Doc. 47 rev.1
October 5, 1983
Original: Spanish

CHAPTER II (continued)


20.          The Commission received the visit of a mission from the Government of Guatemala to which we referred in the Introduction (E.4). In this paragraph the aspects of the presentation and of the documents provided during the visit with respect to the Courts of Special Jurisdiction and the death penalty are considered.


          21.          In this respect, the Government of Guatemala affirmed that the reservation expressed with regard to Article 4, paragraph 4, of the San Jose Pact allows it to regulate and legislate the death penalty for common crimes related to political crimes after the Convention went into effect, imposing the maximum penalty, as it had been doing all along, to crimes which did not carry capital punishment at the time the Convention went into force, maintaining that, otherwise, the reservation would lack any purpose.


          22.          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights considers the arguments of the Government of Guatemala to be unsatisfactory, since the reservation expressed by that government, being a reservation expressed with regard to a human rights treaty, must always be interpreted to be restrictive. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has so stated in its Advisory Opinion Nº OC-2/82 of September 4, 1982, pointing out the special nature of human rights conventions which differ from the usual multilateral treaties.11


          23.          In that sense a reservation can only be interpreted in its most restrictive meaning, and in no other manner. Thus, contrary to what Guatemala maintains in its position, the scope of its reservation is limited by the very terms of Article 4, paragraph 4, and cannot be extended, as the Guatemalan position intends, to other dispositions contained in Article 4 of the Convention.


          24.          Besides, paragraph 4 of Article 4 of the Convention, to which Guatemala expressed reservation, specifically states that: “Under no circumstances can the death penalty be imposed for political crimes or common crimes related with political ones”, thus, the Commission believes that the reservation expressed by Guatemala would authorize it, at most, to impose the death penalty for common crimes related to political ones, which were already sanctioned with that penalty in its legislation, but not to others which, at that time, did not carry such penalty. This, and no other, is the meaning of the reservation.


          25.          In addition, the Commission considers that the determination of a government to impose the death penalty is subject to several conditions which emerge from the text of the Pact of San Jose, given the fact that human rights conventions must be interpreted by their objective which is none other than to primarily protect the rights of human beings, from infractions by the States. As it has already been established in modern international law the provisions on human rights are jus cogens, that is, imperative law, and its derogation must be duly and precisely founded12 which does not occur in the case being analyzed here.


          26.          In that sense, the text of the reservations must be interpreted to mean that Guatemala could—if other conditions are given—impose the death penalty for common crimes related to political ones which already carried that penalty in its laws at the time of ratification of the Convention. But as far as crimes which did not carry that penalty after Guatemala ratified the San Jose Convention, the IACHR finds that if the death penalty is imposed by that government, it blatantly violates paragraph 2 of Article 4 of the Convention because the final part of that disposition categorically states that “nor (the death penalty) will its application be extended to crimes which do not presently carry that penalty.”


          27.          Consequently, with respect to crimes which have become punishable with the death penalty—as for example those established in the “Law of the Courts of Special Jurisdiction” enacted by the government of General Ríos Montt on July 1, 1982—that did not carry that penalty in the legislation in force at the time of ratifying the Convention, they cannot legally be punished with the death penalty because Guatemala did not express reservation to paragraph 2 of Article 4 of that international instrument and because no legal basis is provided for the connection of the political crime and the common crime. In other words, it would be necessary, in order to impose the death penalty for those crimes, that the connection between one crime and the other be established, which has certainly not occurred here since neither the political crime nor the connection with the common crime have been defined. All this puts in evidence the infraction with respect to the obligations contracted by the Government of Guatemala under the American Convention on Human Rights.


          28.          Finally, as pointed out in this report with respect to the Courts of Special Jurisdiction,13 the death penalty has been imposed by decisions handed down by those Courts, whose establishment and functioning are incompatible with the San Jose Convention, because they violate the Convention's norms relating to due process, and therefore, such a serious penalty, imposed under those circumstances, constitutes an unjustified transgression of that Convention.


