Doc. 10
18 September 1989
Original:  Spanish




          The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has closely monitored events in Guatemala through most of this decade because of the serious violence that has marked it. Year after year the Commission has reported on this state of affairs in its annual reports to the OAS General Assembly. In addition, it has produced these special reports on the situation of human rights in Guatemala and, during this period, has conducted three on-site visits to the Republic of Guatemala—in 1982, 1985, and 1988.


          More recently, the Commission has continued to monitor the human rights situation in Guatemala with assistance from the Government of President Cerezo's which has provided the necessary facilities for it to carry out its task.


          During the period covered by this report, one of the major concerns of the Commission in terms of the observance of political rights, the protection of freedoms, and the survival of the constitutional democracy in Guatemala has been the number of attempts to overthrow the Government of President Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo's preceded by the events of May and August, 1988. On that occasion, in addition to condemning the coup attempt, the Commission spoke out in favor of strengthening the democratic and constitutional process.


          On May 9, 1989, it was learned that a further attempt to overthrow the Government and to destabilize the democratic system had been averted, again thanks to the Armed Forces' loyalty to the democratic regime. At that time, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, meeting in Washington, adopted resolution CP/RES. 521 (774/89), entitled “Support to the democratic process in Guatemala.” Aside from expressing its firm and categorical support for President Marco Vinicio Cerezo in his struggle to consolidate the democratic process and preserve the country's institutional framework, in that resolution the Council vehemently condemned the groups that continue to destabilize legitimate governments and urged them to participate in the strengthening of democratic institutions through free electoral processes.


          In response to the unsuccessful coup attempt, legal proceedings have been instituted against the officers who participated in the uprising.


          A problem that has been of concern to the Commission is that of exiles in the process of repatriation. At the beginning of 1987, the Commission was informed and in turn reported that large number of Guatemalan citizens who had remained in Mexico and Honduras for several years because of the violence in their home communities had decided to return to Guatemala. Subsequently it was learned that the number of repatriated Guatemalans had gradually increased during 1987 and had reached 974 by the end of the year. By mid-1988 it had reached 1,928, and, on December 31, 1988, the number of repatriated Guatemalan families was 820, or consisting of 3,885 individuals. They have settled in 102 villages belonging to 35 municipalities in 10 departments of the country, with the majority in Huehuetenango, El Quiché, and Izabal. The Guatemalan Government reported that the repatriates were receiving resettlement assistance in their communities of origin and that every effort was being made to provide them with medical care and any other assistance they might require during their reintegration.


          Another very important area is, of course, the national dialogue process. In accordance with the procedures set forth in the Esquipulas II Agreement for establishing a firm and lasting peace in Central America, and as mentioned in the previous report, in September 1987 the National Reconciliation Committee (Comisión Nacional de Reconciliación or CNR) was formed in Guatemala to take immediate steps toward national reconciliation and to create conditions conducive to the strengthening and development of democratization processes under the rules set forth at that time in the agreement concluded by the Central American Heads of State. The Committee was made up of Monsignor Rodolfo Quezada, Bishop of Zacapa, and representing the Catholic Church (chair); Roberto Carpio, the Vice President of Guatemala, representing the government; Jorge Serrano, former presidential candidate of the Solidarity Action Movement (Movimiento de Acciòn Solidaria), representing the political parties; and, Teresa de Zarco, co-owner of the daily newspaper “Prensa Libre,” a prominent citizen. Continuing its efforts, on November 8, 1988, the CNR issued a call for a “great national dialogue,” which was finally held on February 20 of this year. It was attended by 200 delegates from 47 organizations representing various sectors of Guatemalan society.


          In order to facilitate the discussions, the National Reconciliation Committee prepared a document entitled General Rules of Procedure for the Dialogue covering procedures for presenting, discussing, and processing the proposals and the way in which each delegate would participate. It was established that, the approved topics would be transmitted to the Assembly of the dialogue as recommendations for its consideration and that those that the assembly approved would be sent by the National Reconciliation Committee to the appropriate official agencies, which in turn would consider them with a view to their implementation.


          In the absence of official representatives of both the Guatemalan Armed Forces and the guerrillas, the central parties to the conflict, discussions were begun attempting to find possible solutions to the main problems slated for consideration. The working committees, 15 in all, began on March 1 by analyzing problems in the areas of human rights, labor relations, the situation of Indians, peace, democratization, and other scheduled topics.


