REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been observing
the human rights situation in Guatemala with increasing concern.
In January l986, the Commission applauded the return to democracy,
following years of military rule, with the assumption of power by President
Vinicio Cerezo. During the first
months of the presidency of Vinicio Cerezo there was a perceptible improvement
in the human rights situation which ceased as it became clear that real power in
Guatemala remained outside civilian control.
The government of Vinicio Cerezo took certain acts to demonstrate its
support for human rights. In l987
Guatemala accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court
of Human Rights and on January 30, l987, became the first country to deposit its
instrument of ratification to the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and
Punish Torture. It did so, however,
with a reservation closing the door to international scrutiny into cases
involving a defendant who had been acquitted by a Guatemalan Court.
The reservation stipulated:
The Republic of Guatemala does not accept the application nor shall it apply the third paragraph of Article 8, because in conformance with its domestic legal procedures, when the appeals have been exhausted, the decision acquitting a defendant charged with the crime of torture becomes final and may not be submitted to any international fora.
The Commission is pleased to note that during the period under review,
the Government of Guatemala, on August 6, l990, withdrew this reservation.
Another important step taken by the Cerezo government was the creation of
the position of Human Rights Ombudsman. In
July l990, Ramiro de Leon Carpio, the Human Rights Ombudsman, revealed that the
majority of the complaints presented to his office involved accusations against
the Army, the National Police and the Civil Patrols. Hundreds of detained persons reported missing during this
period were subsequently found savagely tortured and killed, creating a climate
of horror and fear in the Guatemalan population.
The Human Rights Ombudsman reported in December l990 that 304 persons had
been assassinated and 233 persons had been "disappeared" during l990.
Cesar Alvarez Guadamuz, one of the two legal assistants to the Ombudsman,
stated in October l990 that "flagrant human rights violations continue to
occur with absolute impunity in Guatemala" and that the country "is
going back to the dark past of the l980s when we lived amid virtual state
terrorism." The corpses found
were located in different parts of the country, the majority with bullet or
knife wounds, some with signs of torture or that they had been incinerated.
Statistics from the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission state that 653
persons were killed and 101 persons "disappeared" in Guatemala in
l990, and that these figures only represent 25% of the actual total given the
virtual impossibility of collecting data from remote areas.
Another source, CERI-GUA (Centro exterior de reportes informativos
sobre Guatemala) has published information to the effect that there were 734
assassinations and 557 cadavers found in public places in l990 in Guatemala
Amnesty International presented to the Commission a report documenting,
for the first time, violations of human rights involving street children.
The report provided documentation on children who had been harassed,
threatened, attacked, beaten, tortured and in some cases killed by the police.
During the period covered by this report, the Commission has received and
opened 138 cases involving 194 victims of alleged human rights violations
against the government of Guatemala. The
majority of these cases involve complaints dealing with extrajudicial
executions, the forced "disappearance" of persons, and illegal
detentions. The family members of
these victims have advised the Commission that they have filed writs of habeas
corpus with the Guatemalan courts, which have produced no results, due to the
ineffectiveness of the Guatemalan judiciary in human rights matters.
The Commission has been reporting annually to the General Assembly on the
evolution of the human rights situation in Guatemala and the alarming level of
violence, by means of special reports and its yearly updates in its Annual
Report. In addition, it has carried
out on-site visits in Guatemala in l982, l985, l988 and most recently in
l990. By note dated October 12,
l990, the Government of Guatemala invited the Commission to observe the
presidential elections held on November ll, l990.
Since the Commission has never accepted a governmental invitation to
observe elections it declined this invitation.
The OAS Secretary General, however, accompanied by his advisors did
travel to Guatemala to observe the elections.
Expectations were raised that a democratic form of government would bring
with it a number of reforms of the inequities in Guatemalan society. The democratic government of Vinicio Cerezo, however, did not
bring about major reforms. The
social reforms attempted during the governments of Arevalo and Arbenz, which,
inter alia, attempted to reform one of the most skewed land tenure systems in
the Americas, were rolled back following the latter's ouster in l954.
From l954 until the assumption of power by President Cerezo in l986, the
military dominated political life, which brought with it unparalleled violence
and the militarization of civil society.
In spite of the fact that by the l980s the Army had won the war against
the guerrillas, low intensity fighting continued.
In order to control these zones, in l982, General Rios Montt established
the first Civil Patrols, which enabled the Army to conscript virtually the
entire male population in these areas into periodic unpaid military duty.
