65.            In its annual reports for 1990-1991 and 1991, the Commission expressed grave concern over extrajudicial executions and torture in Guatemala and the judiciary’s inability to respond.[11]  The Commission went on to note that the judicial proceedings in connection with such violations typically are not an “exhaustive investigation that seeks to identify and penalize the guilty parties in accordance with the gravity of the acts.”[12]  

66.            The United Nations Independent Expert for Guatemala described the response of the national police and the judiciary to violations of the right to life during that period as “highly unsatisfactory.”[13] In the case of judicial investigations, “in most cases the courts or the security agencies did not succeed in identifying the culprits.  In the few cases in which the presumed culprits are identified, no judicial penalty is imposed, thereby allowing the feeling of impunity to persist.”[14]   

67.            The Commission for Historical Clarification said as much when it asserted that in the 1986-1996 period “the courts were incapable of investigating, indicting, prosecuting and punishing even a handful of those responsible for the most heinous human rights crimes, or of affording the victims protection.”[15]  It said that “because of its deliberate or provoked inefficacy, the country’s judicial system failed to guarantee compliance with the law; it tolerated and even abetted the violence…”.[16] 

68.            As this Commission has already reported, and as other reliable sources have confirmed, during that period fear was widespread not just among the population affected by the human rights violations but also among judges and other officers of the court.  The result was that aggrieved parties or their agents did not have real access to the remedies under domestic law.  In its 1989-1990 report, the Commission found that “judges of this system simply do not conduct thorough investigations because they have been terrorized by what has happened to others who have performed investigations and acted bravely against terrorism.  As a result, these judges have become victims…”[17] Similarly, the Commission for Historical Clarification found that a number of the individuals who participated in judicial proceedings were threatened and attacked, which precipitated an atmosphere of intimidation and “exacerbated the courts’ inaction and impunity.”[18]   

69.            With circumstances as they were, the remedies under Guatemalan domestic law were neither adequate nor effective during the period when the events alleged occurred. A remedy is adequate when its function within the domestic legal system is suitable to address an infringement of a legal right.[19] As for the efficacy of a remedy, the Court has held that a remedy is effective when it is “capable of producing the result for which it was designed.  Procedural requirements can make the remedy of habeas corpus ineffective: it is powerless to compel the authorities; if it presents a danger to those who invoke it; or if it is not impartially applied.”[20]  The Court has also held that “[I]t is a different matter, however, when it is shown that remedies are denied for trivial reasons or without an examination of the merits, or if there is proof of the existence of a practice or policy ordered or tolerated by the government, the effect of which is to impede certain persons from invoking internal remedies that would normally be available to others.  In such cases, resort to those remedies becomes a senseless formality.  The exceptions of Article 46(2) would be fully applicable to those situations and would discharge the obligations to exhaust internal remedies since they cannot fulfill their objectives in that case.”[21] 

70.            As for the State’s argument that many of the situations described in case 11.198 were never reported to the local authorities and therefore the remedies under domestic law had not been exhausted, the Commission has observed that the atmosphere among the Guatemalan people at that time was one of widespread fear.[22] The United Nations Independent Expert for Guatemala found at the time that “the main feature of Guatemalan society today is still the state of fear in which everybody lives.”[23]  Victims of human rights violations, their families and friends were often afraid to denounce the violations in court and, “in the few cases in which an investigation was launched, many witnesses and attorneys refused to participate in open proceedings against members of the Army or any other State institution.”[24]  Then, too, “[m]any judges were forced to give up their independence as the first step to avoid being killed.”[25]   

71.            This widespread fear of bringing complaints in courts at the time was all the greater in cases involving acts perpetrated by Civil Patrols or military commissioners, given the social phenomenon that their existence represented and the manner in which these organizations operated and acted. As will be explained later in this report, the main purpose of the PAC was to marshal the civil populace against the guerrilla movements and to gain physical and psychological control over the population.[26] The physical and psychological control that the PAC exerted over the communities in which they operated and their link to the army created a fear, especially in rural areas, of filing complaints with the authorities concerning the human rights violations the PACs committed.  Those who did dare to report them were immediately classified as guerrilla sympathizers at best and hostile to the army; they were thought of as targets of reprisals, and frequently were. 