          Declining to participate in the national dialogue were the National Liberation Movement (Movimiento de Liberación Nacional), the Democratic Institutional Party (Partido Institucional Democrático), the Committee of Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (Comité de Asociaciones Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras or CACIF), and the National Agrarian Union (Unión Nacional Agraria or UNAGRO), which belong to the most conservative sectors of Guatemala. The Armed Forces, which, as previously stated, did not participate directly, finally decided to attend, but only as part of the governmental delegation.


          Despite the aforementioned absences, the outcome of the national dialogue was on balance, positive. Practically all the participating organizations left the meeting expressing their satisfaction and acknowledging the positive way in which the National Reconciliation Committee members encouraged the exchange of ideas and opinions on the main economic, social, political, and cultural problems discussed with a view to examining the proposals made by each sector on how to resolve the problems facing the country.


          Also in accordance with the Esquipulas II Agreements, the Government of President Cerezo has remained open to a dialogue with the subversive groups operating in Guatemala as long as they lay down their arms. In this regard it is known that the guerrilla movement has continued its efforts toward a rapprochement and toward a follow-up efforts undertaken throughout 1986 and through the end of 1988, when the then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Alfonso Cabrera Hidalgo, said that it had not been possible to establish a dialogue with the Guatemalan guerrillas because the political parties refused to do so.


          In November 1988, the Guatemalan Revolutionary Union (Unión Revolucionaria Guatemalteca or URNG), an umbrella organization comprised of the four guerrilla groups, reiterated the necessity of fostering conditions that would make the dialogue possible, and said that the Government and the Army had as yet refused to accept its proposal even though countless sectors of society had done so. That communiqué made reference to the call for a national dialogue issued by the National Reconciliation Committee and lamented the fact that the URNG had been excluded from the ranks of parties to the dialogue.


          In January 1989, the Catholic Church offered to mediate in attempts at a dialogue between the Government and the subversives, with a view to resuming the rapprochement that was initiated in Madrid in 1987. When President Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo went to Venezuela to attend the inauguration of President Carlos Andrés Pérez at the end of that month, it was learned that he had rejected the guerrillas' proposal to enter into negotiations in Venezuela. According to the press, the Guatemalan leader said at that time that it would not make sense to speak with outlaw groups and reaffirmed that the rebels should lay down their arms and then rejoin the lawful political process.


          Although negotiations toward an understanding between the guerrilla movement and the army have been unsuccessful to date, the Catholic Church has continued its search for points of agreement that would pave the way toward dialogue in the near future.


          Concerning observance of the right to life during the period covered by this report, the Commission has observed with genuine concern that, although they have declined in number, there have continued to be a great many cases of violations of this human right and forced disappearances of persons have continued. In connection with this serious problem, the Commission has received information to the effect that the forced disappearance of persons in Guatemala has continued, accompanied by the serious and alarming characteristics of this phenomenon.


          An incident that has caused great concern is the massacre that took place on November 25 in the village of “El Aguacate” in the Department of Chimaltenango. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received the first confirmation from the Guatemalan Mission to the Organization of American States on November 29, 1988. It told of the murder of a group of 21 Guatemalan peasants in “El Aguacate,” located four kilometers from the Municipality of San Andrés Itzapa, in the Department of Chimaltenango. This was a community of 34 related families with a total population of 168: 38 men, 40 women, and 90 children.


          In that report, Dr. Eduardo Meyer Maldonado, the Ambassador of Guatemala to the OAS, said that on November 22, Carlos Humberto Guerra Callejas, Adjutant to the Military Commissioner, disappeared on his way to work in the fields. The following day, the villagers organized a search for him, which was unsuccessful. On the 24th a more intensive search was conducted by 30 peasants. They made contact and tried to enter into discussions with the terrorist group, but were taken at gunpoint. A few of the peasants managed to escape but 20 were captured, including the community's evangelical minister. Those who escaped reported the events to the military unit headquarter in Chimaltenango. Carlos Humberto Guerra Callejas was found dead, and on November 26 three mass graves containing the tortured and lifeless bodies of the 20 peasants, were located.


          In response to this act of genocide that wiped out over one fourth of the village's adult population, tragically leaving behind 21 widows and 72 fatherless children, on November 30, 1988, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States vehemently condemned the aforementioned acts and expressed its solidarity with the Government and people of Guatemala.


          For its part, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is closely following the investigation being conducted by the appropriate Guatemalan authorities and by nongovernmental human rights organizations in the hope that they will throw more light on what actually occurred.


