University of Minnesota

Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, Inter-Am. C.H.R.,
Doc. 21 rev. (2001).





A. Background of the Report

1. This report presents the first in-depth analysis of the human rights situation in Guatemala by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the “Commission,” the “IACHR” or the Inter-American Commission”) since the signing of the Final Peace Accord in December of 1996. It is within the context of that act of inestimable importance for the protection of human rights in Guatemala that the Commission has examined the significant advances achieved and the vital challenges that remain pending to implement the national agenda of peace and reconciliation, and consolidate a fully participatory democracy.

2. In response to the human rights violations committed over the course of the armed conflict, the Commission has monitored the situation of human rights in Guatemala with special attention since its first years of operation. Following the initiation of armed confrontation in 1962, the Commission began receiving numerous communications denouncing alleged violations of fundamental individual rights. The Commission’s monitoring of the situation during the early years of the conflict lead to the publication in 1966 of its “Requests for Information Transmitted to the Government of Guatemala,”[2] followed by the publication of special country reports in 1981, 1983, 1985, 1993 and 1994,[3] follow-up reports on the general situation for each year from 1983 to 1991, and for 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997.[4] The Commission has conducted a total of ten on-site visits to Guatemala since 1982,[5] and has processed and published numerous reports on individual cases in its Annual Reports.

3. From the outset, it must be recognized that since the signing of the Final Peace Accord, the Guatemalan State and society have achieved valuable advances in their efforts to construct a more just society. These include the cessation of the pattern and practice of systematic human rights violations perpetrated by the State as part of State policy during the conflict, the opening of vital new spaces for political participation, the incorporation of previously excluded sectors of civil society in the development and implementation of public policy, the initiation of a process of demilitarization, and the taking of critical steps toward establishing the truth about the fundamental violations that were both a cause and a consequence of the conflict.

4. However, the goal of creating a Guatemala in which all members of the population can freely and fully exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms will not be realized until crucial pending challenges are met. The present report focuses in particular on the paramount challenge of creating a judicial system that offers effective protection for the rights of the population. It is necessarily the national judiciary that serves as the first line of defense of individual rights and freedoms. While the State of Guatemala has initiated some positive steps aimed at strengthening the judiciary, impunity for human rights violations -- both past and present – remains the rule. This impunity controverts the obligations of the State under national and international law, subverts the most basic principles underlying the peace accords, and undermines the rule of law. The inability of the judiciary to provide protection for basic rights and the lack of public confidence in the mechanisms of the State exacerbates the potential for social conflict, as manifested in the extreme example of lynchings. This and other challenges are analyzed in detail in the chapters which follow.

5. As of the date of approval of this report, the Commission is, on the one hand, deeply appreciative of the efforts of the Guatemalan State and society to emerge from the 36-year conflict having defined the comprehensive, and in many ways visionary commitments of the peace accords. The advances to date in many aspects of these commitments, undertaken with energy and dedication by many Guatemalans, and supported by the accompaniment of the international community in the form of the United Nations Mission for Verification in Guatemala (“MINUGUA”) and a range of other actors, demonstrate both important progress and the very real potential for further advances.

6. On the other hand, the Commission concludes with profound concern that there is presently a deepening contradiction between the expression of commitment and the reality of actions on the ground. These contradictions are embodied, for example, in the expressed commitment to reform the administration of justice and protect human rights defenders, and the actuality of repeated serious threats and attacks against victims, witnesses, lawyers and judges in reprisal for their pursuit of justice that have gone unanswered. These contradictions threaten to undermine the important progress that has been achieved, and can only be reversed with strong, sustained political will and action.

7. The specific recommendations offered by the Commission in relation to each set of issues addressed below are aimed at assisting the State in its efforts to work with civil society to consolidate the advances achieved and overcome the serious challenges which remain in order to construct a society in which fundamental rights are respected and protected.

B. Scope of the Report

8. This report takes the signing of the Final Peace Accord as its temporal point of departure, while focusing most specifically on the period from 1998 through October of 2000. Consequently, the report reviews in detail three years of the Administration of President Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen, and the first ten months of the Administration of President Alfonso Portillo. Further, it addresses the pertinent observations of the State in response to the draft version of this report, and certain recent relevant developments.

