In 1994, Guatemala's constitutional government under the
presidency of Ramiro de León Carpio enacted amendments to the
Constitution which brought about a complete reorganization of the
Legislative Branch and the Supreme Court. These amendments were approved
by a referendum in which 85% of the electorate did not vote.
The assassination in April, 1994, under circumstances that remain
to be clarified, of Epaminondas González Dubon, President of the
Constitutionality Court, and a mainstay of the democratic system,
was the culmination of a series of factors that provoked a
situation of general instability. In
view of those conditions, the government decided not to declare a state
of emergency as provided in the Constitution but reorganized the civil
security authorities, once again placing army officers in charge.
Nine months later, on January 4, 1995, President Ramiro de León
Carpio announced a new general reorganization of the security agencies,
at the same time removing the Minister of the Interior, the Vice
Minister of the Interior, as well as the Director of the National
Police, and the Chiefs of Traffic, the Treasury Police, and the
In regard to the Legislative Branch, with a voter abstention
similar to that in the popular referendum, the National Congress was
reorganized in August, 1994 by being reduced to 80 representatives, with
the first majority obtained by the FRG (Guatemalan Republican Front)
which follows the line of General Efraín Rios Montt.
A coalition of the other parties won the presidency of the body
until December, 1994 when, with the support of the Christian Democrats,
representative Rios Montt representative was appointed to the office.
General elections will be held in October, 1995 and the elected
officers will take office in January, 1996.
The Supreme Court was likewise reorganized in accordance with the
new constitutional procedure pursuant to which the Congress will choose
its members from a list of 25 candidates nominated by the Executive
Branch, the Universities, and the Bar and Notarial Associations.
The Chief Justice of the new Supreme Court of 13 members is Oscar
The peace negotiations between representatives of the Government
and the URNG were resumed in January, 1994 by the current administration
which achieved a Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights which provides,
among other points, that a Mission of Verification be sent to confirm
compliance with the respective agreement.
This Mission began operations on November 29, 1994 for an initial
term to run until June, 1995 and will maintain a presence throughout the
territory by means of a complement of 400 members comprising
human-rights observers and police, military, and legal advisers.
IMPUNITY AND THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
Even though the IACHR was able to ascertain that the democratic
process has made progress in Guatemala, the advances are under threat
from the persistent violation of human rights being committed in a
climate of impunity. Such impunity becomes more glaring in a society in
which severe social discrimination and social inequity continue to
The IACHR considers that positive openings have been made in
democratic political dialogue in Guatemala.
In its missions of observation in 1994, the IACHR was cognizant
of broad and ongoing discussion taking place at political, university,
journalistic, and community forums on subjects concerning the country's
governability and the transformation of the government, the
electoral system, military service, the financial and tax system,
the role of political parties, human rights, and the relation
between human rights and civil order and security.
The IACHR was able to confirm the participation of the
communications media in the process of democratic opening, a situation
which it considers of value inasmuch as these media reflect concepts, a
variety of viewpoints, and criticism all of which are basic in laying
the foundation for democratic development and the defense of human
The IACHR also verified that a highly active process of
institutional reform is in place--as a consequence of the new democratic
openings--which, in turn, creates conditions for fostering the expansion
of democracy and the defense of human rights to an even greater degree.
The IACHR also observed the enactment during this period of new
standards in the criminal and procedural fields, particularly the entry
into force--albeit with many obstacles--of the Code of Criminal
Procedure and the separation of state adjudicatory, accusatory, and
representational jurisdictions which are at present divided among the
judicial organ, the public prosecutor, and the Attorney General,
The IACHR calls attention to the recent approval of tax reform
and of the law establishing nonpayment of taxes and social security
contributions as a criminal offense. Although an initial step, this is important for improving tax
revenues which are the lowest in the region (7%). The IACHR considers these laws to be an achievement for
strengthening fulfillment of the guarantees that the State must provide
for the effective exercise of human rights, for civic security as much
as for the sake of minimum socioeconomic rights.
Granted that progress, as described, has been made, the IACHR
nevertheless expresses its deep concern with regard to the continuing
serious violations of human rights that have been brought to its
attention and to the climate of impunity in which these take place and
According to statements made by the Ombudsman for Human Rights to
the IACHR, extrajudicial executions (excluding common crimes) increased
in the first ten months of 1994 to 269 victims as compared to 196 for
the same period in 1993. There
were 98 such executions
in August of 1994 alone. According
to the same institutional source, "efforts against impunity have
been stepped up but still with minimal results.
Cases in which there is no impunity are exceptional."