Pursuant to Article 34 of the l985 Guatemalan Constitution, compulsory
service in self-defense groups is officially prohibited, and most
Guatemalan government officials now take the position that service in the Civil
Patrols is completely voluntary. Since
the Civil Patrols are military structures established by the military, to refuse
Civil Patrol duty is to risk being labeled a "subversive," the
consequences of which are vivid in the memories of the indigenous population.
In l986, the first attempts at resistance to participation in the Civil
Patrols began to form, as patrollers began to petition for an end to the patrols
or their exemption from civil patrol duty.
A stark example of how the friction between the indigenous population and
the military is potentially explosive is illustrated by the case of the recent
killings in Santiago, Atitlan. On
December 2, l990, in the canton of Xechiboy, in the municipality of Santiago
Atitlan, 13 persons were killed by machinegun fire as the Army shot at a group
of 2,000-3,000 demonstrators who had marched on the military compound.
According to information presented to the Commission, the commander of
the military compound (which was located some 2 km away in the village of
Panabaj) and a lieutenant and three others from the garrison, all dressed in
civilian clothes, had gotten drunk in Santiago Atitlan's cantinas the evening of
December lst and began harassing and abusing the local residents.
These men tried to break into the home of one of the local residents and
started banging on his door, and when he wouldn't open it, the neighbors came to
his assistance. Someone threw a
rock which struck one of the intruders in the face, and, in retaliation, the
other pulled out his weapon and shot l9 year old Diego Ixbalan Reanda, who was
wounded but not killed. To protest
the abuse by the military the residents rang the churchbells for an hour and by
midnight thousands of people had gathered at the town plaza.
They decided to march on the military compound to demand an explanation
for the shooting of Diego and for the abuses committed by the Army in the past
and to demand that the Army base be removed.
According to the report prepared by the Human Rights Office of the
Archbishop of Guatemala, approximately 3,000 persons left the plaza to march on
the Army compound to air their grievances, led by the two mayors (the incumbent
and the newly-elected mayor), who had asked the people not to carry rocks
or sticks, but only white strips of nylon.
When they arrived at the entrance of the base someone fired shots into
the air and immediately the sentinels in the guardposts opened fire on the
marchers. The soldiers killed ll
persons and as many as 22 were wounded. Two
of the wounded died the next day.
On December 2, l990, Ramiro de Leon Carpio, the Human Rights Ombudsman
arrived in Santiago Atitlan in order to investigate the killings.
Upon his arrival the two mayors presented him with a petition signed by
20,000 residents which requested:
The immediate removal of the army base from Santiago Atitlan.
2. A governmental investigation of the incident.
3. That those responsible be turned over to the Courts and punished.
The report of the Human Rights Ombudsman, for the first time in
Guatemalan history, held the Army, as an institution, responsible for the human
rights violations in Santiago Atitlan, as well as the individual officers
involved. The report also
recommended that the army base be removed.
Given the outcry over this case, President Cerezo ordered that the
military base be removed, the Minister of Defense admitted the responsibility of
members of the Army in the killing of the thirteen people, and three individuals
are in detention awaiting trial by military court. Ramiro de Leon Carpio, in an
interview given to the Guatemalan magazine Cronica emphasized the
historic nature of President Cerezo's order to have the base removed, in that it
is the first time that civilian power has been exercised over the military. In de Leon Carpio's opinion this case has shaken the Army and
the entire nation as regards the issue of impunity. He expects that the inhabitants of many other villages will
seek the demilitarization of their communities.
In July l988, Amilcar Mendez, a school teacher who had assisted the civil
patrollers in the preparation of their petitions, and several hundred villagers
from Quiche province, founded the Council of Ethnic Communities Runujel Juman (CERJ),
the first organization established to defend the rights of Guatemala's Maya
population. CERJ's mandate was to
disseminate knowledge among the Indian communities of the rights specified in
the Guatemalan Constitution (such as Article 34), and it provided an
organization to work for more comprehensive goals such as land reform and the
preservation of ethnic culture and identity.
The very existence of CERJ, which now has a membership of approximately
6,000 persons, belies the notion that the Civil Patrols are voluntary.
Also in l988, a widows' organization, CONAVIGUA (the National Committee
of Guatemalan Widows) was formed by Maya women whose spouses had been killed by
government forces. The widows seek,
inter alia, the exhumation and proper burial of their spouses who have been
buried in clandestine graves throughout the highlands.
