ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has been following
the human rights situation in Guatemala with real concern for several years.
This concern is due to the generalized violence that country is undergoing, from
which –to use the words of the IACHR itself—the “agents of the Guatemalan
Government or persons who have had the approval or tolerance of that
government” have not been excluded.1
In view of this serious situation and in consideration of the several
accusations received, the IACHR decided at its thirty-first session, held in
October of 1973, to ask the Government of Guatemala for permission to make an
on-site observation. The government, in a cable dated November 3, 1973, answered
this request by the IACHR as follows:
THE GUATEMALAN GOVERNMENT RESPECTS AND GUARANTEES HUMAN RIGHTS AND, JUST
AS IT RESPECTS SOVEREIGNTY OF OTHER STATES, IT IS WATCHFUL OF ITS OWN. DUE TO
THE FOREGOING, AND BECAUSE THE COUNTRY IS IN THE MIDST OF PRE-ELECTORAL
DEMOCRATIC ACTIVITIES, GUATEMALA DOES NOT GIVE PERMISSION FOR VISIT BY THE
COMMISSION, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT COULD LEND ITSELF TO POSSIBLE DISTORTIONS BY
POLITICAL PARTIES IN THE MIDST OF CAMPAIGNING FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS ALREADY
SCHEDULED. SINCERELY YOURS, JORGE ARENALES CATALAN, MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS.
In a note dated April 16, 1974, the Chairman of the Commission, Dr.
Justino Jiménez de Aréchaga, answered that telegram refuting the argument that
the request for permission for an on-site investigation could be interpreted as
harmful to the sovereignty of an OAS member state.
Subsequently, the IACHR continued to consider at several sessions the
increasingly deteriorated situation of human rights in Guatemala, and at some of
those sessions it adopted various resolutions on individual cases.
At its forty-eighth session, held from November 29 to December 14, 1979,
the Commission, in view of the serious turn the continuous violations of human
rights, especially those affecting the right to life, was taking, decided to
prepare a report on the human rights situation in Guatemala and to make this
decision known to that country's government.
Having been informed of this position taken by IACHR, the Guatemalan
Government decided to invite it to make an on-site observation. In a note dated
January 29, 1980, addressed to the Chairman of the IACHR, Dr. Luis Demetrio
Tinoco Castro, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated the following:
My dear Mr. Chairman:
I am happy to inform you that my government has been pleased to learn of
the intention of the honorable Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to
visit Guatemala and to prepare a report on the human rights situation in my
The news has been received with approval by the democratic government of
my country, which not only respects human rights universally recognized—and in
Guatemala elevated to the category of constitutional precepts—but which also
guarantees their enjoyment and observance.
At precisely the same time, the Government of Guatemala, representing its
people, has issued an invitation to the citizens of all the countries of the
world to visit Guatemala in order to personally enjoy conditions in my country,
its progress in every area, the soundness of its institutions, the full exercise
of human rights and of the basic liberties, the nonexistence of prisoners or of
persons persecuted for political reasons, the normal functioning of labor
unions, as well as the simplicity and friendliness of the Guatemalan people and
their moral and spiritual greatness.
Thus, in our opinion, the honorable Commission does not need a special
invitation by the Government of Guatemala to come to the country. Nevertheless,
in order to fulfill statutory requirements, I beg you to take this note as a
formal invitation by my government and will appreciate your kindly informing me
of the dates on which your visit would occur.
The Government of Guatemala suggests that the full Commission make the
visit, that is, that its seven members come to the country, and it is very
pleasant to report that one of its distinguished members resides in Guatemala as
ambassador of one of our sister countries.
It is also suggested that the visit be extensive and that the Commission
receive information from the representative sectors of the 7 million inhabitants
of the nation—congressional representatives, officials of the executive
branch, justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the judicial branch,
national, departmental and municipal leaders of the eight legally registered
political parties, leaders of unions, workers and campesinos, leaders of
agricultural cooperatives, directors of the chambers of industry and commerce,
farmers associations, bankers, directors of the social communications media,
university authorities and student leaders, ministers of the various religions,
etc.—so that your report will be as objective and complete as possible.
