N° 37/09




Washington, D.C., June 12, 2009—The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) conducted a working visit to Guatemala from June 7 to 12, 2009. The IACHR delegation was headed by Commissioner Víctor Abramovich, first Vice President of the IACHR, in his role as Rapporteur for Guatemala and Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.


The visit’s objective was to observe and obtain information about the human rights situation in Guatemala. In particular, the visit examined: the status of investigations and judgments of those responsible for serious human rights violations committed during the armed conflict; the human rights situation of indigenous communities; and the human rights situations of human rights defenders. The delegation engaged in various meetings with high-level authorities of the Executive and Judiciary, as well as with civil society, indigenous and international organizations.


During the visit, the Commissioner received information about the high level of violence in the country, the high level of social exclusion (which most profoundly affects indigenous communities) and the serious challenges in the administration of justice. In Guatemala, the impunity index reaches 98%.


The Commission specifically recognizes the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the collaboration achieved by the Public Ministry and other state institutions. Their work endeavors to combat impunity for acts committed by illegal organizations and clandestine groups that operate within the country.


The impunity continues unabated in relation to the investigation of serious crimes against humanity committed during the internal armed conflict. These forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, violations and genocide victimized approximately 200,000 people, 83.3% of them from the Mayan community. The lack of coordination between the Public Prosecutor and the National Police is especially troubling. Although about 30 warrants have been issued against people linked to serious abuses committed during the internal armed conflict, the warrants have not yet been executed. For example, the Commission found that judicial authorities did not effectively issue a warrant against an individual who continues to receive state pensions even though crimes have been attributed to him.  


This situation calls attention to the scarce number of prosecutors for the quantity of cases that this Unit is in charge of, as well as its inadequate infrastructure. For example, Commissioner Abramovich was informed that in said Unit, there are only two prosecutors for more than 8,000 cases. Despite the precariousness of the situation, the Attorney General claimed that the institution’s concerns would be dealt with. In spite of this, he informed them of plans to expand and decentralize the Office for the Prosecution Human Rights. The IACHR urged that as soon as possible, the State strengthen the Office for the Prosecution of Human Rights, granting them sufficient and adequate resources to respond to the large number of pending cases.


The Commission was informed that since 2006, there has been a bill in Congress which would modify the resources for protection. As the Commission has indicated, resources have been used to delay the administration of justice and decisions in cases dealing with human rights violations. The Commission was made aware the Constitutional Court published an opinion about the aforementioned bill. The Commission hopes that a reform to the current law can be passed quickly, securing the protective resources that comply with American standards.


The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights also emphasizes the passing of the Access to Public Information Law. The purpose of the law is to guarantee all people access to information and documentation found in state agencies, eliminating discrimination. This law will contribute to the transparency of state functions and will be a useful tool for the protection of human rights in Guatemala.


In relation to this law, the Commission expresses its satisfaction with the inclusion of Article 24, which establishes that in no case can information relevant to investigations of human rights violations and crimes against humanity be classified as confidential or reserved.


During the visit, the Commission accompanied the Human Rights Prosecutor to the installations of the National Police Archive. The Commission recognizes the hard work that went into the systemization, preservation and opening of the archives. The Commission acknowledges the great importance of these archives, especially because they contributed to the reopening of some criminal trials for crimes against humanity that were found (to date) to be inactive. They also dealt with the question of official documents in an interview with the Ministry of Defense. Likewise, the IACHR hopes that the State’s distinct instances grant full and total accessibility to all of the archives and documents about human rights violations related to the internal armed conflict.


In respect to the situation of human rights defenders, the delegation received information about the increase in both threats and attacks against them. The increase in cases involving the death of unionists is particularly troubling. In relation to the protection of the defenders, the Commission was informed that adequate measures would not be taken against the perpetrators of threats and attacks, which would allow for the most efficient investigation of claims.