          Another problem that has been of ongoing concern to the Commission is the death campaign. At a press conference called by the Armed Forces on January 19 of this year, Angel Reyes Melgar came forward and identified himself as a former member of one of the armed insurgent groups, named the Revolutionary Organization of the People up in Arms (Organización Revolucionaria del Pueblo en Armas or ORPA). During his presentation, he stated that he had been a founding member of the Mutual Support Group (Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo or GAM), which he had joined to locate a brother of his who had disappeared in 1982, and in which he had served until 1985. At that point, when two of the group's founding members were murdered, he decided to flee from Guatemala, fearful that he would meet the same fate. He also said he had continued to represent the GAM abroad and had received orders directly from the opposition leaders in Mexico, until finally in January 1989 he turned himself in to the Guatemalan Embassy in Spain and requested amnesty. He then accused the present of the GAM, Nineth Montenegro de García, and the founder of the “Runujel Junam” (Council of Indigenous Communities (Consejo de Comunidades Étnicas “Runujel Junam” or CERJ), Amílcar Méndez Urizar, of being members of the armed opposition and having been paid and instructed by opposition leaders to found human rights groups for the purpose of discrediting Guatemala abroad. He also said the organized labor and university groups were fronts for guerrilla and other underground groups with which they maintained contacts, all of which were financed by foreign Marxist organizations.


          Both Nineth de García and Amilcar Méndez replied immediately, categorically denying the accusations leveled against them and challenging Mr. Reyes to present evidence to corroborate his claims. The GAM also denied that Mr. Reyes had been a founding member of the group and that he had been asked to represent it abroad.


          The accusations leveled by Mr. Reyes triggered a dreadful series of grim death threats in Guatemala, which has not yet come to an end. Among the individuals targeted by this constant and menacing campaign of threats and intimidation are Nineth de García of the GAM, the women on the board of directors of the National Coordinating Group of Guatemalan Widows (Coordinadora Nacional de Viudas de Guatemala or CONAVIGUA); Amilcar Méndez of the CERJ; Factor Méndez of the Research and Investigation Center for Human Rights (Centro de Investigación y Estudios Pro Derechos Humanos or CIEPRODH); father Andrés Girón, leader of the National Peasant Association for the Land (Asociación Nacional de Campesinos Pro Tierra or ANC); the Archbishop of Guatemala, Monsignor Próspero Penados; delegates of the Peace Brigades (Brigadas de Paz) that work with human rights organizations; many other prominent figures; practically all the leaders of the country's principal labor organizations, including the United Workers' and People's Action Unit (Unidad de Acción Sindical y Popular or UASP), and the Union of Workers of Guatemala (Unión Sindical de Trabajadores de Guatemala or UNSITRAGUA); the Student Solidarity Action Unit (Unidad de Acción de Solidaridad Estudiantil or UNASE) of the University of San Carlos of Guatemala; and several student leaders belonging to the Executive Student Coordination group (Coordinadora Estudiantil Ejecutiva). In most of these cases, the threats were made by paramilitary groups or death squads named “The Faithful One” (“La Dolorosa”), “Wildcat Executioner” (“Jaguar Justiciero”), and the “Secret Anticommunist Army” (Ejército Secreto Anticomunista” or ESA): Naturally, this campaign generated protests from almost all the human rights organizations, which joined with the threatened individuals in requesting guarantees from the Government and judicial authorities.


          In response to the intimidation campaign, to the steps taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which sent a number of cables expressing its concern for the lives and safety of those targeted, and to the widespread protest over the continuation of the campaign, the Government of President Cerezo has stated that “it is the policy of this government to investigate any reported incident that might constitute a crime; for that reason, when it is learned that people are being threatened, even by telephone, an investigation of the threats begins; and even though the person reporting the incident usually does not take legal action, the state does so automatically through the Office of the Public Prosecutor. Thus the agency with jurisdiction hears the case and orders the investigation according to law. This is the procedure followed in the cases of Frank La Rue et al., who received protection, and for whom a lawsuit was filed based on their charges, even though they had not requested it. The same procedure was followed in the case of the USAC students and in one other.”


          In addition, with regard to the right to life, it is worth mentioning that at the beginning of the month of August an uncontrollable wave of violence was unleashed in Guatemala City. The headquarters of the Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM) and the peace Brigades were partially destroyed as a result of terrorist attacks carried out by unidentified persons. University students were kidnapped and the corpses of two of them were found with marks of torture and evidence of amputations. The campaign of terror has continued without the possibility of stopping or controlling it until the time of the adoption of this report.