CERJ members have been under attack since its creation in l988,
and to the present some 13 members have been murdered or disappeared.
In l990, the Commission received complaints involving seven members of
CERJ who were assassinated between March and October l990 by members of the
Civil Patrols or groups of plainclothed individuals who were acting with the
complicity of the governmental authorities:
Mateo Serat Ixcoy- CERJ member from San Pedro Jocopilas, El Quiche,
was killed. He
"disappeared" when on his way to visit his mother-in-law
on October 29, l990. The Civil Patrollers found him dead in La Montaņa with knife
wounds and his head was practically decapitated.
Sebastian Velasquez Mejia- CERJ delegate from Chunima, in El
Quiche, was kidnapped by a group of men who were driving a grey pick-up
truck on October 6, l990. His body
was found on October 8, l990. His
body was exhumed on December l0, l990 since he was buried without his family's
knowledge. His identity was confirmed.
Samuel de la Cruz Gomez- CERJ member from el Quiche, was kidnapped
with his brother (who was later freed) by a paramilitary group of about l5
plainclothesmen from his home on July 12, l990 and remains
Pedro Tiu Cac- CERJ member from Santa Maria Chiquimula, in
Totonicapan department, was kidnapped by armed plainclothesmen who claimed to be
investigative police ("Judiciales") on July 2, l990, and found dead on
July 4, l990.
Jose Maria Ixcaya Pixtay- a founding member of the CERJ and member
of the board of directors, killed by civil patrollers after receiving multiple
threats from the local Civil Patrol chief, as he left his home in Solola for a
demonstration on May l, l990.
Jose Vicente Garcia,- CERJ delegate in San Pedro Jocopilas, shot
and killed in front of his wife and child, following a threat from a military
commissioner, on April l0,l990.
On March l7,l990 military commissioners in the village of Parraxtut
murdered CERJ and CONAVIGUA member Maria Mejia (whose first husband had been
"disappeared" in March l98l) and attempted to kill her husband.
Her husband, who survived the attack, identified the men who shot his
wife. The military commissioners
had threatened the family because they were not participating in the Civil
In this report, the Commission has decided to pay special attention to
human rights monitors in Guatemala. Human
rights activists working with other organizations have been threatened as well.
On September ll, l990, the Commission opened the case of Myrna Mack, a
Guatemalan anthropologist who was a founding member of the Association for the
Advancement of Social Sciences in Guatemala (AVANCSO), and a consultant for the
Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, who was stabbed 27 times and
killed upon leaving the AVANCSO office in Guatemala City on September ll, l990.
Prior to her assassination, Mack had authored a study on "Policies
Toward Internally Displaced Populations in Guatemala," which examined the
situation of the internally displaced population in the departments of El Quiche
and Alta Verapaz. The human rights
office of the Archbishop of Guatemala stated that despite attempts to make the
attack look like an ordinary crime, Mack's murder should be considered a
political assassination. In
addition, members of the Mutual Support for the Families of the Disappeared (GAM),
continue to be under attack. On
July 22, l990, armed men drove by and machinegunned the home of Judith
Montenegro Castellanos, the mother of Nineth de Garcia, President of the GAM.
In addition, on International Human Rights Day, December l0, l990, masked
gunmen shot and killed Diego Ic Suy, a member of the GAM who lived in the Quiche
but worked at the Guatemala City bus station.
Assailant shot Ic Suy in the back and fled.
No one has been arrested for any of these attacks.
President Cerezo took a decision not to investigate cases of the forced
disappearances of persons which had taken place during the military regimes of
the past and let stand a self-amnesty which the military had adopted prior
to his assumption of power. Cerezo
did state, however, that he personally would guarantee the independence of the
investigations of any complaint submitted to the Guatemalan judiciary. As regards the prosecution of persons responsible for human
rights violations during his administration, President Cerezo recognized that
corruption in the administration of justice exists in Guatemala.