9. Pursuant to its competence as the principal organ of the Organization of American States charged with protecting and promoting human rights in the Americas, and in accordance with its mandate set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights, and more specifically defined in its Statute and Regulations, the Commission monitors human rights developments in each member State of the OAS. The Commission periodically deems it useful to report the results of its study of a particular country, formulating the corresponding recommendations designed to assist that State in ensuring the fullest enjoyment of protected rights and liberties by all persons subject to its jurisdiction.

10. This report was prepared on the basis of a diverse array of information and materials collected and analyzed by the Commission, including during an on-site visit carried out in Guatemala in August of 1998 at the invitation of the Government. In addition to reflecting insights gathered at that time, the report refers to information gathered in preparation for, and following that visit. Material referred to also includes updated information provided by governmental, intergovernmental, non-governmental, academic and media sources through the Commission’s normal monitoring procedures, as well as through the processing of individual petitions. The receipt of such information allows the Commission to remain continually apprised of current developments in the human rights situation in Guatemala.

11. Given that the State has invited the IACHR’s Special Rapporteur on migrant workers and their families to conduct an on-site visit in Guatemala in the course of 2001, the Commission has not addressed this important theme in the present report. The Commission and its Special Rapporteur shall opportunely issue considerations on this topic on the basis of the information and conclusions developed as a result of that visit.

C. The On-Site Visit

12. At the invitation of the State of Guatemala, the Commission carried out an on-site visit in Guatemala from August 6 through 11, 1998 in order to gather first-hand information and insights into the situation of human rights. These insights, subjected to further research, analysis and updating, have provided one basis for the present report. The following Members of the Commission participated in the visit: Professor Carlos Ayala Corao, then Chairman of the IACHR; and Members Dean Claudio Grossman and Professor Hélio Bicudo. The Commission received technical support from its Executive Secretary, Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana, Assistant Executive Secretary, Mr. David Padilla, and attorneys Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, Dr. Osvaldo Kreimer, and Verónica Gómez. Mrs. Martha Keller and Mrs. Ana Cecilia Adriazola provided administrative support.

13. During its stay in Guatemala, the Commission met with the President of the Republic, Mr. Alvaro Arzú Irigoyen, and with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Eduardo Stein Barillas, Minister of the Interior, Mr. Rodolfo Adrián Mendoza Rosales, Minister of Labor and Social Security, Mr. Luis Felipe Linares, Minister of Education, Mrs. Arabella Castro Quiñónez, Minister of Defense, Brigadier General Héctor Mario Barrios Celada, and Minister of Public Health and Welfare, Mr. Marco Tulio Sosa Ramírez. The Commission also held meetings with the President of the Supreme Court, Mr. Angel Alfredo Figueroa, and a number of Justices, the President of the Constitutional Court, Mr. Rubén López Mijanjos, and other members thereof, and with the President of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Mr. Félix Castillo Milla, and its members.

14. Further, the Commission met with the Speaker of the Congress, Mr. Rafael Barrios Flores, and members of the Congressional Commissions on Peace Studies, Human Rights, Women and the Family, and Indigenous Affairs, the Attorney General of the Nation and Head of the Justice Department, Mr. Adolfo González Rodas, the President of the Presidential Coordinating Commission for Executive Policy on Human Rights Matters (COPREDEH), Mrs. Marta Altolaguirre, the Ombudsman for Human Rights, Mr. Julio Eduardo Arango, the Coordinator of the Peace Secretariat (SEPAZ), Mrs. Raquel Zelaya Rosales, the Director of the National Fund for Peace (FONAPAZ), Mr. Enrique Godoy, the Executive Director, National Commission for Repatriates, Refugees, and Displaced Persons (CEAR), Mr. José Luis Gándara, and authorities of the Headquarters of Migration.

15. Additionally, the Commission met with a wide range of representatives of Guatemalan civil society, including representatives of the Archbishop’s Office for Human Rights, Association of Families of the Detained-Disappeared of Guatemala (FAMDEGUA), National Coordinator of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), Mack Foundation, Rigoberta Menchú Tum Foundation, Alliance against Impunity, National Coordinator on Human Rights in Guatemala, National Coordinator for Indigenous Peoples and Peasants, Peasant Unity Committee, Academy of Mayan Languages, COPRODIMU, Guatemalan Women’s Group, GRUFEPROMEFAM, COALM, CALDH Women’s Department, National Women’s Forum, CIPRODENI, CCOIPINGUA, Casa Alianza, National Council for Persons with Disability, Guatemalan Journalists’ Association, Guatemalan Chamber of Journalists, Advisory Assembly on Uprooted Peoples, Union for Alternative Development of the Kaqchikel Area, Center for the Defense of the Constitution, UNSITRAGUA, Guatemalan Workers’ Union, CACIF, and Neighborhood Watch.