          29.          At its 59th session, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights analyzed with due care the exchange of correspondence that occurred between Dr. Eduardo Castillo Arriola, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the Commission regarding the interpretation of the last part of Article 4, paragraph 2 of the American Convention on Human Rights, as well as the document delivered by Messrs. Jorge Luis Zelaya Coronado, Mario Quiñonez and Gustavo Santiso-Galvez, Ambassador of Guatemala to the White House, the United Nations and the OAS, respectively, at the meeting held with the Commission on April 8, 1983.


          30.          It was obvious from the analysis that there is a clear juridical conflict between the Commission's interpretation of the aforementioned Convention's provisions and the interpretation held by the Guatemalan Government. In view of this discrepancy, the Commission decided to ask the Inter-American Court of Human Rights for an advisory opinion by virtue of its powers under the aforementioned American Convention on Human Rights, so that this agency would be precisely the one to establish the scope and interpretation of the provisions in dispute.


          31.          Based on the foregoing and bearing in mind that the rights in question directly affect the lives and integrity of individuals, the Commission, upon informing the Government of such decision in a note dated April 15, 1983, formally asked that implementation and imposition of the death penalty be suspended in Guatemala while the Inter-American Court of Human Rights decided upon the scope and meaning of Article 4, paragraph 2 of the Convention.


          32.          On September 8, 1983, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, first unanimously rejecting the procedural objection made by the Guatemalan Government, declared itself competent to issue the advisory opinion requested by the Commission, which is as follows:


         a) In answer to the question


         1. Can a government apply the death penalty for crimes for which such penalty is not contemplated in its domestic legislation at the time the American Convention on Human Rights entered into effect for the state?


         The Court unanimously indicated


         That the Convention absolutely prohibits amplification of the death penalty and that, consequently, the government of a state party may not apply the death penalty for crimes for which it was not previously contemplated in its domestic legislation, and


         b) In answer to the question


         2. Can a government, on the basis of a reservation made at the time Article 4, paragraph 4 of the Convention was ratified, pass legislation after the Convention went into effect imposing the death penalty for crimes which did not carry that penalty when the ratification took place?


         The Court unanimously stated


         That the reservation limited by its own text to Article 4.4 of the Convention does not allow the government of a state party to pass legislation subsequently in order to extend application of the death penalty to crimes for which it was not previously contemplated.


D.          Violence in the rural areas of conflict


          1.          Before analyzing the human rights situation in the rural areas of conflict, the Commission believes it useful to clarify that, according to statements by different government officials, areas of conflict are those parts of the territory where guerrilla groups operate and where, consequently, the government has considered its intervention necessary through the regular army of the Republic to, on one hand, combat and exterminate the guerrillas, and on the other hand, defend the population of those areas by offering protection and assistance while several programs get underway, among them and in particular, the “Guns and Beans” Program and the one called the “3 Ts”, Techo, Trabajo y Tortilla (Roof, Work and Tortillas).14


          2.          As the Commission indicated in its previous report on the human rights situation in Guatemala,15 violence in the rural areas of conflict, which became more and more frequent during the regime of General Romeo Lucas García, has shown characteristics of brutality and barbarism by the massive assassination of peasants and Indians with guns, machetes or knives; the bombing and machine-gunning of villages by land and air; the burning of houses, churches and communal houses as well as crops.


          3.          Before initiating its on-site observation in Guatemala, information and complaints reaching the Commission indicated that the situation in the rural areas of conflict remained the same after the coup d'etat of March 23, 1982.


          Repression was making itself felt with the same intensity and utilizing the same methods. According to this information and the complaints, in numerous villages, particularly in the Department of Huehuetenango, El Quiché, Chimaltenango, San Marcos, Alta and Baja Verapaz, there had been killings of peasants and Indians by the Army, whose patrols, in combating the guerrillas, had gone into the different villages spreading death and destruction.


