University of Minnesota




In its previous reports on human rights in Guatemala, the Commission recorded the ongoing and in some cases massive violations of the right to life in Guatemala. Unfortunately, despite the will expressed by the authorities of President Serrano's administration, and its various initiatives and actions to defend that determination, the violations continue, while their number tends to diminish. It is not only agents of the State that are responsible for the deaths, threats and physical attacks, but also -- and again despite the exceptional courage and tenacity of some officials and magistrates -- the State system of justice and guarantees provides only minimum satisfaction, when it is not a party to the existing insecurity because of its inaction or negligence.

The Commission wishes expressly to note that the aggressive action of irregular armed groups (some 900 to 1000 guerrillas)[50] that are still operating in some isolated regions of the country[51] also hinders the maintenance of peace, and furthermore the remaining guerrilla activity is used as an excuse by agents of the State who continue with practices that violate human rights, using the excuse that confrontations require it.

The Commission understands, however, based on analysis of the information in its possession and on the interviews it has conducted, that most of the violations of the right to life and humane treatment are not due to the traditional armed confrontations with irregular groups but to other just as worrisome forms of repression and violence.

These patterns of violence can be classified into two major groups: one, deaths and personal attacks arising from the illegal action of the self-defense patrols (now called Voluntary Civil Self-Defense Committees);[52] and another of the systematic attacks on leaders and activists of associations of peasants, unions, universities, journalists, and human rights defenders, that is, groups that by their very nature are independent and critical of many of the government's actions.

Regarding the second category, the Commission has found, and this report shows it, that against each of these sectors there are systematic campaigns of threats, attacks, murder of leaders and activists, and harassment in general, with the obvious goal of maintaining a climate of terror and repression. In many of these cases, the perpetrator is unknown, although it is possible to infer the author, in other cases, the action is openly taken by agents of the State. In many of the latter cases, the authorities, together with private accusers, have conducted investigations and instituted trials, although the results are still minimal. The cases in which convictions have been obtained against security agents show the courage and persistence of the magistrates as well as the exceptional nature of such cases compared to the number of violations that go unpunished.


According to the 1992 report of the Human Rights Ombudsman, published at the beginning of 1993 (hereinafter called the 1992 Ombudsman's Report) [53] reports of extrajudicial killings are down from 1991, although the remarks of Ramiro de Leon Carpio are well taken:

Human rights are either respected or not respected, and in the case of the right to life, there is a special reason why relativism cannot be permitted. Obviously the problem continues to be latent, except that now extrajudicial killings are not carried out in an institutionalized manner by particular sectors, but are selective, especially against leaders of representative sectors of the population.

In 1992, there were 387 reports of alleged extrajudicial killings, which is 30% less than in 1991. Of those, investigations are still reported to be under way in 318. Of the 69 already reviewed and classified, 48 (or 70%) were declared to be extrajudicial killings, of which agents of the State were responsible for 3 out of 4, and subversive groups were responsible for the other 25%.[54] Twenty-one were rejected because they were not classified as extrajudicial killings.

If the cases being investigated show the same ratio, the projection will show that around 200 extrajudicial killings in 1992 were attributable to agents of the State.[55]

Regarding forced disappearances, the Ombudsman's 1992 Report shows 99 reports, 27 of whose alleged victims turned up, 6 of them whom were found dead and 21 reappeared alive. Of the 10 investigated by the Human Rights Ombudsman for which responsibility has been established, 4 were attributed to agents of the State and 6 to subversive groups.[56]

It is interesting to compare these figures for disappearances with those provided to the Commission by the National Police for 1991. The latter figures show 1343 reports, 61% in the capital and the rest in the Departments. The police consider 1183 cases resolved (88%), in which 70 persons were found dead and 1113 reappeared alive. The Commission notes that the police statistics do not indicate the presumed reasons nor those responsible for the "disappearances" for those who reappeared alive or for those who were found dead.[57]

The Ombudsman also reports for 1992 175 complaints of death threats (the NGOs show 200 cases) and 149 abuses of authority.

Mr. de Leon Carpio indicates in his report that two factors are involved in the lack of respect for personal rights: the internal armed conflict and the common violence. Regarding the latter, he states:

Obviously there are socioeconomic roots for this common violence, and control of it is the responsibility of the State as a guarantee of security for its citizens, but the authorities responsible for providing security to the population not only have shown that they are unable to exercise due control over the common violence but in many cases, through the attitudes of the security forces under their command, what they have provided the population is greater insecurity.

The Commission remarks that the chapters in this report, and the contacts it made in its on-site visit and the documentation collected, confirm the delegate's statement. Various chapters in this report give accounts of cases of extrajudicial killings, disappearances, death threats, and torture that often are attributable to State agents. As indicated in the chapter on Means of Protection, even though President Serrano's administration has succeeded in trying and convicting some of those responsible, impunity continues to be the norm in cases where State agents are involved.