16. In Guatemala City, the Commission also held meetings with the Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) and with international organizations, in particular, the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

17. The Commission visited the Pavón Model Rehabilitation Farm, the Preventive Detention Centers of "Pavoncito," Santa Teresa and Zone 18, and the juvenile detention centers of "Los Gorriones" and "Las Gaviotas."

18. The IACHR Delegation traveled outside the capital to Nebaj, where it met with hundreds of individuals and representatives of indigenous communities, as well as with officials from the Mayor’s Office, non-governmental groups, the Movement of Uprooted Peoples Organized for the Development of North Quiché, the Defensoría Maya, CONAVIGUA, CIEDEG, the Committee for Integral Development and other grassroots groups. The Commission also visited Quetzaltenango where it met Mayor Rigoberto Quemé and a number of leaders of community groups.

19. In accordance with its practice, the Commission received individuals seeking to denounce alleged human rights violations or requiring information about the regional human rights system in an office temporarily established for that purpose. The complaints received are being processed pursuant to the applicable provisions of the American Convention, and the Statute and Regulations of the Commission.

20. The Government of Guatemala provided its full assistance and cooperation during the visit, thereby permitting the Commission to carry out an extensive program of activities in the discharge of its mandate. The Commission also benefited greatly from the information and assistance received a wide array of representatives of Guatemalan civil society. The valuable work done by Guatemalan non-governmental organizations in the field of human rights is a critical factor in the Commission’s ability to monitor the situation of human rights in the country. The Commission wishes to again thank the Government of Guatemala and its officials, as well as members of non-governmental organizations and civil society for their gracious reception, cooperation and assistance during the visit.[6]

D. Processing and Approval of the Report

21. The draft “Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala” was approved by the Commission on December 8, 2000. In accordance with Article 62 of the Commission’s Regulations, it was transmitted to the Government of Guatemala on December 27, 2000, with a request that the latter transmit the observations deemed pertinent within a period of two months.

22. On February 26, 2001, by note P-072-01 of the Presidential Coordinating Commission for Executive Policy in Human Rights Matters (“COPREDEH”), the State of Guatemala presented its observations. In conformity with the terms of Article 62 of its Regulations, the Commission studied those observations and included those it deemed pertinent. The Commission approved the final version of its report on April 6, 2001.


Notes Intro.____________

[1] Commission member Marta Altolaguirre, a national of Guatemala, did not participate in the discussion or approval of this report pursuant to Article 19(2)(a) of the Regulations of the Commission.

[2] OEA/Ser.L/V/II.15, Doc. 5, 3 Aug. 1966.

[3] Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.53, doc. 21, rev. 1, 1981; Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.61, doc. 47, 1983; Third Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.66, doc. 16, 1985; Fourth Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.83, doc. 16, rev. 1, 1993; Special Report on the Human Rights Situation in the so-called “Communities of Peoples in Resistance” in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.86, doc. 5, rev. 1, 1994.

[4] These are published in the Annual Report of the IACHR for the year in question: OEA/Ser.L/V/II/63, doc. 10, 1984; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/66, doc. 10 rev. 1, 1985; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/68, doc. 8 rev. 1, 1986; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/71, doc. 9 rev. 1, 1987; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/74, doc. 10 rev. 1, 1988; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/76, doc. 10 rev. 1, 1989; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/77, doc. 7 rev. 1, 1990 OEA/Ser.L/V/II/79, doc. 12 rev. 1, 1991; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/81, doc. 6 rev. 1, 1992; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/85, doc. 9 rev., 1994; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/88, doc. 9 rev., 1995; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/95, doc. 7 rev., 1997; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/98, doc. 6 rev., 1998.

[5] On-site visits were conducted in 1982, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994 (March), 1994 (December), 1995 and 1998.

[6] The press release issued by the Commission at the conclusion of its visit, setting forth its preliminary observations on issues examined, is published in Report of the IACHR 1998, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.102, Doc. 6 rev., April 16, 1999, at Annex 3, press release 15/98.


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