          In those areas, added the sources, the climate of terror and insecurity is such, that peasants and Indians of the different villages stricken by panic, have chosen to abandon their houses and possessions and taken to the mountains where they live with their families in the open, suffering from hunger, cold and disease, or move to other populated centers where they can feel more secure, or crossing the country's borders seeking refuge in neighboring countries, primarily Mexico and Honduras.16


          4.          Among the documents already in the hands of the Commission and which described the situation above, one which, due to the importance and integrity of the organization issuing it, has merited special consideration by the IACHR has been the Pastoral Letter released by the Episcopal Conference of Guatemala in which the bishops condemn the killings of Indians and peasants which had been taking place until the date of the letter's publication on May 27, 1982.


In that Pastoral Letter the Guatemalan bishops state, among other things:


         With deep sorrow we have learned and have been able to verify the suffering of our people due to these massacres about which the mass communication media has already informed. Numerous families have died vilely assassinated. Not even the lives of old people, pregnant women and innocent children were spared.


         And further on they add:


         Never in our national history have we reached such serious extremes. These assassinations are already in the genocide category. We have to recognize that these incidents are the biggest contradiction to the divine commandment: “Thou shall not kill”.


          5.          Although the Commission acknowledges the undisputed seriousness of that source as well as that of some human rights organizations, recognized by their objectivity, which in general coincide in describing a situation of generalized violence in the rural areas of conflict where disregard for human life prevails, the Commission wishes to point out that one of the major difficulties it has encountered in determining the facts being presented in this section has been the abundance of contradictory or not sufficiently substantiated information.


          6.          Considering these circumstances, the Commission tried to directly, through contacts with the population of the zones in conflict, find out the truth of what had taken place. To that end, during its on-site observation in Guatemala, it divided itself into several sub-commissions which with the assistance of army officers and government officials, visited several cities, villages and towns in the departments of El Quiché, Huehuetenango and Chimaltenango.17


          7.          Some time later, with the knowledge of the Government of Guatemala and the previous permission of the Government of Mexico, two members of the IACHR Executive Secretariat traveled to the Mexican state of Chiapas, bordering on Guatemala, for the purpose of receiving testimony of Guatemalan Indians and peasants who have arrived and continued to arrive by the thousands to that region. The members of the Executive Secretariat covered most of the Mexican-Guatemalan border visiting the refugee camps Union Juarez, Aguatinta, Cuaehetemoc, Benito Juarez, Boca Chajul and Puerto Rico, interviewing numerous persons coming from different villages or localities in Guatemala.


          8.          The Commission is aware that in spite of the enormous advantage that this method of receiving testimony directly from those affected offers, this is not free of difficulties and limitations. Thus, on one hand, it is obvious that the presence of the helicopter pilots, all army officers without whom the Commission could not have visited remote Indian villages, could have inhibited the spontaneity of the individuals, many of whom did not speak Spanish and could not understand the purpose of the Commission's visit. On the other hand, the Commission also knows that the majority of the individuals interviewed in the State of Chiapas were there fleeing what they considered persecution by the Guatemalan army, a factor that could make their testimony less objective.


          9.          In general, the testimony received during the Commission's visit to Guatemala confirms a situation of violence where peasants and Indians claim as their primary objective that of being able to live in peace. In this situation of violence, from which they want to escape, most of the testimony coincided in that they did not place the responsibility for the violence and the deaths it has caused, on either the army or the guerrilla. In general, most of this testimony limited itself to point out that since the clothing and armament used by both were the same, it was difficult to know if those responsible belonged to the army or the guerrillas. Nevertheless, in certain isolated cases, those inhabitants were able to distinguish members of the army or the guerrillas as the perpetrators of torture and assassinations.


          10.          On the other hand, the testimony received in the state of Chiapas, in general, indicates that after the coup d'etat of March 23, 1982, repression against the Indian and peasant population has continued in the areas of conflict, particularly in those villages where the government claims there are guerrillas or that it suspects some form of collaboration with the guerrillas.