          With regard to the right to personal safety and humane treatment, the Commission reiterates what was said in its previous report: that it is clearly not the policy of the Government of Guatemala to encourage, defend, or allow the torture of detainees. However, during the same period, many detainees stressed that their captors used extreme police brutality and that detainees are also psychologically tortured to exact statements from them. But, it cannot be stated with certainty that the security forces or the army systematically employs torture, although the treatment of detainees is quite rough and inconsiderate. Isolated yet repeated cases of torture have been reported to this Commission, but the use of these methods would seem to be more in response to orders from military authorities than to general government policy guidelines.


          Another reported incident of mistreatment and torture resulted from the uprising at the “Pavón” prison farm. On March 26, 1989, at 1:00 p.m., a group of over 200 of the 1,500 common prisoners held there seized control of the facility. Because it was a Sunday, friends and relatives of prisoners were there visiting. This incident assumed serious dimensions when the prisoners occupied the armory and seized over 300 rifles, ammunitions, and other arms. The rioters burned and destroyed a number of installations at the penal farm and, according to initial reports, took as hostages several guards and almost 1,000 men, women, and children who were there to visit prisoners. The rioters asked for better overall conditions for prisoners, assurances that no reprisals would be taken against those who participated in the rebellion, removal of the prison's general manager, a general pardon and reduction of sentences for everyone, among other concessions.


          After a long negotiation process, in which Gonzalo Menéndez de la Riva, the Attorney General for Human Rights, played a very important and effective role, this crisis was overcome. It left in its wake serious damage to the penitentiary, 12 persons dead, and some 20 wounded.


          Following these events, the IACHR has received allegations, mostly from European human rights organizations, denouncing mistreatment, torture, and acts of reprisal against the protesters. The Government of Guatemala has promised to investigate these accusations, to take appropriate measures to prevent and punish abuses, and to issue a report on its findings.


          As far as the right to personal liberty is concerned, during the period covered by this report the first noteworthy case of a curtailment of this right in Guatemala occurred in November 1988. In response to the recent increase in Guatemala of common crime, illicit drugs trafficking and bands or gangs of criminals who attack, abduct, steal from, and perpetrate other criminal acts against the population, the Government mounted an operation in which the National Police, the Military Police Patrol, and the Treasury Guard jointly began to carry out raids and roundups at various public night spots. Despite avowed good intentions, it seems that these operations have been characterized by serious abuse, police brutality, and violations of the right to personal liberty of some of the citizens arrested.


          In response, the presidents of the Supreme Court and the Bar Association of Guatemala, Edmundo Vásquez Martínez and John Schwank, reacted by lodging vehement protests, which were apparently unsuccessful. The police persisted in their course of action and police authorities and the Minister of the Interior, Roberto Valle Valdizán, publicly defended and supported the measures, alleging that they were necessary and were being used to maintain law and order for the benefit of the Guatemalan people, as part of the war on crime, in performance of the duties of those institutions, and in strict compliance with the law and the Constitution.


          Considering that these incidents were obviously eroding the image of lawfulness and authority of the judicial institutions, the President of the Supreme Court and of the Judiciary in Guatemala, Dr. Edmundo Vásquez Martínez, took advantage of a seminar on human rights in Guatemala City to publicly air his uneasiness, his criticism, and his protest. “Human rights can be an aspiration, an ideology, a dead letter, a reality, or simple demagoguery,” he said. “Here in this country, we are slipping into dead legislation and demagoguery; I say this fully aware of the situation, and I say it with regret, not to say shame.” “Regretfully, but vehemently, I wish to state for the record my uneasiness, hear me well, my uneasiness about the actions taken by some of the government forces, and to promise to focus my efforts on bringing about a change in that situation. Under no circumstances, understand me, under no circumstances would it make sense to remain in a situation in which, removed from reality, we get wrapped up in that very dangerous game where, on the pretext of providing the people with security, fundamental human rights are lost and, above all, the right to personal liberty and dignity is violated.”


          The Government of Guatemala immediately suspended the raids and issued the following conciliatory public statement: “When activities were initiated by the SIPROCI (Civil Protection System, in which the Army, the National Police, and the National Guard participate in effective joint action against all criminal activity, whether it be of a common nature or provoked by the subversive groups that take advantage of the democratic climate of absolute freedom and respect for human rights), some errors were made in interpreting the procedures. But those mistakes were corrected and they have been instrumental in efforts to achieve effective coordination between the security forces and the judiciary to allow proper vigilance by judicial authorities, with due respect for the separation of powers that must be maintained in any democratic system, in order to prevent any future mistakes on the part of the security forces.”