72.            With circumstances as they were, the victims of human rights violations, their relatives and friends who did not file complaints in the domestic courts were afraid, since it could be perilous for them.  For this reason, the Commission concludes that de facto circumstances rendered the remedies ineffectual, thus triggering the exception contemplated in Article 46(2) of the Convention.  The interested parties are therefore discharged from their obligation under the rule requiring exhaustion of the remedies under domestic law.  The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has held that the rule requiring exhaustion of domestic remedies does not demand that a remedy be invoked when the remedy has no chance of prospering or when to do so would put the petitioner’s life in jeopardy.[27] 

73.            The Commission therefore finds that in the period during which the events occurred, the judicial system in Guatemala was not an effective tool for protecting the fundamental rights of the citizenry; instead, in many cases it became a fundamental link in creating the prevailing climate of impunity.  Furthermore, at the time there was widespread fear of denouncing human rights violations, since complainants could face terrible consequences. One can conclude, therefore, that de facto circumstances were present that prevented the aggrieved and their agents from availing themselves of the remedies under domestic law.  Hence, those remedies did not have to be exhausted.  For that reason, and because those internal remedies that were instituted have been subject to unwarranted delay, the Commission concludes that the exception to the rule requiring exhaustion of local remedies established in Article 46 of the Convention does not apply. 

2.            Deadline for presentation  

74.            According to Article 46(1)(b) of the Convention, petitions must be lodged within six months from the date on which the party alleging violation of his rights was notified of the final judgment handed down at the domestic level.  This rule guarantees legal certainty and stability once a decision is adopted.  Absent a final judgment, as in the cases covered in this report, Article 46(2) stipulates that the six-month rule does not apply when there is no final judgment because due process was not afforded, access to remedies under domestic law was denied or a final judgment has been unduly delayed.  In such cases, Article 38 of the Commission’s Regulations stipulates that the deadline for presentation of a petition “shall be within a reasonable period of time, in the Commission’s judgment, as from the date on which the alleged violation of rights has occurred, considering the circumstances of each specific case." 

75.            The Commission considers that with the climate of fear prevalent among the people at that time and because of the impunity and the inefficacy of the judicial system for investigation of the human rights violations and punishment of the guilty parties, the petitions in these cases were presented on time and within a reasonable period of time.  Considering these factors, the Commission finds that the rule requiring timely presentation was fulfilled. 

3.            Characterization of the facts alleged 

76.            Under Article 47 of the American Convention, a petition is inadmissible if it does not meet the requirements stipulated in Article 46, or if it (1) does not state facts that tend to establish a violation, or (2) is manifestly groundless. Each of the cases under study concerns, inter alia, extrajudicial execution, unlawful detention, and an attempt against the physical integrity of one or more persons, perpetrated by Civil Patrolmen or military commissioners, organizations acting under the auspices and with the tolerance of the State, as will be shown.  Because these aspects of the petitions do not appear to be without grounds or out of order, the Commission considers them admissible in accordance with the requirements established in Article 47(b) and (c) of the American Convention. 

4.            Duplication of proceedings and res judicata 

77.            Nothing in the case file suggests that the subject of the petition is pending in another international proceeding for settlement or that it is substantially the same as one previously examined by the Commission or by another international organization.  Therefore, the requirements stipulated in Articles 46(1)(c) and 47(d) of the Convention are satisfied. 


78.            In accordance with Article 48(1)(f) of the Convention, in each of the cases under examination, the Commission placed itself at the disposal of the interested parties with a view to finding a friendly settlement based on respect for the human rights upheld in the American Convention.  None of the parties expressed any interest in instituting the procedure within the time frame given.  Therefore, since the parties were given the opportunity to avail themselves of the procedure and effectively declined it, the Commission will now examine the merits of the matter in this report. 


