avoiding favoritism by the government toward those professing a particular religious faith.

10. Take all necessary measures to ensure in practice the fullest freedom of organization and operation of political parties, and their adequate representation in Guatemalan institutions, and to hold general elections in the briefest period of time reasonable.

11. Allow Guatemalan exiles and refugees to return to their country. Regarding the peasants and Indians who are now in the Mexican State of Chiapas, the Commission considers it desirable to have the assistance of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the cooperation of the Mexican Government to facilitate their return, when that becomes possible.

12. Recommend that families of persons executed, in accordance with death penalties handed down by Courts of Special Jurisdiction, be informed as to exactly where the bodies of their relatives are buried.


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