In August l990, commenting on a report by the non-governmental
organization, Americas Watch, which criticized the decision of the Fourth
Appeals Court to overturn the one standing conviction for a human rights
violation, namely, the conviction of five National Police agents and the former
police chief of the department of Quetzaltenango,
for the October l987 kidnapping and killing of two university students, Danilo
Sergio Alvarado Mejia and Rene Haroldo Leiva Cayax, President Cerezo stated that
"it is a fact that there have been several cases in which the lower courts
sentenced the defendants to prison, and then afterwards, when the rulings were
appealed, they were released, changing the original decision." The cases of these two students were presented to the
Commission in l987; on July 22, l988 all six National Police officers were
sentenced to 30 years in prison; in July l989 their sentence was confirmed by
the Court of Second Instance; in August, l990 the sentence was revoked and the
men acquitted. Several witnesses
and laboratory tests had clearly established the responsibility of the
perpetrators; at the time of the trial these convictions had been cited as
achieved as a consequence of a successful foreign police aid program in
laboratory techniques. The appeals
court did not dispute the facts established by the trial court, but it held that
they were not sufficient to uphold the charge of murder.
This reversal overturns the only conviction in a major human rights case
during the Cerezo government.
President Cerezo rejected the accusation that executive branch officials
influence the administration of justice and stated that, in his view, the
problem lay in the fact that the evidence presented to the courts by police
investigators was flawed, and that this problem was being solved with the
assistance of various institutions. The
failure of the Guatemalan authorities to investigate the murder of Michael
DeVine, an American who ran a tourist ranch in northern Guatemala and was
abducted and executed in the Peten on June 8, l990, was one of many cases which
was neither resolved nor moved ahead.
Despite complaints presented to the Human Rights Ombudsman's office that
the security forces were responsible for human rights abuses, the military
continued to absolve itself of any responsibility for these acts. In June l990, 42 mutilated bodies showing signs of torture
were found in Guatemala City. The
increase in violence was attributed to the work of death squads, but Government
Minister Colonel Carlos Morales denied this and asserted that the violence was
due to the presence in Guatemala of thousands of illegal aliens from Central
In light of the crime and corruption in Guatemala after five years of
democratic rule, and an inflation rate at a record 60% per year, only one third
of those surveyed in a l990 poll cited democracy as the best system for their
country, approximately the same number as chose military rule. The most popular candidate during the presidential campaign
to succeed Cerezo was General Efrain Rios Montt, who in l982-l983 was
responsible for the devastating counterinsurgency campaign, the establishment of
the model villages and sending criminals before death squads following secret
trials. Given the deterioration of
Guatemalan society and the increase in poverty and violence, the Rios Montt
period appears to many to have been one of "stability."
Article l86 of the Guatemalan Constitution provides that "the leader
or military chief of a coup attempt" cannot stand as a candidate for the
presidency. In October l990 Rios
Montt's candidacy was formally rejected at
a time when he was ahead of the other candidates in the polls which gave him an
estimated 33% of the vote, compared to Carpio's 21% and Arzu's 13%.
Serrano placed fourth in the October polls with ll% of the vote.
On November 11, l990, l.8 million of Guatemala's 3.2 million registered
voters participated in the elections in which l2 candidates competed for the
presidency. Jorge Carpio of the
National Centrist Union (UCN) lead the first round with 25.7% of the vote (or
399,777 votes), while Jorge Serrano of the Solidarity Action Movement (MAS),
followed with 24.l% (or 375,165 votes), an unexpectedly strong showing,
attributed to the disqualification of the candidacy of General Rios Montt and a
network of evangelical churches. On
January 6, l99l, the two candidates competed in a run-off which Jorge
Serrano won with 68.8% of the vote (or 936,000 votes).
Pre-election violence from unidentified factions resulted in the
deaths of at least 20 politicians and two journalists.
Humberto Gonzalez Gamarra, a journalist and owner of several radio
stations and Secretary General of the Revolutionary Democratic Union (URD)
party, was machinegunned to death at 4:30 p.m. on October l5, l990 by
unidentified men. The URD, a social
democratic party, was not participating in the November elections.
Gonzalez was the son of a former member of the government of Arbenz, and
his father had been murdered in l970. A
follower of Colom Argueta, Gonzalez sought asylum in Mexico following the
former's assassination, only to return to Guatemala when the Cerezo government
assumed power. Also in October, the Commission received the case of the
journalist Byron Barrera Ortiz, who was shot at together with his wife Refugio
Araceli Villanueva de Barrera, as their car stopped at a traffic light in
Guatemala city on October 26, l990 by two men on a motorcycle. Barrera's wife was instantly killed whereas he was injured.