A.            Initial considerations 

79.            As previously stated, the Commission decided to combine the cases under study in this report, since the facts alleged by the petitioners are extrajudicial executions and attempted extrajudicial executions alleged to have been committed by members of the so called Civil Patrols or military commissioners, all under similar circumstances and within the same time period.   This analysis cannot discount the overall scenario as regards the right to life during the period in question and the social phenomenon that the Civil Patrols represented in Guatemala. 

80.            Violations of the right to life in the form of extrajudicial executions and assaults perpetrated by agents of the State were common in Guatemala from 1990 to 1992.  This section is a general account of the origin, objectives and functioning of the PACs, the extrajudicial executions during that period, and a brief examination of the characteristics of that practice and the types of persons selected as victims. 

1.            The Civil Patrols (PAC)[28] 

81.            The Civil Patrols emerged in the early 1980s as groups of civilians organized “forcibly by the military, which wanted to isolate the guerrilla movement and control its communities.”[29]  In April 1983, Government Agreement 222-83 legally recognized them by creating the Office of the National Chief of Civil Defense Coordination and Control.[30]  

82.            Under that agreement, the PAC were hierarchically subordinate to the military authorities. The first paragraph in the preamble of the Agreement states that “to protect the honorable and hardworking people of the country from the destruction wrought by the subversive movement, the Guatemalan Army has organized the PAC, especially among the towns in the country’s interior.” The second paragraph of the preamble states that “in order to regulate the organization, operation and control of the PAC, the proper head office must be created with nationwide jurisdiction.  The necessary legal document so ordering must be decreed to that end.”  Article 2 states that the Minister of National Defense will issue a body of regulations and the orders he deems appropriate to organize and operate the head office created under that decree.[31] 

83.            In 1986, under Decree Law 19-86, the PAC came to be called “Voluntary Civil Defense Committees.” As noted, “the change was in name only, since the purpose of these organizations continued to be the same; they continued to be part of the Army’s counterinsurgency effort and their members remained entirely answerable to the military.”[32]  The United Nations Independent Expert for Guatemala found that “Contrary to what is indicated by the official name of the Voluntary Self-defense Committees, many inhabitants of the rural areas continue to be compelled to join the ranks of what are in fact patrols, which have become an institutionalized element of uncontrollable violence…”[33] 

84.            Decree 143-96 officially disbanded the PACs in 1996, pursuant to the “Agreement on the Strengthening of the Civil Authority and Function of the Army in a Democratic Society.”[34]  

85.            The PACs were thus a paramilitary force, established by law, and always answerable to the Army.  “Their operations were always planned and controlled by the military.”[35] 

86.            The main objectives of the PAC were to marshal the civilian population against the guerrilla movements and to gain physical and psychological control over the population. The PAC phenomenon thus had an enormous impact on Guatemalan social structures, especially in rural areas where the majority are indigenous people.[36] 

87.            The Guatemalan population was heavily involved in the PAC system. “There are no official figures on the number of men in the PAC.  However, around 1982-1983 they numbered some 900,000 campesinos between the ages of 15 and 60; this was some 80% of the male population in indigenous rural areas. Under the administration of Vinicio Cerezo (1986-1990) PAC membership dropped to 500,000, and was at around 375,000 by the time of their dissolution.”[37]  

88.            The members of the PAC, known as “patrulleros” [patrolmen], were answerable to the patrol officer or chief.  The vast majority of these patrol officers or chiefs were appointed by the military commanders in their jurisdictions.  Pro-military communities nominated their own patrol chiefs.  In either case, however, “the appointment had to be cleared by the military commander for the area.” “Patrolmen were registered by means of an identification card issued at the military posts.”  The army supplied the patrolmen with military instruction, ideological indoctrination and arms.   The patrolmen worked with the army as informants, in pursuits, in counterinsurgency operations, captures, interrogations, torture and extrajudicial executions.[38] 

89.            The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has stated the following in this regard:

… the civil patrols enjoyed an institutional relationship with the Army, performed activities in support of the armed forces’ functions, and, moreover, received resources, weapons, training and direct orders from the Guatemalan Army and operated under its supervision.  A number of human rights violations, including summary and extrajudicial executions and forced disappearances of persons, have been attributed to those patrols.[39] 

