VICE-PRESIDENT OF INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ENDS VISIT TO GUATEMALA
1. The Vice-President and Rapporteur for Guatemala of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today ended a visit to the Republic of Guatemala. The visit was made at the invitation of the government and at the request of representatives of civil society organizations from July 18 to 21, 2005. At the end of her visit, the Vice-President noted with concern the increased level of violence and the persistence of serious shortcomings in the Guatemalan justice system, which heightens the feeling of insecurity among the population. This situation is acute for men and women indigenous leaders, social leaders, peasants, youth, and justice workers, who have been victims of threats and hostile acts, some very serious.
2. Among her activities, the Rapporteur attended a public memorial act for the victims of the massacre in Plan de Sánchez. Also, honoring a commitment to the President of the Republic, she presented a document on compensation for the victims of human rights violations, followed up on the issues of administration of justice and violence against women, and assessed the situation of social leaders, Indians, justice workers, and men and women defenders of human rights. Another purpose of the visit was to work with victims, their representatives, and the Guatemalan State, represented by the COPREDEH, on some current cases and urgent precautionary measures before the Inter-American Commission.
3. The IACHR is a principal organ of the Organization of American States, composed of seven members elected in their personal capacity by the Organization’s General Assembly. The Commission’s mandate is to promote respect for human rights in the hemisphere according to the parameters set in the American Convention on Human rights, to which Guatemala is a party since 1978. In the course of her visit, the Vice-President and Rapporteur of the IACHR met with the highest officials of the State of Guatemala, as well as with victims, victims’ families, and civil society organizations involved in the defense and promotion of human rights in Guatemala.
4. The Rapporteur expresses her appreciation for the support and cooperation of the State, the organizations, the victims, and their families in the conduct of this visit.
Reparations ceremony in Plan de Sánchez
5. The Rapporteur for Guatemala took part in a ceremony for reparations for victims and their families for the massacre carried out 23 years ago in the Plan de Sánchez community. On July 18, 2005 in the town of Plan de Sánchez, Rabinal municipality, the Guatemalan State, represented by Vice-President Eduardo Stein, held a public ceremony to accept its responsibility and ask forgiveness from the survivors and victims’ families for the events that occurred on July 18, 1982, when 268 personas, most of them Maya Indians, were executed by members of the Guatemalan army and civilian collaborators under army direction. This act of public acceptance of responsibility was part of the requirements laid down on November 19, 2004 in the judgment of the Inter-American Court for reparations in this case.
6. In the act of remembrance Rapporteur Villarán said: “it is impossible to forget what happened on a day like today, in this place, 23 years ago. Here lie the remains of those who were brutally slain on a Sunday market day. This was a scene of horror and shame for humanity 23 years ago.” She added, “Today, 23 years later, we salute those who never flagged in taking risks and extending a fraternal hand to accompany the long march of the survivors of Plan de Sánchez. Today the march is still not over, for after 23 years the responsible parties have still not been identified, prosecuted, and punished.”
7. Rapporteur Villarán also said “today we honor a democratic State and its governing officials, who recognized their international responsibility and asked forgiveness for the damage inflicted by agents of the State of Guatemala and did so in good faith, pledging to the victims that they will ensure justice is done.”
8. The Commission welcomes the public recognition of State responsibility and the request for forgiveness, because this reinforces the country’s commitment to the inter-American system and opens the door for healing the community of Plan de Sánchez and taking steps to ensure that this sort of violation will not reoccur. The Commission will monitor full compliance with the judgment.
Presentation to the President of the Republic of a document on compensation for the victims of human rights violations
9. The Vice-President of the IACHR reiterated the open and proactive attitude of the government of President Oscar Berger in its dialogue with the organs of the inter-American human rights system. The Commission stresses that the government’s positive attitude has encouraged dialogue and can lead to significant advances in the area of consolidation of the rule of law in Guatemala. During this visit Ms. Villarán gave President Berger a document on criteria of the inter-American human rights system for compensation of victims of human rights violations. This was intended to support the work of the National Compensation Commission and to serve as a guide for the State’s obligation for indemnification.