The OAS General Assembly has reaffirmed on various occasions the importance assigned to due respect and protection for defenders of human rights by the States.[58]

In Guatemala, hundreds of persons in their daily life and normal activities must and do take action to defend human rights, either their own or those of their group. Many of them, including many State officials, make a personal crusade of such defense at the risk of their lives. The Commission continually receives information on threats or violence against many of them in Guatemala and has given special attention to their situation. In 1991 and 1992, at least five human rights activists have been murdered.

Many of these violations or attacks are documented in various chapters of this report.[59] These chapters cover actions against union, university and journalist leaders and defenders of "street children" who are murdered, attacked, harassed and threatened.

The cases mentioned below of violations against the life and integrity of the person of human rights defenders exemplify the seriousness of the situation. In all of these cases, the Commission has intervened to the extent of its authority and maintains a flow of communications on them with the government. The fact that cases are noted does not mean that the Commission is making a final pronouncement on the individual cases but really that they show the situation based on the data that is in the public domain.

- November 11-12, 1992, some days after the IACHR's on-site visit, President Jorge Serrano and Defense Minister General Garcia Samayoa leveled serious accusations against RONALD IVAN OCHAETA ARGUETA, President of the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala, against AMILCAR MENDEZ URIZAR, President of the Runujel Junam Ethnic Community Council (CERJ) and against FACTOR MENDEZ ANTONELLI, Director of the Center for Investigation, Study and Promotion of Human Rights (CIEPRODH), in these accusations, the authorities maintained "that they were clearly instruments of subversive groups" and that their work "definitely is based on a strategy that the insurgents have suggested for a long time." The Archbishop's attorney, Ochaeta Argueta was accused by the President of "obstructing justice."

- Mr. AMILCAR MENDEZ was tried for alleged guerrilla support activities, and an order for his arrest was issued. On his return from a trip to the U.S., his arrest was avoided thanks to the intervention of important persons accompanying him and members of the Diplomatic Corps. He turned himself in to the court and after several hours of interrogation, he was freed on his own recognizance. That decision was appealed by Attorney General Edgar Tuna V., and seven new charges were made against him. Mr. Mendez' case attracted international attention because his organization had been attacked in the past, and he himself had been threatened and attacked on various occasions, and colleagues of his in the CERJ management had been murdered in 1991, for which chiefs of the Civil Patrols were tried.[60] In this threatening climate, high Guatemalan officials had severely criticized Mr. Mendez for having attended a seminar in the United States on the Guatemalan situation.

The Commission has been informed that the campaign against the CERJ is continuing. The army spokesman Yon Rivera stated publicly on January 11 that the CERJ (Runujel Junam) tried to discredit the army by reporting the refusal of peasants to join the voluntary self-defense patrols. In this connection, 150 peasants went to the Governor of El Quiché and complained that they did not want to participate in the CVACs and that the army was harassing them because of that. In addition, the Army Department of Information (DIDE) reported that 27 communities near Villa de Santo Tomas in Chichicastenango, El Quiché, had organized CVACs, and the army said that they joined "to reduce in practice the political efforts that the pressure groups continue against the army."

- November 22, 1992, security agents burst in without a court order to the premises of CONAVIGUA (National Coordinating Organization of Guatemalan Widows) and confiscated documents relating to complaints of human rights violations, including illegal military recruitment of Maya-Quiché youths.

- In October and early November 1992, the army took a census of twelve Maya-Quiché towns in Totonicapan and two in Chimaltenango to identify those sympathizing with the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Rigoberta Menchu, and later threatened and harassed them.

- October 31, 1992, a guard of the Human Rights Ombudsman, the ranch guard BENJAMIN GUZMAN HERNANDEZ was shot to death, and two of the Ombudsman's guards were wounded in an attack in Zone 1 of the capital. The attack occurred the day after the Ombudsman stated that the kidnapping of Maritza Urrutia and the death of Myrna Mack were politically motivated, which was severely rejected publicly by government authorities.

- The members of the Mutual Support Group (GAM) TERESA GUTIERREZ, MARIA TOJ, BACILIO CASTRO, MANUEL SIMAJ and MACARIO MORENTE were threatened with death in October 1992 by chiefs of the Defense Patrols. Similar threats were made in the past.

- On October 9, unknown persons surrounded and tried to violently break into the central headquarters of CONAVIGUA, while Rigoberta Menchu was attending a meeting there.

- On October 12 at 7:50 p.m., a bomb exploded at the GAM premises in Guatemala City, wounding JUANA CONTRERAS, a member of its management, and causing material damages. Several armed men visited the site shortly afterwards and threatened the occupants.

- On October 19, two young leaders of the Maya Majaquil Q'lj Coordinating Unit (New Dawn) CRISTINA AND MATEA PAR were attacked on a public street and stripped of their clothing by unknown armed men, who castigated them for supporting Rigoberta Menchu, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

- On June 31, 1992, a criminal attack was made against the person of JOSE EDUARDO PINEDA VALENZUELA, chief of the Department of the Human Rights Ombudsman.

- On December 27, a bomb thrown at the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman in Chimaltenango exploded.