90.            While on paper membership was voluntary, in practice recruitment was often done by force; PAC membership at times became a survival mechanism for the civilian population.[40] “People were pressured into joining the PAC by means of coercion, accusations and death threats, even against family members. These threats were the most effective mechanism in enlisting men from the communities and then using those men to put into place a system for controlling families.  The system that controlled daily life made it very difficult for people to resist PAC membership.”[41] 

91.            The Civil Patrols gained enormous physical and psychological control over their members and the communities as a whole.  The Commission has stated the following in this regard: 

Firstly, in most cases … they [the PAC] are neither answerable to nor controlled by the community’s democratically elected civilian authorities, which makes them an alternative power that heightens tension and the internal division within a community. 

Secondly, when they are beyond the control of the democratic power structure, they become alternative centers of local power and favoritism, engage in unlawful activities and illegally usurp powers for their own personal prestige or advantage, relying heavily on their real or purported connection with army authorities or security forces. Rather than creating a sense of calm, they become a cause for fear and anxiety in the community.  In remote areas where armed irregular movements are still active, the civilian reaction against the self-defense patrols reduces the civilian population’s support of counter-insurgency operations and traps the people between two opposing sides.  The Army interprets the half-hearted support it gets as evidence of collaboration with the guerrillas and punishes the people.[42] 

92.            In this same vein, the report of the Commission on Historical Clarification states the following: “As part of a model of total control, the Army gave discretionary authority to patrol chiefs.  The conduct and lives of the other patrolmen and of the population as a whole depended on the military authority, whether through the soldiers themselves or through the patrol chiefs and commissioners. The sanctions system was part of that control model and a way for patrolmen to learn torture techniques, which they then inflicted upon the population.”[43]  Thus, “punishment was used repeatedly in hundreds of Guatemalan communities, where the patrolmen themselves replicated the torture methods learned from the military.  The intimidation, threats and cruel treatment were used in the communities as a warning to those who refused either to do their respective patrol time or to join the PAC…”[44] Also, “the human rights violations were intended to instill terror in the population and were part of the State’s counter-insurgency strategy.  The patrolmen’s activities fit into the counter-insurgency strategy.  In general, they acted on express orders from the military or exercised the discretionary authority that the Army delegated to them for surveillance and policing, arrests and armed operations.  Their activities even included the killing and torture of persons, the destruction of communities, rapes and inhumane acts targeting former combatants, to name only some of the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.”[45] 

93.            The Commission will briefly mention the military commissioners, as they are closely linked to the PAC.  The institution of “military commissioners” was created in July 1938.[46]  When the PAC were created (1981) the military commissioners, because of their close ties to the army, generally took on the functions of Civil Patrol chiefs as well.  Some of the activities performed included “collaborating in military recruitment, the army information network, control and surveillance of the civilian population, pursuit of criminals, apprehension of the victims, interrogations and torture, execution of women and children, participation in counter-insurgency operations, use of secret graveyards, collaboration with landowners, resolution of personal problems, and the like.”[47] 

94.            We thus maintain that, as the Court held, “the acquiescence of the Sate of Guatemala in the perpetration of such activities by the Civil Patrols indicates that those patrols should be deemed to be agents of the State and that the actions they perpetrated should therefore be imputable to the State.”[48]  In that same vein, the CEH found that: 

Regardless of patrolmen’s conduct and their culpability as the immediate authors of the violations committed against the people, Guatemala is responsible for the human rights violations committed by the Civil Patrols because it promoted and legitimized them.  By way of the Guatemalan Army, the State established patrols in those areas where the guerrilla presence was greatest, thus involving the civilian population in the armed conflict.