Barrera had been the editor of the magazine La Epoca until June l988 when
their offices were firebombed at which time he left the country for several
months; he is now the director of the Central American News Agency (ACEN-SIAG),
and the Vice President of the Guatemalan Journalists Association.
On January l4, l99l the new government took power.
The voters also elected ll6 members to the National Congress, 20 members
of the Central American Parliament and 330 mayors.
Fewer than l.5 million of the country's 9 million inhabitants voted on
January 6, l99l; of the registered voters the rate of abstention reached 54.8%.
Approximately 60% of Guatemala's population is comprised of indigenous
groups, who are illiterate in Spanish and marginalized from the urban, ladino
society. Despite their poverty, the
indigenous groups are reportedly growing at such a rapid rate that they are
diminishing the already scarce resources available for their subsistence
agriculture. Guatemala's indigenous
population,--the largest potential bloc of voters--did
not even register to vote. It is an
area of great concern to the Commission that the majority of the Guatemalan
population has no participation in the political life of this country.
In addition, the three armed insurgent groups, which together with the
clandestine Guatemalan Labor Party comprise the organization known as the
Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) called for a boycott of the
elections. It is not known how much
influence their call had on the election turnout.
The URNG criticized the failure of Guatemala society to democratize
despite the fact that a civilian government was in power.
They declared their unwillingness to enter political life in Guatemala
until such time as certain "minimum conditions" for building democracy
are present. According to Rodrigo
Asturias, a URNG leader and son of the Nobel Prize winner, the URNG would not
participate in the November presidential electoral process since the objective
conditions for this did not yet exist.
In September l987, in conformity with the Esquipulas II peace accords,
which seek an end to the armed conflict in Guatemala, the Commission for
National Reconciliation (CNR) was established, which is headed by Msgr. Rodolfo
Quezada. Following a meeting held
in Oslo, Norway, in March l990, the CNR and the URNG established a timetable for
a dialogue between the URNG and different sectors of Guatemalan society, which
is hoped will culminate in talks between the insurgents and the Government and
the Army. Jorge Serrano, the new
president of Guatemala, played a prominent role in these reconciliation talks.
During the period covered by this report, the situation of human rights
in Guatemala has deteriorated as is revealed by the alarming climate of violence
throughout the country. Participation
in the political life of the country has shown itself to be a dangerous
occupation. Congressmen such as
Jose Garcia Bauer, Carlos Gonzalez Quezada and Hector Luna Troll were subjects
of death threats ostensibly due to the positions they had taken in Congress.
Congressman Otto Roland Ruano, of the Union of the National Center (UCN),
on the other hand, was murdered on July 24, l990.
In October l990, Jose Carlos Acevedo, a leader of the UCN stated publicly
that three hired assassins were paid 20,000 quetzals by government
"officials" to murder Ruano. "We
know when, who, how much and where the murder was planned, " he stated and
"we know that they are planning another murder."
He regretted that "there is absolutely no political will" in
the Christian Democratic government "to do anything."
On August 28, l990, Celso Giron Giron, another UCN candidate, was
murdered in El Quiche. On October 5, l990, former Government Minister Juan Jose
Rodil, who joined the UCN in June l990, emerged unharmed from an armed attack on
his life, although the armored vehicle in which he was riding had 60 bullet
holes. The UCN for most of the year
was considered the leading opposition party, headed by Jorge Carpio, although
the UCN was not the only party to suffer casualties. On October l0, l990, the body of Humberto Perez Cos, a leader
of the Christian Democratic party was found dead, having been gunned down in El
In the recent scandal over the killings in Santiago, Atitlan the
Guatemalan Congress, unanimously, requested that the Army remove its base from
this area, which, in fact, has been done. The
Human Rights Ombudsman, in an unusually strong and forthright report, censured
the Guatemalan Army, as an institution, as well as the individual officials
involved, for these killings. The
Commission wishes to reiterate part of the preamble to Resolution AG/RES. l044 (XX-0/90),
approved at the last OAS General Assembly, which stated "that the system of
representative democracy is fundamental for the establishment of a political
society wherein human rights can be fully realized and that one of the
fundamental components of that system is the effective subordination of the
military apparatus to civilian power."
The Commission urges the Government of Guatemala to undertake measures,
within the context of strengthening its democratic system of government, to
extend its exercise of political power over the military which will enable it to
give full respect to the human rights contained in the American Convention on
The Commission must note that it has decided to prepare a special report
on the human rights situation in Guatemala.