In the hope that the report the distinguished Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights prepares will be a document that will help find solutions in my
country's evolutionary process, my government suggests that it take into account
the country's structures, its political history, its social, cultural and
material evolution, the profound changes that have occurred, its economic system
based on free enterprise and the defense of private ownership in social terms,
its status as a developing country, its moderate transition from the system of
agricultural economics to a budding industrial development, and the inevitable
impact external factors have on small countries.
The Government and people of Guatemala will provide the distinguished
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights with facilities of every kind for the
efficient performance of its undertaking.
(signed) Rafael Eduardo
Minister of Foreign Affairs
The IACHR, gathered at its forty-ninth session, held from March 27 to
April 11, 1980, accepted the invitation issued by the Guatemalan Government and
instructed its Executive Secretariat to arrange with the Guatemalan authorities
the most appropriate date for making the visit. After consultation with the
members of the Commission, the Executive Secretary proposed, in a note addressed
to the Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the Organization of
American States, that the on-site observation take place in late September 1980.
In view of the profound nature of the crisis the Guatemalan society was
suffering, the Government's invitation and the subsequent acceptance by the
Commission to go to that country naturally brought enormous satisfaction to
those institutions and leaders having major responsibility with regard to the
protection of human rights in Guatemala.
Thus the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, through resolution Nº
32 (XXVI) of March 11, 1980 indicated the following in its operative paragraph
To take note with satisfaction of the decision adopted by the Government
of Guatemala to invite the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit
that country and to prepare a report on the situation of human rights.
The Vice President of Guatemala, Dr. Francisco Villagrán Kramer, in a
public statement issued on July 13, 1980, after stating his profound
consternation with the series of violent acts which were occurring with
increasing intensity in the country, indicated the following:
In view of the fact that the Executive Branch gave its permission in
January 1980 for the presence of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights,
the Vice President of the Republic urges that Commission to make an effort to
help us Guatemalans to channel the problems which afflict us within the
institutional framework. The experience of other countries, including Colombia,
shows how valuable it is to have the cooperation of that organ for the due
confidence of those who question the legality of the government's acts.
Nevertheless, adducing the safety of the Commission's members, the
Government of Guatemala indicated its preference that the visit not be carried
out on the dates suggested. The note addressed to the Executive Secretary of the
Commission by the Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the OAS
states the following:
My dear Mr. Executive Secretary:
I have the honor to refer to your kind notes dated June 30 and July 14 of
this year, concerning the on-site observation visit the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights plans to make in Guatemala based on the invitation my
government has extended in due course.
In response, at the instruction of my government, I am pleased to inform
the Executive Secretary as follows:
The Government of Guatemala is holding open the broad invitation extended
to the entire Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit Guatemala.
Nevertheless, the Government of the Republic feels that the date proposed
for beginning the Commission's visit, that is, the 27th or 29th
of the current month of September, is not desirable. This is because,
unfortunately, there has been an escalation of violence by subversive groups
encouraged from abroad by fanatic organizations which are unaware of the social
reality of Guatemala, and which intends to ignore the great strides the people
of Guatemala are making toward speeding up the process of integral and
harmonious development of the country to the benefit of al sectors of its
population. It is assumed that these factions, which operate clandestinely, will
increase their criminal activities. Consequently, for the safety of the
Commission's members, it is preferable that the visit not be made on the date
The Government of Guatemala will take the liberty, in due course, to
suggest to the Commission the most appropriate date for visiting my country.
I most respectfully ask the Executive Secretary to kindly convey the
foregoing to the members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Very truly yours,
(signed) Gustavo Santiso Gálvez
The Commission, gathered at its fiftieth session, held in October 1980,
decided to emphasize the need for the Guatemalan Government to establish a firm
date for the visit. In a note dated October 3, 1980, addressed to the
Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Guatemala to the OAS, the Chairman of
the IACHR stated the following:
I have the honor of referring to the note dated September 5, 1980, in
which Your Excellency's government adduces the undesirability of the date
proposed by this Commission for making an on-site visit to Guatemala.
