CONCERNED OVER STATUS OF RULE OF LAW IN GUATEMALA
The Commission is concerned over the continuing erosion of the rule of law in Guatemala, which has escalated in the context of the electoral process that will conclude with general elections in November 2003.
Commission wishes to emphasize that 11 activists have been murdered since
the beginning of the electoral process.
It has also received reports of increasing acts of intimidation,
murders, threats, physical assaults, and unauthorized entry of homes,
perpetrated against social and political leaders, human rights defenders,
justice sector personnel, and journalists, in connection with the
Guatemalan electoral process. Considering
the gravity of the situation, the Commission granted precautionary
measures to protect the personal well-being of political activists in the
department of Chiquimula.
Commission was also informed that peasant leaders, Mayan spiritual guides,
human rights defenders, and state officials charged with protecting and
defending human rights were targeted in over 30 incidents between April
and July 2003. In particular,
these incidents included abductions, murders, threats, illegal raids,
surveillance of places of work and homes, and stalking and persecution in
public places. The Commission has granted precautionary measures to
safeguard the lives and well-being of members of various organizations
devoted to defending human rights in Guatemala.
the most recent OAS General Assembly session, held in Chile in June 2003,
the states adopted resolution AG/RES. 1920 (XXXIII-O/03), on human rights
defenders in the Americas, in which they condemned actions that directly
or indirectly prevented or hampered the work of human rights defenders
and, further, urged member states to continue stepping up their efforts to
adopt the necessary measures to safeguard the lives, personal safety, and
freedom of expression of defenders.
Commission has received worrisome information on the safety of
journalists. More than 20
incidents of threats, surveillance, stalking, and illegal raids,
perpetrated against social communicators and media directors, in both the
capital and the interior, have been reported to the IACHR since April.
Unfettered press coverage and public discussion are essential,
especially during an electoral process, in which society needs to be
the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is concerned that former
General Efraín Ríos Montt could be among the candidates for president.
The Commission considers the candidacy of Ríos Montt for president
a grave threat to consolidation of the rule of law, stable democracy, and
effective protection of human rights in Guatemala, which began with the
signing of the Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace, in December 1996.
Severe and massive violations of human rights were perpetrated
under the de facto regime of Ríos Montt (1982-1983).
Militarized structures instituted during that period, such as the
Civil Self-Defense Patrols, tightened the grip on the population and were
responsible for grave human rights violations.
Continuation of the scorched earth strategy led to the destruction
of hundreds of villages, elimination of part of the Mayan population, and
a massive displacement of civilians who lived in the area of the fighting. In the context of this armed conflict, in which over 200,000
people died or disappeared, the spiral of violence reached its peak
between 1981 and 1983, when 81% of the executions and forced
disappearances took place.
Moreover, the decision that would authorize
former general Ríos Montt to take part in the electoral process has been
questioned by various parties and organizations of Guatemalan society.
In particular, a decision by the human rights prosecutor concluded
that the manner in which two substitute magistrates were chosen, by a
secret drawing of lots, to serve on the Constitutional Court that would
rule on the writ of amparo concerning the registration of the
former general as a presidential candidate “involves actions that
violate the principles of due process.”
1993, the Commission issued its opinion on the presentation of former
general Ríos Montt as a candidate for President of the Republic.
In Report Nº 30/93, the Commission stated that the ineligibility
of persons who had led movements or governments that had disrupted the
constitutional order enshrined in Article 186 of the Guatemalan
Constitution was considered “as
juridical principles of international relations and common defense of the
democratic consolidation in the region … to make its operation more
effective, and to defend the integrity of its citizens' rights.”
a visit to Guatemala in March of this year, the IACHR expressed its
serious concern over the significant deterioration in areas essential for
preserving and strengthening the rule of law, such as a weak Judiciary,
the existence of clandestine groups acting illegally and with impunity,
and attacks on human rights defenders, justice sector personnel,
journalists, unionists, and other representatives of social sectors.
Commission observes that, at present, the human rights situation continues
to decline, and urges the Guatemalan state to take all necessary measures
to ensure that the rule of law is fully upheld, in accordance with the
American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic
Charter, in particular free participation in the electoral process,
transparency in all administrative and judicial decisions that could
affect that process, and guaranteeing the safety of all its participants.
Washington, D.C., July 24, 2003