The State is responsible for the violations committed by the PAC in that the latter were organized by the State, acted on its orders, by the authority it delegated to them, or with its acquiescence, knowledge or tolerance, and were under the State’s hierarchical control and oversight.  The testimony received by the CEH indicates that PAC members’ involvement in many acts of violence was mandatory and refusal to participate could lead to a patrolman’s death or torture. The absolute authority that the Army gave to the patrolmen as part of the strategy of terror led them to commit violations of all types.  The State is also to blame for the failure to investigate, prosecute or punish the individuals responsible in each case.[49] 

2.            Characteristics of extrajudicial executions in Guatemala in 1990-91 

95.            Extrajudicial execution was used in Guatemala during the armed conflict: 

Though the systematic practice of arbitrary execution, agents of the State physically wiped out its opponents.  In both rural and urban areas, its goal was to use terror to suppress, silence and control the population as a whole.[50] 

96.            As will be explained, these types of executions were a regular occurrence in Guatemala in 1990 and 1991.  The procedures followed were similar and identifiable. 

97.            Reports from this period reveal that Guatemala offered little protection of and few guarantees for the right to life.  In its Annual Report 1989-90, the Commission underscored the fact that the period covered in that report witnessed “the most serious increase in violence and human rights violations during the term of President Cerezo.”[51]  The Commission cited the many petitions it had received and the number of reported abductions, disappearances and extrajudicial executions recorded almost daily, in some cases involving multiple victims.[52]  In its Annual Report 1990-91, the Commission reported that the human rights situation in Guatemala had deteriorated,[53] and that most of the Guatemala-related cases that the Commission was processing were petitions alleging extrajudicial executions, disappearances and unlawful detentions.[54] At the national level, the Human Rights Ombudsman reported that 556 petitions related to extrajudicial executions were processed in 1990 and 432 in 1991.[55] The figures on extrajudicial executions reported by nongovernmental organizations either matched the Ombudsman’s figures or were significantly higher.[56]   

98.            While some executions were indiscriminate, i.e., no distinction was made for the victim’s sex, age, ethnic origin, political opinion or any other factor, “the trend of the late 1980s, which was selective arbitrary executions, continued in the period from 1990 to 1996….[57]   Selective executions were those that occurred “when the victim was predetermined or unmistakably and specifically selected … be it an individual, a community or a sector…”.[58]   

99.            The cases and reports from this period reflect a common modus operandi in the commission of violations of the right to life:  

They are carried out openly at any time of day or night, in any place in Guatemala, and without any concern for eyewitnesses.  The kidnappers use cars or trucks without license plates or with stolen plates.  Nobody, and even less the police, does anything to prevent such acts.  The investigations do not lead anywhere and the responsible organs blame each other for the failure of the investigation.[59] 


[T]he corpses found were located in different parts of the country, the majority with bullet or knife wounds, some with signs of torture…[60] 

100.            Generally speaking, the arbitrary executions were carried out in two ways.  In some cases, a group of unidentified, armed men, in civilian dress or occasionally in uniform, approached the victim at his home, workplace or on the street, and frequently in the presence of witnesses, and attacked the victim right there. In other cases, the victim was abducted from these places, again often in the presence of witnesses; the body was discovered later, within hours or days, frequently showing signs of torture.[61]  Also, as the CEH reported, “[m]ost arbitrary executions committed by State agents were combined with other actions and stratagems intended to obstruct a judicial inquiry, thereby heightening the atmosphere of impunity.”[62]   

101.            The PAC carried out numerous extrajudicial executions in their own and neighboring communities.[63] The arbitrary executions carried out by the PAC were done, in some instances, when an individual was either accused or suspected of being a guerrilla, while on patrol with army soldiers or without them, when someone refused to go on patrol or to join the PAC, when someone violated the PAC disciplinary code or simply for personal reasons, given the enormous power and impunity that the PAC members had within the communities.[64]  “Witnesses say that most often, those actions were carried out even though there was nothing in the victim’s history to implicate him in guerrilla military actions.   Some victims may have been members of the guerrilla infrastructure in many communities (FIL); all the same, the executions were indiscriminate vis-à-vis any suspected person.  They were a show of force staged when victims were completely defenseless and often in the presence of their families.”[65] 

3.            Participation of State agents 

102.            Although the judicial branch of government was derelict and did not respond with an appropriate and effective investigation of activities involving suspected extrajudicial executions, the participation of State agents in the extrajudicial executions has been established because of the characteristics of the executions and their modus operandi, complaints and eyewitness statements, the abundant testimony gathered and analyzed by various national and international organizations, and reliable investigations whose reports have been made public. 