The Commission, at its fiftieth session, has instructed me to inform Your
Excellency that it considers it necessary and desirable to make the observation
in reference as soon as possible, and it takes the liberty of suggesting to your
government that a date be established for such visit to be made during the first
quarter of the upcoming year.
Taking into account the intensity of its program of activities and other
obligations assumed, the Commission would like to receive an answer from your
government concerning the final date within the next thirty days.
Accept, Excellency, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration.
(signed) Tom J. Farer
As of the date this report was approved, the note had gone unanswered.
At its fifty-second session, the Commission, in addition to continuing to
analyze the situation of human rights in Guatemala, decided to address that
country's government again in order to ask it to kindly determine the precise
date on which the Committee might go to Guatemala.
A cablegram send to His Excellency, Mr. Rafael Eduardo Castillo Valdez,
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, stated the following:
MR. RAFAEL EDUARDO CASTILLO VALDEZ
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS
INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, AT ITS FIFTY-SECOND SESSION,
DECIDED TO ADDRESS YOUR EXCELLENCY TO REAFFIRM THAT IT IS PREPARING REPORT ON
HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN GUATEMALA.
IN VIEW OF YOUR GOVERNMENT'S COMMUNICATION OF JANUARY 29, 1980, INVITING
COMMISSION TO CARRY OUT ON-SITE OBSERVATION AND ITS DESIRE THAT THE REPORT
REFLECT THE GUATEMALAN REALITY IN A MOST FAITHFUL AND OBJECTIVE MANNER, I WILL
APPRECIATE YOUR EXCELLENCY'S KINDLY DETERMINING THE PRECISE DATE DURING THE
SECOND QUARTER OF THIS YEAR ON WHICH THE COMMISSION MAY COME TO GUATEMALA.
LIKEWISE, I WILL APPRECIATE YOUR EXCELLENCY'S ANSWER TO THIS
COMMUNICATION BEFORE MARCH 6, THE CLOSING DATE OF THE CURRENT SESSION OF THE
ACCEPT, EXCELLENCY, THE RENEWED ASSURANCES OF MY HIGHEST CONSIDERATION.
TOM J. FARER
The Government of Guatemala has not answered this communication wither,
The lack of response to these two communications, together with the fact
that the several representations made by the Chairman and the Executive
Secretariat of the IACHR to the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the OAS have
failed to establish a precise date for the Commission's visit, leads the
Commission to assume, that, for the time being, the Government of Guatemala is
not interested in having the Commission observe the human rights situation in
This has led the Commission to regret having to do without the
information that it would have gathered in Guatemala if it had had an
opportunity to visit that country, in preparation of this report.
Despite the foregoing, in preparing this report, the IACHR has taken into
consideration all information it has been able to obtain, including that
provided by the government, by various Guatemala entities, and by international
organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental.
Likewise, the terms of reference the Commission has considered include
the constitutional and legal regulations, which have been subjected to a careful
Also, as it has done in all of its previous reports, the Commission has
taken into account, pursuant to its Statute and Regulations, the denunciations
which have been presented to it on alleged violations of human rights. The
Commission wishes to reaffirm its opinion that the inclusion of individual
cases, when their processing has not been concluded, does not imply prejudging
their grounds. Each individual accusation, upon concluding the prescribed
process, will be subject to a final decision.
4. This report follows in general the format used by the Commission in other reports on the human rights situation in various countries. In keeping with the information it has been able to obtain, the IACHR has divided this report into separate chapters, analyzing in each of them the main rights established in the 1969 American Convention on Human Rights or Pact of San José, Costa Rica, to which Guatemala is a party. Those rights regarding which the Commission has not received denunciations or has lacked sufficient information have not been considered.