During the same period of January to October, 1994, his office
also accepted 193 complaints of threats; 122 of abuse of authority; 68
of illegal detention; 40 of kidnapping and "disappearing"; and
21 of terrorist attacks. Also,
298 complaints of unofficial military service and 81 of Army recruitment
of minors were received.
Impunity has consequences that go even beyond the rights of the
victims by creating a climate that affects civic security, promotes
corruption, and is incompatible with a government of law.
Numerous individuals complained to the Commission that any police
or civil officer could abuse authority with minimal risk of being
punished. Many Government
officials conceded to the IACHR's delegation that this was true.
TOPICS OF SPECIAL IMPORTANCE FOR THE PROTECTION OF
The IACHR also had the opportunity on its visit to Guatemala to
cover a group of topics of special importance with regard to human
rights which are commented on below.
The right to life continues to be violated on a regular basis
in a general climate of impunity.
The 269 complaints of extrajudicial executions (Source Office of
the Ombusdman for Human Rights, January to October, 1994) in addition to
being tragic are particularly disturbing because many of them follow a
pattern of selective murder of officials, and community, union,
university, human-rights, and other leaders, seeking thereby to instill
generalized terror and to choke off the process of constitutional and
Magistrates and police investigators involved in or handling
cases involving the army or security forces have also been murdered
under circumstances that suggest revenge against them for having carried
out their professional assignments which consequently terrorizes their
The Commission has received complaints relative to cases such as
the aforementioned murder of Epaminondas González Dubon, President of
the Constitutionality Court.
Edgar Ramiro Elías Ogaldez, a judge for ten years in Mixco and
Chimlatenango was killed on August 18, 1994, after having been followed
and threatened. Judge
Ogaldez had been trying various cases in which former members of the
Army were involved and had ordered the arrest of one of them.
Investigators of Judge Ogaldez's murder, in turn, received
threatening telephone calls and were being watched.
During this period, the IACHR applied to the Guatemalan
government for protective measures to be taken to safeguard the lives
and personal safety of the Magistrates of the Third Division of the
Appeals Chamber, MARIO SALVADOR JIMENEZ, MARIA EUGENIA VILLASENOR, AND
HECTOR RAUL ORELLANA who had received death threats in connection with
cases under their jurisdiction in which Army personnel were involved.
Magistrate Villasenor was forced to leave the country.
On her return to Guatemala, the new Supreme Court decided that
she should be transferred to the court of Appeals in Antigua.
Chief of Police César Augusto Medina Mateo was extrajudicially
executed on October 12, 1994. He had been head of the FSC (Civil
Security Force) and was departmental chief of the National Police in the
Department of El Quiché. According
to information from his colleagues, he had demilitarized the police of
that department. He was
also responsible for having issued warrants for the arrest of Civil
Self-Defense chiefs and patrolmen accused of being directly responsible
for the death of Carpio Nicolle.
In view of the impending elections of 1995, the right to elect
and be elected in free and honest elections, with equality of access to
public office, calls for special guarantees.
The IACHR recommends that measures be taken as soon as possible
for the enforcement of this right.
Such measures should include:
- Developing a system of trustworthy IDs;
- Making progress in the centralization of civil registries in
the Electoral Supreme Court while providing facilities to that Court in
the interim for cooperating with Municipal Registries;
- Developing civic education programs to ensure fullest
- Establishing subordination of the civil security forces to the
Electoral Supreme Court during the electoral process;
- Ensuring, without exceptions, the right of citizens and
representatives of the various shades of opinion to stand for public
office in accordance with standards aimed at guaranteeing such
participation, e.g. authorizing the "Comités Cívicos" at the
departmental level to present candidates for Department representatives
to the National Assembly.
The IACHR calls for confirming and maintaining the independence
of the entities that monitor elections by providing them, as well, with
Guatemalan labor laws are flagrantly violated particularly in
rural zones where there are no effective agencies, either administrative
or judicial, to facilitate the peaceful settlement of disputes.
The IACHR ascertained that labor laws, particularly those with
respect to unionization, wages, and working conditions, are not observed
in a large number of farming sectors,
The Ministry of Labor itself was quoted in the press in 1993 as
saying that most coffee plantations do not pay the minimum wage.
Working conditions are even worse for hundreds of thousands (the
figures vary from two to three hundred thousand) temporary workers who
come to the coast with their families during harvest seasons.
The IACHR received information from international experts to the
effect that conditions in some zones, particularly on cotton fincas, are
worse than in any other OAS member country.
These conditions seem to have improved lately in sugar mills.