          11.          For their part, the government authorities with whom the Commission talked, emphatically denied having committed the human rights violations attributed to them, adducing that the people responsible for it are the guerrilla groups operating in the area, admitting deaths at the hands of government elements, only when armed confrontations between army patrols and subversive groups had taken place, and according to the authorities, those groups were the ones terrorizing and devastating the region. Several of those government authorities added that the government programs of protection and assistance to the Indians and peasants have reached the most remote corners of the national territory and that it is through them that they are gaining ground on the guerrillas who have lost the trust of peasants and Indians.


          12.          Now, the Commission will present in the most objective manner the testimony it has received with regard to the right to life in the rural areas in conflict. Those going from letter a to letter f were obtained during the Commission's on-site visit to Guatemala; those going from letter h to n were obtained in the interviews with Guatemalan refugees in the state of Chiapas, Mexico.


          a)          Parraxtut Village, Department of El Quiché


          13.          The residents stated that civil self-defense exists since the month of May, but they are worried that the few arms they do have would not be sufficient to defend themselves if the village were attacked again as it was in April of 1980 when the village was ransacked and burned by some 60 men, some in uniform and some in civilian attire.


          They said that presently, an army patrol comes around each week bringing maize, flour and some supplies.


          b)          Pichiquil and El Pajarito Villages, Department of El Quiché


          15.          The Subcommission met with eight mayors of different neighboring villages who stated that, last year, they had suffered attacks on their villages but that could not identify who the assailants were since some wore uniforms and others civilian attire. They were armed with different kinds of firearms, rifles, shotguns, bombs, etc. and robbed them of their clothing, supplies and burned their houses.


          They added that, at the present time, calm reigns in their villages, but that due to the incidents taking place in previous years, terror and insecurity persist to the point that Chichicastenango, which has traditionally attracted tourists, has been affected and today few tourists dare to come.


          d)          Estancia de la Virgen Village, Department of Chimaltenango


          16.          When interrogated about the accuracy of a claim presented to the Commission according to which there had been a massacre in April 1982, the residents were forthcoming in saying that the massacre to which the complaint referred had occurred in April 18, 1982, and that it had been perpetrated by soldiers of the Guatemalan army. That the army patrols came every 8 days or so. That, on that occasion, the soldiers had come by first, warning them not to leave their homes. Later, the residents climbed the mountain where the soldiers followed, killing the people that were there. Thereafter, they returned to the village indiscriminately killing women, old people and children, as well as the youth and men of production age. One of the neighbors said that the soldiers had killed his wife and four sons. They all professed to be peaceful and religious people. In addition, they stated that when the killings took place, the only weapons the neighbors had were their work machetes, and that those who ran were shot at with rifles, other were caught and tortured. They said that there was a total of 160 dead, some of whose bodies were buried and others eaten by dogs. The neighbors also said that the houses they abandoned for fear of being killed were burned by the Army some days after the maize harvest. There were a total of 136 houses burned. They added that the guerrillas had never come through the place and that it was the Army that burned the maize. Finally, the neighbors stated that after the massacre no other violent incidents had taken place and that they had enjoyed peace since that date.


          e)          Village of Agua Caliente, Department of Chimaltenango


          17.          The residents of the village, gathered in a house which apparently had been recently reconstructed, stated to the Commission that on April 16, 1982, on or about 4:45 a.m., a group of 250 men entered the village; that they were not from the Guatemalan Army but guerrillas, armed with all types of weapons like rifles, carbines, shotguns, bombs and grenades. They attacked the village killing a total of 14 persons, burning two houses and stealing clothing, money, maize and everything else they could carry. While all of this was taking place, a boy managed to flee the village and alert the Army detachment in Comalapa, which immediately sent a group of soldiers in helicopters at around 9:30 a.m., while the guerrillas still chased the residents who had escaped to the mountains. Following that there was a confrontation between soldiers and guerrillas, with the guerillas leaving one dead behind while retreating. The villagers expressed the belief that what has prompted the guerrillas to attack the village was the formation of self defense civil patrols and thus, they were looking for a way to destroy everything at once and that previously, when there was no civil defense, the guerrillas took advantage of them and killed the military commissioners and the assistants to the mayors, whom they would bring out one by one, house by house.