The Commission received information that indicates that the mechanism of inter-institutional coordination for the implementation of precautionary measures by the State is not sufficiently effective. The Commission urges the State to protect the defenders, guaranteeing their work in the defense of human rights and investigate the threats and attacks of those targeted through the inter-institutional mechanism. The Commission also urges instances of investigations to be established that deal with the masterminds of the violence, in which various cases may be analyzed and filed and broad-reaching recommendations may be performed. The Commission also suggests that a clear and objective system of adequate security for each case be established with the participation and consent of the beneficiaries.


On the other hand, the Commission acknowledges with satisfaction the approval of the Law of Proposal Commissions, whose purpose is to regulate the selection of the nominees for important public offices, such as Supreme and Appellate Court judges, among others. This law seeks to guarantee transparency in the election of high public officials through the participation of civil society in the candidate selection process. The Commission considers the initiation of this process an important advance towards improving the independence, impartiality and functioning of the Justice Administration. 


The IACHR has received information about some of the difficulties in implementing this law. In particular, there is possibility of that the abuse of resources will unduly delay the process and therefore interfere with the candidates’ ability to take office on time. Some civil society organizations have expressed concern about the ways that participation and publicity would be guaranteed during the process. In this sense, the IACHR urges the competent instances to create an adequate implementation mechanism that guarantees that civil society can effectively participate and oversee both the publication of the records and the laws of selection.


In his role as Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Commissioner Abramovich attended a regional meeting for Central America on June 7. The meeting concerned the obligation to protect the property rights of indigenous people in the Inter-American Human Rights System. The event featured the participation of renowned experts from Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and El Salvador. The Rapporteur was informed that the Guatemalan state allegedly granted approximately 88 concessions for dams of different sizes to be built over indigenous lands. These concessions would have been realized without an adequate prior consultation or consideration of those being affected. Additionally, the Constitutional Court denied the binding value of the processes of consultation conducted by the municipalities. The Rapporteur reiterates that the American Convention on Human Rights obligates States to realize previous free and informed consultation. The States are destined to obtain the consent of the towns and indigenous communities that could be potentially affected by development programs and investment projects that are carried out on their territories.


In addition, during the visit, working meetings were held regarding the implementation of precautionary measures and the cases of de Maurilia Coc Max y Otros (the Xaman Masacre), Angélica Jerónimo Juárez, Masacre de la Aldea Los Josefinos, Edgar Fernando García y Oscar David Hernández Quiroa. The IACHR emphasizes the efforts of COPREDEH in the implementation of such precautionary measures. Likewise, the Commission emphasizes the efforts undertaken to reach friendly settlements in some cases before the Inter-American System.


The delegation also carried out a visit to the community of Río Negro. The delegation went to Pcoxom, Pacux y Rabinal, to speak to the families and survivors of the Río Negro massacres. The delegation also met with various armed internal conflict victims’ organizations in the zone.


On June 10 in Guatemala City, the Commissioner presented a report entitled, “Access to Justice as a Guarantee of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. A Review of the Standards Adopted by the Inter-American System of Human Rights.”


During the visit, Commissioner Abramovich and his delegation met with high-level officials of the Ministry of External Relations. Likewise, they met with the Prosecutor General of the Republic and the Chief of the District Attorney’s Office; the president and magistrates of the Supreme Court of Justice; the president and magistrates of the Constitutional Court, the Ministry of Defense; the Secretary of Peace, the president of the Presidential Human Rights Commissioner (COPREDEH); the Human Rights Prosecutor; authorities from the Commission Against Racism and Discrimination of Indigenous Peoples (CODISRA) and the Office for the Defense of Indigenous Women (DEMI).


Additionally, they met with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Carlos Castresana and with members of the Attorney General’s CICIG Special Unit. They also met with the Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Amerigo Incalcaterra. The delegation also engaged in  fruitful working meetings with NGOs and indigenous organizations.


The Commission expresses its gratitude for the cooperation offered by the Government in the realization of this visit. Likewise, it extends its thanks to the civil society organizations, academic sectors and international agencies for their thoughtful collaboration and helpful information.


A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has the mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this matter. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who act in a personal capacity, without representing a particular country, and who are elected by the OAS General Assembly.


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