The murder and persecution of union leaders and the absence of
effective investigation of them contribute to increasing friction and
insecurity in rural areas. As a consequence of the ineffectiveness of
the Ministry of Labor and the nonenforcement of the law, the peasants in
various departments of Guatemala are currently occupying dozens of
These exceptional de facto steps in defense of labor
rights in turn give rise to stepped-up retaliatory measures on the part
of the owners who, on the basis of charges of squatting, call on the
police power to put down such actions. In a country where impunity is
the prevailing rule, the excesses in repression and uncontrolled use of
police power lead to violations of human rights, thereby jeopardizing
them and the State's international responsibility.
On the basis of information received by the IACHR regarding labor
disputes it confirmed the need for strengthening such institutions as
the Ministry of Labor's services of inspection, mediation, and
negotiation, labor courts, and other judicial agencies.
The Commission does not favors the use of extralegal measures to
settle conflicts and considers that the best means of avoiding them is
the proper functioning of those institutions which, as the Commission
has been able to verify, are weak and ineffectual.
The IACHR is currently processing a most serious complaint
concerning the murder of three peasants in the course of police actions
on La Exacta finca. On this
visit, the Commission received new and useful information that will
assist in the investigation of the case.
For instance, and without prejudice to the case the Commission
was informed by the Government and petitionarie that the original
official version that the peasants had shot and wounded several
policemen was unfounded.
The IACHR was also made aware of some exemplary cases in which
action by government agencies with the support of the Attorney General's
Office had brought about positive solutions which should be further
developed and extended. It was informed, as well, of government actions
for improving the work of the Ministry of Labor's Office of Labor
Inspection which received
1,221 complaints, carried out 3,249 regular inspections, and initiated 199 punitive proceedings between January and
August, 1994. In addition,
the IACHR was aware that 57 union organizations have been registered
since November 1933 when the present administration simplified and
accelerated the respective procedure.
Impunity can be scaled back through stricter application of the new Code of Criminal Procedure in force since July,
1994 and by
strengthening the independence of the judiciary and the Attorney
The basic features of the new Code of Criminal Procedure are:
- The introduction of the accusatory system;
- The establishment of oral
- The new criminal justice
- The Public Prosecutor's
Office in charge of investigation;
- The introduction of the
Public Defense Service;
- The strengthening of
channels other than the judiciary for the settlement of
- The concentration of
resources on combating criminal behavior
that causes -- the greatest social harm;
- The revision and
introduction of procedures for challenge;
- Special procedures for
such categories as drug dealing and crimes against the
- The judicial control of
- The introduction into
procedure of the civil aspect;
- A bilingual system in
- Revisions of the Military
Military jurisdiction is partially eliminated.
The Public Prosecutor's Office will be in charge of investigation
in cases of common crime committed by army personnel or military crimes
associated with common crime. Sentencing will be by a civil court, even
though under military judges. The
Military Judge Advocate's Office will be replaced by the Military Court
of Investigation which will play a role equivalent to that of lower
court judges in overseeing the action of the Public Prosecutor's Office
in those cases.
The new law assigns the Public Prosecutor's Office a leading role
in law enforcement. It
oversees the investigative process, collects evidence, and conducts the
trial until sentence is passed.
There are major difficulties in implementing the new criminal
trial system. By the end of
1994, only eight cases have been tried under the new public oral
The President of the Supreme Court informed the IACHR of the
attempts made and the successes achieved in reorganizing the Judicial
Branch with a view to improving the integrity of the judicial process,
its service to the public, and the timely handling of judicial proceedings.
The Commission confirmed that the prevailing impunity stems in
large measure from the ineffectiveness of the police, judges,
prosecutors, and other personnel of the justice system in carrying out
duties essential to order and security. Positive measures, such as increased funding for those
entities, reformation of criminal procedure and the justice system, and
the new setup of the Public Prosecutor's Office are offset by serious
attacks and even murder of judges, policemen, and enforcement officers
who try to do their duty under the law.
Public security services are not organized nor do they have
the means with which to maintain order and respect for human rights.
Adequate training, equipment, and salaries for the police under
civilian authorities is essential for the security that the state must
provide and guarantee to the population.
The IACHR was aware that the authorities had various plans under
consideration for creating a modern, efficient police force that would
protect the population and respect their rights.
During the IACHR's stay in Guatemala, it had the opportunity to
observe willingness on the part of the President and the Congress to
allocate more funds for a service which in everybody's opinion
urgently needed better equipment and personnel.