          The villagers added that the Army patrol comes by the locality every 15 or 20 days and that they had never been mistreated by those patrols and further, that the National Reconstruction Committee has been helping them, providing supplies such as rice, beans and sugar and helping them rebuild the burned houses. An example of that was the house in which the villagers and the members of the Subcommission were gathered, the Army having provided the construction materials and some technical assistance.


          The villagers also said that the government provides them with health assistance, sending a health specialist who was present at the time, and who said that in that village he saw patients on Tuesdays and Thursdays, sometimes with the help of an assistant.


          f)          Town of Nenton, Department of Huehuetenango

          18.          The Subcommission, without military escort, visited the town of Nenton going to the main square where it proceeded to talk with the neighbors. The appearance of Nenton was that of a town heavily armed and occupied by the Army of Guatemala.


          The testimony received by the Commission gives the following account: that of the 15 thousand residents in 1981, only a few more than 125 were still there, since the majority of the population had fled to Mexico as a result of the violence in the armed struggle between the guerillas and the Army; that the military garrison kept a number of persons under arrest, among them two Nenton neighbors, Emilio Camposeco and Pascual Tomas, who had recently been taken out of their homes. The villagers added that the prisoners were viciously tortured, and that they ended being mutilated and killed, their bodies thrown into the river, where the bodies reappeared causing more panic and desperation among the frightened population of Nenton; that from March 1982 until this date, some 20 persons had been executed in this fashion and that, recently, 4 or 5 persons had been assassinated in a similar manner by the army occupying Nenton. The persons interviewed recommended to the Subcommission that a more humane and just treatment be given to those arrested. They made it clear, that when the guerrillas attacked the town they only attacked the members of the army and did not cause any injuries to the civilian population.


          g)       San Francisco Establishment, Municipality of Nenton, Department

                    of Huehuetenango


          19.          The Commission had a particular interest in visiting the Establishment San Francisco, Municipality of Nenton, having received a complaint that government troops were accused of killing 350 peasants. The complaint reached the Commission from different sources and it is based on the account by the only survivor of the massacre and can be summarized as follows: San Francisco is the name of a privately owned establishment where peasants had remained and had constructed their homes—some 75 in all-after other families began to arrive, little by little, until there were 350 residents including men, women and children.


          At the beginning of July 1982, the Army of Guatemala, on its way through the area, had called on the men and as a sign of trust, had formed with 20 of them two self-defense civil patrols whom they trained in the use of arms and even left armed. This had injected confidence in the population which did not move, like their neighbors, to the mountains but stayed in the group of houses minding their daily tasks. On Thursday July 15, the soldiers arrived unannounced and called the recent recruits and told them to go with them to the mountain, something that did not arouse any fears because they considered it a routine call. Once they were outside of town, the Army shot the 20 men that were accompanying them. The next day, July 16, 1982, the Army gathered part of the population in the Catholic Chapel and in the town's biggest houses. According to the account of the only survivor, they then proceeded to burn the houses. There was nor mercy shown for anyone; in one house they burned 40 people, in three others 25 people and 10 in another. Others were tortured and when they could not get any more information from them, they were finished off with machetes. Angered with others that did not respond in Spanish, they decapitated them on the streets.


          Afterwards, according to this account, the soldiers rushed the people they had gathered at the town's chapel. For that they used hand-grenades, bazookas, and machine guns; those who could flee from the chapel were gunned down or killed with machetes. The houses and the people that were still alive in them were burned. The only survivor, named Francisco, injured on one leg had been buried under bodies. He waited for the opportune moment and then crawled to the nearest village where he could find people to help him.


          20.          Unfortunately, due to special circumstances that the Commission deems appropriate to indicate in this report, it was not possible to visit the San Francisco establishment in the Municipality of Nenton.