10. In this regard, the Rapporteur underscored the need for the National Compensation Commission to move effectively and decisively ahead with a plan to compensate victims of the armed conflict. The Rapporteur urged civil society organizations and the State to intensify their efforts on behalf of the victims, who have already waited too long.
Violent climate affecting men and women indigenous leaders, social, peasant, and labor leaders, women, youth, and justice workers
11. The Rapporteur gathered information from State officials, human rights organizations, justice workers, men and women leaders of indigenous, peasant, and labor groups, and journalists on the impact of violence in Guatemala. The Vice-President said that this situation is due to a number of factors, including the aftermath of the armed conflict, the existence of parallel security groups, and a culture of violent settlement of disputes.
12. The Rapporteur assessed the operation of institutions established for protection and investigation of acts against women and men who defend human rights, such as the prosecutor of the Human Rights Section, the Unit for the Protection of Threatened Defenders in the National Civil Police, and the reception of complaints and their processing and review by areas of the Human Rights Prosecutor’s Office, such as the area of civil rights and review. The Rapporteur welcomed the government’s public declaration in support of the men and women who defend human rights, published on Sunday, July 17 in various media, which recognized the perilous security conditions in which they carry on their work.
13. However, the Vice-President noted with concern the persistence of structural problems affecting full respect for human rights in Guatemala. During her visit she perceived that the women and men who defend human rights are in extreme jeopardy. This problem is aggravated by the lack of adequate protective measures and the impunity with which the threats and attacks occur.
14. Ms. Villarán noted that in addition to the threats, harassment, and assaults against organizations working on cases of human rights violations—especially those that occurred during the armed conflict---there are threats, harassment, and assaults against those involved in asserting, defending, and protecting economic, social, and cultural rights. On this matter, the Rapporteur expressed concern for the high number of cases of illegal searches and theft of equipment and data from the offices and homes of the women and men defenders, written death threats, physical assaults, stalking, kidnapping, and in some cases assassinations.
15. The Rapporteur also expressed concern about the difficulties encountered by justice workers, which causes people to lose confidence in their work and seriously erodes the democratic structure.
16. In this regard information was received concerning the precarious security situation of those who administer justice. According to information received during the visit, many male and female judges have been victims of death threats, surveillance, and pressure in the exercise of their functions. The Rapporteur noted her grave concern over these occurrences, and especially the assassination of some judges. The Rapporteur also received information that some men and women officials of the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor had received telephone death threats, particularly in the interior.
17. During her visit the Rapporteur gathered information to supplement that obtained on her visit last September to monitor the situation of violence against women in Guatemala, and will include it in her report on the topic, soon to be published by the Commission.
18. The Vice-President received detailed information concerning threats and aggression against members of organizations that promote women’s rights and their political and social involvement. In addition to these cases, the attacks against women include aggression of a sexual nature in an alarming number of instances. This situation is especially serious, because it represents a double attack against women engaged in social activities, and demands a vigorous response by the State to protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators.
19. The Rapporteur emphasizes that senior government officials and members of civil society organizations have sought mechanisms for dialogue to enable women and men defenders to express their needs and the authorities have promised specifically to respond to them. The Rapporteur welcomes these mechanisms and urges the officials and the organizations to continue with this dialogue. The Rapporteur also requests that the government give urgent priority attention to carrying out the commitments made in the dialogue, given that experience has sadly shown that lack of timely action has grave consequences for the life and safety of the women and men who defend human rights.
20. The Rapporteur expressed special concern about allegations received concerning assaults on persons and organizations subject of precautionary measures.
21. Ms. Villarán reiterated that the women and men who defend human rights are key actors in the process for full attainment of the rule of law and strengthening of democracy. Their work of protection of individuals and groups who are victims of human rights violations, public denunciation of injustices experienced by major social sectors, and the necessary civic control they exercise over public officials and democratic institutions are some of the activities that make them a linchpin for building a solid and lasting democratic society. In this regard, the Rapporteur asked the officials with whom she met during her visit to take the necessary steps to prevent any attack or obstacle that could hinder the work of the women and men who defend human rights in Guatemala.