103.            In ascertaining how and to what extent the State is responsible for this practice during the conflict period, the Commission for Historical Clarification concluded that “the State repeatedly and systematically committed violations of the right to life … made all the worse in many cases by terrible brutality, as happened, for example, when abandoned bodies showed obvious signs of torture, mutilation, multiple bullet wounds or burns.”  Overall, according to that Commission’s data, “the Army was responsible for 86% of all arbitrary executions.”[66]  “The PAC were responsible for 21%, and the military commissioners for 11%”.  “Other State security forces (the National Police, Treasury Guard, and others) accounted for 4%.”[67]  (This percentage is figured on the total number of arbitrary executions, without factoring in whether the executions were the work of one or more than one individual). 

104.            These general findings are consistent with the patterns of the executions and the reports for the specific period under study.  For example, in July 1990 the Human Rights Ombudsman reported that “…the majority of the complaints at the Ombudsman’s Office were allegations against the Army, the National Police and the Civil Patrols.”[68]  In its 1991 Annual Report, the Commission expressed concern over the number of petitions received alleging violations of the right to life by the Army and Civil Patrols, and the inability of the proper authorities to control or punish members of the security forces that appeared to have had a direct hand in a number of human rights violations.[69]  The United Nations Independent Expert for Guatemala reported that “the perpetrators of such crimes, who allegedly belong or are linked to the armed forces, enjoy almost total immunity from prosecution.”[70] 

105.            One key enabler of this practice was the fact that the appropriate authorities were unable or unwilling to respond to the executions as the law required.  The Commission found that during the period the organs for the administration of justice called upon to investigate human rights violations and punish those responsible did nothing, revealing how ineffective they were in preventing or responding to those violations.[71] The judicial inquiries instituted into the repeated complaints of summary executions “have in practice yielded no tangible results, as in most cases the courts or security organizations have failed to identify the perpetrators of the acts of violence.”[72]  The few people who have appeared before the courts charged with involvement in violations of the right to life were not punished, “on some occasions because of a lack of political will and on others because of shortcomings in the administration of justice.”[73]  

4.            Selection of victims  

106.            Many of the victims of the selective extrajudicial executions committed during 1990-91 were chosen because of their participation in social and political organizations.[74]  During that period, the Commission and other sources reported the unrelenting campaigns of violence and intimidation targeted against human rights activists,[75] especially members of the Runujel Junam Ethnic Communities Council (CERJ);[76] members of unions and organized labor;[77] members of the university communities;[78] the indigenous population, particularly in rural areas;[79] the campesinos;[80] the press;[81] members of the political parties and persons somehow connected to the country’s political life; [82] members of community services and religious organizations,[83] and judicial personnel. [784]  In many cases, those executed and/or persons close to them had been threatened in the past. [85]  In other cases, the threats were carried out despite the precautions taken–which in some cases even included going into self-imposed exile for a time.[86] 

107.            Selectiveness was part of a broader strategy aimed at instilling terror in the public.  As the Commission for Historical Clarification pointed out in connection with the country’s urban areas: 

One of the preferred State terrorism tactics appears to have been killing, a fact  widely known [and] understood … This tactic is preferred for the simple reason that it instills more fear.  The assassination or disappearance of leaders can heighten the sense of vulnerability, the sense that leadership and direction are lacking and, of course, confusion.[87] 

108.            The same terror tactics were used in rural areas.  “In the country’s interior, the systematic elimination of the traditional leaders, religious and cooperative leaders, created disarray, a sense of vulnerability and disorder within the community.”[88] 