          In effect, when elaborating the original travel plans in the city of Guatemala with the chiefs of the Air Force, nobody had objected to visiting that locality nor had they indicated to the Commission that there could be some confusion with respect to its exact location. Nevertheless, on leaving Nenton in the direction of San Francisco, the pilot of the aircraft asked the members which San Francisco they wanted to visit because there were three: San Francisco Las Flores, San Francisco El Alto and San Francisco Miramar.


          In an effort to determine the correct place, the Commission explained to the officers aboard the helicopter the characteristics of the locality and the nature of the complaint they had received on the mass killings of approximately 350 peasants at the hands of the Army.


          Neither the officers nor the pilot, who was very knowledgeable of the region, seemed to have any knowledge of the incident. On the way to San Francisco, the captain of the helicopter was requested to land at an intermediate point, the town of Colotenango, where the Commission had particular interest in interviewing a certain person.


          The Subcommission remained in Colotenango for more than one hour. It interviewed several residents independently and in confidence. It also visited and was received by a group of Catholic nuns who run a grade school in that locality. The nuns were very kind, but they begged the members of the Subcommission not to force them to answer questions with regard to Army activities against the population. They seemed truly afraid, and although they did not deny anything, they did not want to admit anything either.


          Unfortunately, the person the Subcommission wanted to interview could not be located and since the pilot informed them that due to bad weather they could not go to the San Franciscos, the Subcommission decided to go to Huehuetenango and continue with its schedule of activities in that department.


          h)       Village of Monte Cristo, Municipality of Tajamonco, Department

                    of San Marcos


          21.          A 57-year-old gentleman recalled how on September 25, 1982, the Army arrived in the village firing from land and air. The population fled seeking refuge in the Union Juarez locality. The soldiers rounded up the people that had remained in their homes, raped the women and killed a total of 18 persons among them, Emiliano Chilelo, Joaquin Martínez and his wife Francisca López, one named Erasmo, a son of his and another woman named Elvira. All of them were killed with machetes.


          i)        Village of Molac, Municipality of Barias, Department of



          22.          A 20-year-old youth told how the soldiers who arrived by land and by helicopter, killed his father and three other persons named Ramon, Juan and Esteban. His father was killed on the road and the other three at the communal house where they had been taken tied up. Later on, they burned the homes, the communal house and the church. This happened on July 20, 1982.


          j)        Caston Village, Municipality of Barias, Department of



          23.          The witness said that in the month of July 192, Army soldiers came and burned down the houses. That before the Army arrived, 5 women from the village together with their sons, a total of 19 persons, had left the place and headed toward the Mexican border. That on the way, they were intercepted by the soldiers who killed them with guns and machetes.


          k)       Village of Lombajoche, Municipality of Nenton, Department of



          24.          A woman said that she, together with her husband and sons, left the village when learning that the Army patrols were coming. That they were on their way to Altoya when they were intercepted by the soldiers who shot at them. That in the shooting, her husband and daughter, whom her husband carried in his arms, and another girl that she was carrying were killed while the woman narrating the incident was wounded on the shoulder, a fact verified by the members of the IACHR Secretariat.


          Another witness of the Lombajoche Village said that on July 19, the Army arrived, surrounded the place and proceeded to gather the people at the courthouse. Then they burned the houses and took some people to a place called Bule. That in that place, they selected 5 persons and killed them. That their names were: Miguel Domingo Paez, Lucas Pedro, Pascual Paez Ramos, Andrés López and another person whose name the witness cannot recall. That afterwards the soldiers went to San Francisco Nenton, where they perpetrated a massacre.