In this context, the IACHR looks with concern upon the
uncontrolled growth of private police forces whose contingents amount to
twice the number of national police.
Those private police are for the most part former members of the
Army. In view of the
ineffectiveness of the security offered by the state, their guiding
principle in carrying out their duties is not obedience to the law but
protection of the life and property of one sector of the population,
thereby violating the State's obligation to provide guarantees for all.
Supervision is practically nonexistent and authorizations to
operate are issued in an unregulated manner, inasmuch as they may be
approved by the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and
even by agencies that are concerned with ordinary business enterprises.
The action of the CDVC's (former PAC's) has led to the
establishment of a local militarized police force that is a source of
violations and insecurity over which there is no adequate government
As indicated in its previous reports,
the IACHR views with great concern the "existence of about half a
million persons organized militarily in the PAC's (or Civil Self-Defense
Committees) with armed-action capability and under no effective
government control. Furthermore, the Commission considers it necessary
to disband them. The
experience of other countries demonstrates that when situations of
insurgency are overcome which had given rise to organizations of that
nature these may turn into a serious obstacle to internal peace when
they constitute destabilizing and illegal factors."
In its interviews throughout the country, the IACHR has
reconfirmed that the self-defense patrols are an element of human-rights
violation and increased social insecurity and, in not carrying out their
alleged police function, they hamper the action and the strengthening of
the national and municipal police.
The government that has imposed and armed them is incapable of
controlling their impunity and tends to protect them when they commit
abuses of authority.
The government justifies the patrols--and the risk of violations
that their magnitude and uncontrolled character implies--in its note to
the IACHR of December 29, 1994
which, in defending their existence, points out:
The Government of Guatemala is making the strongest efforts to
put an end to the internal armed confrontation by means of dialogue
and political negotiation with URNG; at the present time, this process
has reached an advanced stage and the signing of Binding and Lasting
Peace agreements is anticipated at the earliest possible moment.
When this takes place, the subversive movement will lay down its
arms, its members will demobilize and return to civilian life, the CVDC
will no longer have reason for being, and will for that reason disband,
either spontaneously or through intervention by the authorities...
However, in another note of the same date,
the Government claims:
This domestic confrontation with groups outside the law may be
defined as internal disturbances in accordance with International
Law and therefore the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols I and II,
concerning threats to civilians in time of internal conflict, are not
applicable...Guatemala faces no situation of armed internal conflict
at this time...
The existence of more than half a million armed patrolmen whom
the government is incapable of controlling and who are a constant threat
to civil tranquility and security can not be justified.
The Commission in relation to the transformation fo the PACs into
Voluntary civilian Committees for Development (CDVCs) has stated that:
"The Commission holds, that any conversion must take place
has it has said before 'in the framework of a democratic society' that
is subjec to and with respect for the civilian authorities and enabling
the inhabitants of the village, canton or municipality to express
democratically their choice for disbandment or conversion, without
giving those committees any priviletes at the expense of other civilian
associations...However, given the discretionary authority and record of
abuses of the patrols, any conversion from the present position of power
of these armed groups would entail the issuance of regulations and
highly rigorous measures to ensure that the new name does not conceal
and disguise a continued exercise by them of illegal power that strikes
at human rights."
There is a positive change in the situation of human rights in
the so-called "Communities of Population in Resistance" (CPR)
in the Ixcan and Sierra of El Quiché.
Keeping in mind their own recommendations in the report published
in June, 1994, the Commission checked the situation of the CPR.
It verified a positive change as manifested in the absence of
attacks and destruction and in a growing respect for the rights of
freedom of movement, trade, and expression for its people.
According to information received by the IACHR, the normalization
of the respective civilian populations is gradually improving.
The Commission received some complaints from the Sierra area
regarding hostility on the part of self-defense patrols and the behavior
of some regular army personnel. The IACHR presented the complaints and
received assurances from the military authorities that rights in those
localities would be respected.
The IACHR was visited by representatives of a group of some 100
families living in the Petén who consider themselves part of the CPR.
In addition to complaints of mistreatment and persecution during
the period of the conflict, they are now demanding a solution to their
problem of resettlement and that they be respected by the armed forces
and neighboring defense patrols.
The return and resettlement of refugees from the conflict and
of the internal displaced persons continues to go forward despite the
ongoing problems and distrust.
Six thousand refugees returned to Guatemala in 1994 under
organized conditions coordinated by the CEAR (Special Committee for Aid
to Refugees and the Displaced) and government and private organizations.
The agreements reached with the refugees included support for
recovering or obtaining land, credit, and supplies.
