COMMISSION CONCERN OVER THE SITUATION
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) concluded today a visit
to the Republic of Guatemala, which took place from July 23 to 26, 2002.
The purpose of the visit was that of assessing the situation of
human rights defenders in Guatemala.
The IACHR is a principal organ of the
Organization of American States, composed of seven members elected in
their personal capacity by the OAS General Assembly.
The Commission’s mandate is to promote the observance of human
rights in the Hemisphere according to parameters established in the
American Convention on Human Rights, to which Guatemala has been party
since 1978. The delegation
included Mrs. Susana Villarán, Commissioner and Rapporteur for Guatemala;
Dr. Santiago A. Canton, Executive Secretary; Mrs. María Claudia Pulido,
attorney for the Commission in charge of Guatemalan affairs; and Mrs.
Andrea Galindo, attorney for the Commission and member of the Unit for
Human Rights Defenders.
its visit, the IACHR delegation met with the President of the Republic,
Dr. Alfonso Portillo; the Vice President of the Republic, Dr. Francisco
Reyes; and other members of the Security Cabinet; the President of the
Supreme Court, Dr. Carlos Alfonso Álvarez Lobos; the Human Rights
Ombudsman, Dr. Julio Arango Escobar; the elected Human Rights Ombudsman,
Dr. Sergio Morales; the Attorney General of the Nation, Dr. Carlos David
de León Argueta; and the Special Prosecutor on Human Rights Defenders,
Dr. Tatiana Morales.
the delegation met with members of the National Human Rights Movement,
with organizations working for the rights of women and children, with
forensic anthropologists, with representatives of social organizations
belonging to peasant and union movements, and with members of the Mayan
Consultative Commission. The
IACHR delegation also participated in the Second Regional Consultation on
Human Rights Defenders and the National Workshop on Human Rights
Commission is grateful for the cooperation and the facilities extended by
the Government of Guatemala during the visit, as well as the information
provided by Government officials, human rights organizations, and social
situation of the human rights defenders is one of the main concerns of the
IACHR. The Unit for Human
Rights Defenders was created in December 2001, for the purpose of
strengthening the mechanisms provided by the inter-American system to
protect human rights defenders in the region.
Further, in OAS General Assembly resolutions AG/RES. 1818 (XXXI-O/01)
and AG/RES. 1842 (XXXII-O/02), the governments of the Hemisphere expressed
their concern over the situation of the defenders and asked the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to “continue to pay due
attention to the situation of human rights defenders in the Americas and
to consider preparing a comprehensive study on the matter.”
Commission wishes to underscore the original Government of Guatemala with
regard to various cases and precautionary measures pending before the
Commission. As a result of friendly settlement procedures, progress has
also been made in dealing with victims of armed conflict and the
inter-American system has been strengthened.
part of the collaboration that exists between the Government of Guatemala
and the IACHR and for the purpose of contributing to a better protection
of the fundamental rights of Guatemalan citizens, the Commission, in
accordance with General Assembly resolutions and with the functions and
powers under Article 41 of the American Convention on Human Rights, wishes
to bring to public attention the following preliminary observations.
the Commission highlights the importance of the democratic system and the
observance of the rule of law for the effective protection of human
rights. In a democratic society, rights and freedoms inherent to the
individual, his guarantees, and the rule of law make up a triad, each
component of which is defined, completed, and interpreted in terms of the
and the rule of law are prerequisites for achieving the enjoyment and
observance of human rights in a society.
One of the main threats to the observance of the rule of law is
impunity. In its reports on Guatemala, the Commission has repeatedly drawn
attention to the existence of a structural impunity in the country’s
justice system, which seriously affects the presence of the rule of law.
During this visit, the Commission has found that no significant
progress has been made in the investigation and punishment of those
responsible for human rights violations.
This constitutes one of the most important reasons for the
persistence of impunity in Guatemalan society.
Commission urges the State to give priority attention and demonstrate the
political will to overcome the situation of impunity, and to that end it
considers that it is vitally important to strengthen mechanisms for
investigation. In this regard, human and material resources must be given to
the Human Rights Ombudsmen, the Attorney General, and especially the
recently established Special Prosecutor on Human Rights. The fact that these three officials assumed their posts less
than two months ago or are about to assume them is an opportunity that
should be seized immediately in order to initiate a process aimed at
bringing to an end the impunity that now exists.
In particular, the
Commission wishes to express its deepest concern over the significant
increase in systematic attacks that, directly or indirectly, obstruct or
interfere with the work of human rights defenders.
In recent months, the Commission received considerable information
demonstrating a pattern of intimidation against human rights defenders.
Indeed, during this visit, the Commission was informed of more than
100 recorded attacks and acts of intimidation against legal defenders,
individuals that work for the justice system, witnesses, and social
leaders in 2002. Among those
attacks were illicit searches of the offices of human rights
organizations, the theft of equipment and information, death threats made
by telephone and in writing, physical assault, the surveillance of
individuals, kidnappings, and in some cases murder.
According to the information received by the Commission, none of
the perpetrators of these attacks has been brought to justice yet.
the Commission expresses its deep concern over the reorganization of
groups of former members of the Civil Self-Defense Patrols (PAC) and the
existence of clandestine structures linked to the State or to economic or
other types of interest, who operate with the participation or tolerance
of State agents.
of the crucial commitments of the Global Human Rights Accord is that the
State should combat any sign of illegal security forces or parallel power
structures and should have greater control over the possession and use of
firearms. The monopoly of
power must be exclusively in the hands of those with a constitutional
mandate, and responsible officials must apply due diligence in
investigating, prosecuting, and punishing the members of so-called
Commission expresses its concern over the lack of dialogue between the
Government and civil society organizations, in particular human rights
defenders. After 36 years of armed conflict, which took a toll on hundreds
of thousands of Guatemalans, society is fully aware of the grave
consequences of polarization and the lack of dialogue. The Commission
urges all sectors to put aside existing distrust and to initiate dialogue
making it possible to find concrete solutions to the problems affecting
not only the most vulnerable sectors but also the society as a whole.
the weakness of monitoring bodies, the mobilization of the PACs, the
existence of clandestine groups, and in particular cases of intimidation
against human rights defenders reflect a disturbing deterioration of
conditions conducive to the defense of human rights, which seriously
affects Guatemalan society.
conclusion, the Commission wishes to note that human rights defenders have
a key role to play in the process leading to the full attainment of the
rule of law. The action of the defenders, through the defense of
individuals and groups who are victims of human rights violations, public
disclosure of injustices affecting large sectors of society, and the
necessary control they exercise on public officials and democratic
institutions, among other activities, makes them an indispensable building
block in the construction of a strong and lasting democratic society.
human rights defenders are silenced by intimidation and fear, thousands of
people are deprived of the opportunity to find answers to the violations
and injustices besetting vast sectors of society.
The Commission would like to take this opportunity to congratulate
the human right defenders who are working tirelessly and selflessly to
bring about a more equitable society.
Commission will continue to monitor very closely the situation of human
rights defenders and will prepare a report that it will issue in due
course. The visit ending
today is the best possible opportunity to achieve this objective and to
intensify the dialogue that, within its sphere of competence, the
Commission maintains with Guatemalan officials and society.
The Commission reiterates its offer to cooperate in helping to
strengthen the defense and protection of human rights in a legal,
Guatemala, July 26, 2002