          l)        Santo Tomas Village, Municipality of Chajul, Department of



          25.          The witness said that since January of 1982, the Army, in its effort to eradicate the guerrillas, had taken it out on the peasant population, for which reason they had to abandon their villages and flee to the mountain side. That the Army searched for them and persecuted them. That while living in the mountain, some families believing in the exchange offered by the new government of General Ríos Montt had come down from the mountain and surrendered to the Army. One of these families was that of Nicolás Alvarez Lap, his two grown up sons, a daughter of tender age and his wife. Mr. Alvarez, despite the efforts made to dissuade him, decided to come down with his family and surrender. To the surprise of his companions still in the mountainside, the Army instead of welcoming them killed them. The bodies of Mr. Alvarez's wife and sons were found days later; not so the body of Mr. Alvarez whose whereabouts are still unknown.


          m)          Maracatan Village, Department of Huehuetenango


          26.          The witness said that on June 6, the Army arrived. That, by then, they already knew what had taken place at the neighboring village of Piedras Blancas, where, according to witnesses who were able to flee, the Army rounded up all the families, tied them up and put them in a house which they then burned killing all 200 people inside. That due to the fear of knowing that the Army was coming to their village of Maracatan, they all fled except for 50 families who remained out of confidence. The Army killed all the members of all five families and then burned all the houses.


          n)          Village of Santa Maria, Department of El Quiché


          27.          According to the testimony of a survivor of the incidents which took place in December 1982, Army patrols entered his village accusing the residents of being part of the guerrillas or of cooperating with them. That they then proceeded to kill men, women and children. The witness recalled how he saw the soldiers knife four children to death.


          o)          Village of Caibi Balan, Department of El Quiché


          28.          The witness said that the Army came several times to his community asking for the guerrillas, to which they answered that they did not know. The last visit of that type was during the first days of June of 1982. Later, on June 7, the army arrived. This time first came a helicopter which flew over the village and then entered the soldiers on foot firing their arms from the borders of town. Thereupon, the villagers, who had learned of what had occurred in the villages of Dolores and Santo Tomás, fled to the mountainside. The result was: 17 dead and all the houses burned.


          29.          After examining the information presented here and carefully studying all the evidence at its disposal, the Commission finds that a situation of intense violence continues to exist in the rural areas in conflict, where the Army, in pursuit of the guerrillas operating in those areas, utilizes the whole spectrum of counter-insurgency military tactics, even at the expense of the norms of international humanitarian law. That places those responsible for such acts in open violation of the provisions of Article 3 of the Geneva Convention of August 12, 1949, on the treatment of wounded and sick members of the armed forces in the battlefield to which Guatemala is party.18


          As a result of the constant armed confrontations between the Army and the guerrillas, numerous persons, including noncombatant civilians, have been killed, which means that the civilian population feels afraid and insecure and, to a large extent, has sought refuge in bordering countries.


          30.          On the other hand, in order for the Government to achieve its objective of eradicating what it considers subversion, the Government has divided the peasant and Indian population into those who it considers prone to joining the socio-military programs of the Government, whom it has organized in self-defense civil patrols and provided with “guns and beans”, and those peasants and Indian sectors whom it considers leaning toward the guerrillas and whom have been punished by all possible means, including very serious violations of human rights which sometimes have even reached the destruction and ransacking of whole villages and the killing of all their residents.


          31.          Although the Commission has no doubts that the guerillas have committed serious and reproachable acts in those areas of conflict, it also considers that the government of Guatemala is directly responsible for the right to life violations that have occurred in those areas.


[ Table of Contents | Previous | Next ]



11            See items 29, 30, 31, 32 and 33 of that Advisory Opinion.

12            Thus, the International Court of Justice, for example, has declared imperative norms of international law the obligation of every State to respect the fundamental human rights, ICJ Reports 1970, page 33.

13            See Chapter IV.

14            Those programs have been explained in section K, Chapter I.

15            See OEA/Ser.L/V/II.53, doc. 21, rev.2 of October 13, 1981, page 18 and following pages.

16            The situation of refugee peasants and Indians will be studied in Chapter VIII.

17            As mentioned in the Introduction, due to bad weather the Commission was not able to travel on that day to Alta and Baja Verapaz, as it had planned.

18            In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: 1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed “hors de combat” by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end, the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. (2) the wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict. The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention. The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.