Significant advances have been made in the implementation of
those agreements albeit in the face of serious problems, because
of lack of funds, bureaucratic delays, and basically on account of the
difficult of assuring lands suitable for the resettlements.
The IACHR was informed of settlement problems aggravated by legal
uncertainty as to land tenure and the displacement of populations as a
result of the conflict. The IACHR discussed with the CEAR, FONAPAZ, AND
COPREDEH the various aspects involved in handling those conflicts in a
manner appropriate for obtaining adequate satisfaction for the damages
suffered by the populations concerned.
Technical commissions representing the various interests have
been set up in order to facilitate settlement of conflicts. The
IACHR was able to examine the work of one of them which is concerned
with the holding "Los Cimientos" in the Sierra of the
Department of Quiché. The responsibility with which its work was being
carried out holds out hope that it will be brought to a satisfactory
conclusion in the very near future.
The returnees of the zones visited by the IACHR laid out the
prevailing economic and social situation and the urgency of being able
to count on supplies, farm implements, and funds, as well as having
access to education and basic health care.
The activity of terrorist groups contributes to the general
The IACHR has presented its position on the activity of irregular
armed groups in its previous reports.
The IACHR decries the delinquency and terrorism practiced by the
insurgent groups and recognizes the right and duty of a democratic and
constitutional government to combat them to the full extent of the law
but within the legal framework and using means consistent with a regime
Among the various assaults, the following are the most flagrant:
Extorsion and illegal appropriation: The Commission also received
information regarding appropriation of food from the corn patches of the
village by the guerrilla. Village Vi Tzitze, 9 km. from Chajul.
In May, 1994, accusations by the CACIF Chamber of Commerce that
the guerrilla had under threat demanded $88,000 from various rural
landowners were confirmed by the URNG. (Prensa Libre, May 11).
The Commission received information regarding attempted
kidnapping of relatives of landowners for the purpose of extorting
money. (Finca San Francisco
Los Salamares, Chiquimulilla, Santa Rosa).
The guerrilla attacked the garrison of Chupol on August 14, 1994
killing three (2 soldiers and 1 civilian) and wounding 23 (12 soldiers
and 11 civilians).
On September 3, the guerrilla killed 2nd Lieutenant Amarild Sanán
Hernández after being captured and unable to continue firing, near the
village Patzaj, Township of Comalapa, Chimaltenango.
Reiterating what was stated in its previous reports and taking
into consideration the foregoing, the Commission can
assert that the successful conclusion of the peace talks
currently in progress between the Government and the representatives of
URNG will contribute to creating more favorable conditions for the
effective exercise of human rights in Guatemala.
The Commission bases the foregoing conclusions on various
considerations. In the
first place, the absence of armed conflict lessens the possibility of
incidental harm to the civilian population and reprisals against it.
Furthermore, it is common knowledge that the subsistence of
pockets of guerrilleros is put forward as an argument by those who seek
to preserve the current militarization of rural areas and substantial
sectors of Guatemalan life by fomenting generalized fear, weakening the
power of the civil government, hampering the work of justice, impeding
the normal resettlement of displaced persons and refugees and, thereby,
sabotaging full enjoyment of human rights on the part of Guatemalans in
different parts of the country.
RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE IACHR AND COMPLIANCE WITH THEM
In the course of its visit to Guatemala in December, 1994, the
Commission received a report from COPREDEH on compliance with its
recommendations, as well as those put forward by Dr. Monica Pinto, the
special United Nations expert for Guatemala.
The Government reports in those documents that it has issued
instructions or taken measures to ensure more effective exercise of
human rights. The IACHR
recognizes the effort made although, as the previous report indicates,
the results are still incipient and unsatisfactory. The IACHR trusts that the Government of Guatemala will make
those measures more effective and insists on full compliance with the 44
recommendations set forth in its Annual Report 1993 of March 1994
inasmuch as the problems and situations which prompted their formulation
are still present.
The IACHR has established direct collaborative relations with
the MINUGUA to which it has turned over copies of all its general
reports and individual case reports on Guatemala published during
the period 1980-1994. The
IACHR has issued a call to the Parties and all sectors of the
Guatemalan people to cooperate in the closest possible way with
those who make up this Mission. (IACHR OAS, Press Release.
Guatemala, December 15, 1994).
The IACHR carried out two missions of observation in loco
in Guatemala in 1994, one in March which was primarily aimed at the
situation of the Communities of Population in Resistance (see
Special Report. OEA Ser.L/V/II.86, June 1994) and another in
December (see Press Release #27 at the end of this Annual Report