- On February 10, 1993, armed men, after trapping a female employee of AVANCSO, told her that if Helen Mack, the sister of Myrna Mack, continued to come to AVANCSO, they would kill the director of that organization. Both of the women have been active in pressing the legal case against Jesus de Beteta, subsequently convicted for that murder.

During this period there were attacks and threats against members and educators of "Casa Alianza", who have acted as guardians and defenders of the human rights of street children, as stated in Chapter X.

The Commission is seriously concerned about this obvious campaign against the life and person of human rights defenders, some of whom are important government officials. This campaign has been demonstrated with cases in recent months, and its ability to terrorize is magnified by the criticisms expressed by civil and military authorities of the Executive Branch about the defense of human rights.

If there is valid polarization in Guatemala today, it is between those who violate human rights and prevent the violators from being punished, and all those who continually fight at personal risk for the full observance of human rights and for the punishment of those responsible for violating them. As stated previously, the Commission notes with satisfaction that most State authorities and agents are responsible members of the second category. However, the ambivalence, coverups, weaknesses, and even duplicities and complicities of many others are continuing, making it impossible to achieve overall peace and conditions conducive to the development of the country's citizens.


Data from various sources show that from 1960 to 1991 some 45,000 Guatemalans have "disappeared," and another 100,000 have been killed by security forces or civil patrols. These figures are approximate, and the Commission has no way to assess their accuracy. However, official figures recognize that in 1992 there were approximately 45,000 widows and 150,000 orphans because of acts of violence attributable to security forces and to actions of irregular or "guerrilla" armed groups. The various sectors agree that many of the disappeared persons were killed and buried illegally.

The Commission has received a number of complaints and information that exemplify these cases and shows their human dimensions rather than just the statistics: in 1992 women residents of San Jose Pachoj testified that in the morning of February 14, 1982 (around ten years ago) a civil patrol carried off a dozen men accusing them of sympathizing with the guerrillas, executed them, and threw them into common graves in a ravine. One resident, a former member of the patrols, who was present at the judicial exhuming of the bodies in 1992, confirmed his participation in the murder. In the area of that town, sources considered by the Commission to be credible said that there were dozens of common graves.

Worthy of special mention by the Commission is the work of the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the team that is training the Team of Forensic Anthropology (EAFG) in Guatemala. This team[61] is now in operation and is responsible for the exhumations in San Jose Pachoj, conducted at the request of and under the supervision of the local Justice of the Peace. Since the beginning of its work in August 1992, the EAFG has exhumed bodies in two places in the Department of El Quiché, one in San Jose Pachoj Lemoa, where they dug up two graves and found twelve bodies, and the other in Tunaja where they found 19 bodies in five graves. Some of the bodies contained bullets of the type used by the military forces, which are different from those used by the civil patrols.[62] The GAM has stated that it has identified 200 places where there are clandestine grave sites, and in each place there are usually several common graves.

The Commission notes with satisfaction that the authorities of El Quiché, including the Justice of Peace and the Forensic Medicine Office of that Department, have requested the assistance of the EFAG and have supported its work in carrying out its legal duties.

In view of the importance of the work, the Commission considers it important that:

- the same support given by the local authorities of El Quiché to the forensic anthropologists should be provided by the officials of other departments in Guatemala and by the National officials;

- that they be given permission to move the remains to the capital for analysis in the EAFG laboratory, which would simplify the work.

- the authorities and officials should refrain from making intimidating statements or applying adverse pressures on this delicate work, whose purpose is to establish the truth about various aspects of the violence suffered by the country in past years, truth without which no reconciliation is possible.


[50] Information supplied to the Commission during its on-site visit by officials of the Defense Ministry.

[51] According to the presidential spokesman Fernando Muniz: "The URNG is not worth ten cents in military capabilities." (Cronica, January 29, 1993).

[52] The topic of the CVACs is extensively discussed in Chapter VI.

[53] Attorney Delegate of Human Rights "Informe Circunstanciado de Actividades y de la Situacion de los Derechos Humanos durante 1992," Guatemala, February 1993.

[54] It is interesting to note that the figure it is noteworthy that the number of cases attributed to the URNG by the Attorney Delegate corresponds to the figure provided by the COPREDEH (see Chapter XI, Irregular Armed Groups), which reinforces the previous estimates.

[55] Statistics from nongovernmental organizations show a total for 1992 of 486 extrajudicial executions, of which 445 were individual killings (80 showing signs of torture) and 41 in 10 cases of multiple deaths or massacres.

[56] Preliminary reports from the NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) show 27 disappeared in 1992.

[57] National Police "Analisis Estadistico del Reporte de Personas Desaparecidas," Guatemala, March 1992.

[58] Res. AG/doc 2643/90 rev. 1 Operative Paragraph 4.

[59] See especially the sections on attacks against investigative journalists, union leaders and university leaders in Chapter IX "Freedom of Thought, Expression, Assembly and Association"; and against leaders defending the rights of children (Chapter X).

[60] See Chapter VI.

[61] The team is receiving the cooperation of Juan Caceres, of the Chilean Group of Forensic Anthropology, and Dr. Edgar Snow.

[62] The evidence is not probatory as the guerrilla may have used the same type of bullets.


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