Administration of justice
22. The Rapporteur reiterates what the Commission has maintained throughout its work in Guatemala: the importance of having efficient, independent, and autonomous administration of justice for strengthening democracy and existence of the rule of law. The judicial branch that has these characteristics restrains the abuse of authority and guarantees the legality and protection of everyone’s human rights.
23. The Vice-President noted the invaluable work of the people and officials responsible for protecting, enforcing, promoting, or defending human rights of individuals and the community. The female and male judges, agents of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, prosecutors, district attorneys, public defenders, and police commissioners as agents for the administration of justice are pivotal for establishing the link between the State and the general public. They are also the ones responsible for prosecuting and punishing those who violate human rights.
24. Despite the valuable work done by these women and men who work in the institutions established for victim protection, the Rapporteur received information that suggests there are serious gaps in interagency coordination, which in many cases prevent the institutions from effective and timely work. The Rapporteur was also told that none of these institutions has the necessary human and financial resources to properly carry out its mandates. Some of these agencies have been allocated a smaller budget than in previous years, which further limits their already scant resources.
25. The Rapporteur recognizes the efforts of the National Civil Police to implement some of the recommendations made on the occasion of her visit in September 2004, concerning violence against women Guatemala. However, the Rapporteur found that even police officials lack sufficient resources to undertake their work to investigate those responsible for human rights violations or common crimes.
26. As regards the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Rapporteur salutes as a positive development the merger four prosecuting sections into a Human Rights Prosecution Section, whose coordinator began work a week ago. According to information supplied by officials of that section, it is composed of the prosecutor in charge of the unit for crimes against human rights activists, justice workers, journalists, and labor leaders, the prosecutor in charge of the unit for special cases and violations of human rights, and the prosecutor in charge of the analysis and intelligence unit. However, the Vice-President notes with concern that agents of the Public Prosecutor’s Office still lack adequate institutional support for carrying out their functions, and measures to guarantee their security when they investigate cases that are especially sensitive for the country, or for some sectors of the population, such as lands, mining, labor rights, or women’s rights. In this regard, the Rapporteur notes that many criminal investigations appear stalled, among them homicides of women, human rights violations during the armed conflict, and threats, assaults, theft of equipment and data affecting social organizations and men and women leaders. The Rapporteur appeals for allocation of adequate financial resources for the Human Rights Prosecution Section, and for development of an adequate mechanism for receiving petitions on matters within its purview from outside Guatemala City.
27. The Rapporteur stresses the importance of strengthening institutional support and training in human rights through the adoption of a coordinated security policy by the various actors involved in the administration of justice in the country. The Rapporteur has received information that the office for coordination of justice, established 1998, has been unable to coordinate necessary actions to accomplish satisfactory criminal investigations The Rapporteur has also noted a weakness in the technical and forensic investigative capability of the Guatemalan State; in this vein, the Rapporteur urges the State to implement the law for the establishment and operation of the National Autonomous Institute of Forensic Sciences.
28. The Vice-President repeats that it is necessary to have elements to permit transparency in government, through rapid and effective access to public information held by the State. This includes information on the allocation of resources and management of investments made with public funds.
29. The Rapporteur expresses her concern about the persistence of impunity as a structural problem in Guatemala. Human rights organizations told the Rapporteur that cases in the Public Prosecutor’s Office are often closed because it is not possible to continue investigating the facts. In this connection, Ms. Villarán reminds the Guatemalan State that impunity for human rights violations erodes the foundations of a democratic State, interrupting the development of its basic institutions.
Working meetings on cases and urgent precautionary measures before the inter-American system
30. In the course of her visit, the Vice-President and Rapporteur for Guatemala of the Inter-American Commission held working meetings on cases during which important agreements were reached in five cases of friendly settlement, five cases of follow-up of recommendations, and eight precautionary measures. The progress made is a tribute to the effort and will of the victims, the representatives, and the State—represented by the COPREDEH—to fulfill their international obligations
31. Finally, Ms. Susana Villarán expresses her appreciation to the State and its officials who met with her, especially the COPREDEH and its unit of men and women who defend human rights, for their support in coordination of the visit, and for providing valuable information. She also acknowledges with thanks the cooperation of organizations that supported the coordination of meetings with civil society and all those who took part in interviews with the delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human rights.
Guatemala, July 21, 2005