          In a separate incident, but also in connection with the same right to personal liberty, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been informed of the detention of several people who, although all constitutional guarantees are fully in force, claim to have been the victims of arbitrary arrests by members of the security forces, in plain clothes but heavily armed, who broke into their homes, detained them, and took them to police stations in vehicles with tinted glass, without license plates to identify them, where the individuals were held longer than allowed under the Constitution and the law.


          As far as the administration of justice is concerned, it should be noted that a coordination effort between the Executive and the Judiciary has resulted in a circular being sent to all police units, effective as of this August, instructing them of their obligation to report to the Central Detainee Control Registry, by either telephone or cable, the detention of any person, even if that individual is turned over to the competent judicial authorities within the time limit prescribed by law.


          The Commission has also been informed that special instructions have been issued to the respective military bases in Guatemala to ensure that record maintenance in the Registry is effective and efficient. This puts an end to the restrictions that limited the records exclusively to those persons who were turned over to the courts, and not to those detained by police, security, or armed forces. Henceforth, the name of anyone detained in Guatemalan territory, regardless of the authority that carries out the arrest, must be immediately reported to the Registry. This will allow the families to investigate and obtain information on the place, motives, and circumstances of the arrest.


          In relation to the processing of petitions for habeas corpus, the Commission is also heartened to report on yet another letter circulated by the Supreme Court whereby, in response to IACHR recommendations, judges throughout the republic are instructed that when a petition for habeas corpus is denied because the person presumed to be missing cannot be located or is not found in detention, an investigation of the disappearance of that person must be initiated immediately; that is, a procedure must be set in motion to determine the whereabouts of the missing individual. This means that even though a petition for habeas corpus is denied, the case is not closed at that point, but rather a judicial investigation of the matter is initiated.


          Noteworthy among educational activities to promote human rights is the outreach and instruction campaign aimed at the children and youth of Guatemala, in the form of a children's edition of the new Constitution of Guatemala. It was prepared by Dr. Eduardo Meyer Maldonado during his term of office as Minister of Education, and is a veritable model in the field. Also, the Guatemalan army has incorporated into its military studies curricula courses on human rights and seminars of the International Committee of the Red Cross on humanitarian law and related subjects. The government has also promoted programs to institute the observance of human rights in all its ministries and other departments.


          Concerning the right to freedom of thought and expression, the Government of Guatemala has reported that this point, which was under question last year, is no longer at issue, inasmuch as no complaints have been received so far this year in regard to this matter.


          Another positive development observed during the period covered by this report concerns the prosecution and punishment of members of the security forces responsible for abductions, disappearances, and other violations of human rights. In fact, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has been informed that in response to the abduction, subsequent disappearance, and murder of Danilo Sergio Alvarado Mejía, who was found dead on October 17, 1987, at 7th Street and 13th Avenue, Zona 3, in Quetzeltenango, and of René Aroldo Leiva Cayax, who was found dead on October 19, 1987, at 12th Avenue 7-49, Zone 1, also in Quetzaltenango, investigations were conducted by agents of the Narcotics Brigade of the National Police and, with the aid of eyewitnesses and scientific evidence, the perpetrators of the crime were identified. They were all agents of the National Police of Quetzaltenango: Catalino Esteban Valiente Alonso, Cristóbal Antonio Martínez Flores, Eulalio Cabrera Cabrera, José Luis Ordóñez de León, Daniel Flores Téllez, and Braulio Ervilio Velásquez Rodas. Based on the results of the investigation, these individuals were arrested on December 3, 1987, at 10:00 a.m. inside the building occupied by the General Directorate of the National Police, fired from that institution, and turned over to the Thirteenth Criminal Court of Justice by means of document number 3174/EGG of December 3, 1987, for prosecution and punishment commensurate to their actions.


          In short, in the opinion of the Commission, progress has been made in the promotion of human rights and some advances have been made in the legal area, however, in practice, these advances did not produce the expected results. The forced disappearances of persons have continued, and the disappearance of 13 student leaders last August has caused a great deal of concern.


          Notwithstanding the efforts undertaken by the civilian authorities, in order for human rights to be adequately protected in Guatemala the military and police must be subordinated to the judicial authorities. The Judicial branch must be strengthened in Guatemala for human rights to be strengthened. In the opinion of the Commission, one should not fail in the trap of combating violence with violence. Only the correct application of law by judicial tribunals can be the guarantee of respect for human rights.

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