109.            In other cases, the violations were less selective, as victims could be men, women, the elderly or children.[89]  The great majority of those executed during the course of the conflict, approximately 86.5% of the victims, were from the Mayan population.[90] A large percentage of the victims were members of the rural communities, including farm workers and campesinos.[91] During the armed conflict, thousands of people were summarily executed based on accusations that they had some connection to the guerrilla movement, although the charge was never proven.[92]  Others were summarily executed because they did not want to join the PAC patrols or had stopped participating.[93] Victims were not always selected for their alleged activities; some were singled out because of family members’ political or social activities or simply because they were present when unknown armed persons appeared in the home or work place in search of a family member.[94]  Conversely, some were selected precisely because they were apolitical.  Here again, the purpose was to instill terror, to provoke a reaction: ‘if they’d kill someone like that, they’ll kill anyone.’[95] 

B.            Facts established with regard to the six cases under study  

1.            Weighing the evidence 

110.            In weighing the evidence and establishing the facts, the Commission has taken into account all the information supplied by the parties, in particular the statements of witnesses and family members and any judicial inquiry there might have been, as well as the information mentioned earlier concerning the origin, functioning and modus operandi of the PAC, military commissioners and the practice of summary executions in Guatemala at the time the events occurred.  As the Inter-American Court held, when a governmental practice of violations has been shown, “direct evidence, whether testimonial or documentary, is not the only type of evidence that may be legitimately considered … circumstantial evidence, indicia, and presumptions may be considered, so long as they lead to conclusions consistent with the facts.”[96]   

111.            Thus, in those cases where a pattern of conduct is present, circumstantial evidence, indicia and conclusions drawn from the evidence may be particularly significant in establishing the international responsibility of a State for violation(s) committed by its agents.[97]  

112.            As shown with the preceding analysis, the practice of extrajudicial executions in Guatemala was compounded by the climate of impunity prevailing during the period and the judiciary’s unwillingness to conduct serious and effective investigations into the complaints of human rights violations filed with the courts and to punish those responsible.[98]   In this way, if a pattern or practice can be shown to have been carried out by the State or done with its acquiescence, and if the violation alleged in a specific case can be linked to that practice, then that link further defines the nature and scope of the petitions brought,[99] and helps establish the veracity of the facts alleged.[100] 

113.            The first consideration in weighing the evidence and establishing the facts in the cases under study is that fifteen people named as victims died violently when they were extrajudicially executed.  Another seven were the victims of attempted extrajudicial executions and were gravely wounded.  Had it not been for the prompt aid they received from the relatives and friends who took them to the hospital, they would have died.  The State never challenged these allegations; in some cases, the information it supplied corroborated the cause of death claimed in the petitions. 

2.         Facts presented and their connection to the practice of extrajudicial executions  

114.            As described earlier, in 1990 and 1991 hundreds of people were victims of extrajudicial executions in Guatemala.  The pattern of the executions was similar: they were carried out systematically, and victims were typically selected because of their social or political activities.  It was known that the executions were carried out by members of the security forces or by persons acting in their name or with their acquiescence, whether it was the PAC or military commissioners.  Then, too, the Guatemalan judicial system as a whole was not an effective tool to guarantee respect for human rights, especially the right to life. 

115.            The extrajudicial executions alleged in all the cases were committed in rural areas where the Civil Patrols had a heavy presence and wielded enormous power.  In all cases the victims, before being killed, had received threats from members of the PAC, either because they refused to join the patrols or had left them. Of the fifteen victims of extrajudicial execution, at least nine were indigenous men.  Also, of the fifteen victims of extrajudicial execution, at least seven were members of the CERJ, consistent with the pattern at that time, which was to persecute and intimidate members of human rights organizations, especially members of the CERJ.[101]  Similarly, eight of the extrajudicial executions occurred in San Pedro de Jocopilas.  In almost all the cases, the crime was perpetrated by a group of persons in civilian dress, always heavily armed and acting with apparent impunity.  In all these cases, the modus operandi of the perpetrators of the extrajudicial executions was to go to the place where the intended victim was and execute him immediately, even if others were present.     


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[11] See, in general, IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1990-91, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.79. rev.1, Doc. 12, 22 February 1991, Chapter IV, “Guatemala”, p. 444 et seq., Annual Report of the IACHR 1991, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.81, Doc. 6 rev. 1, February 14, 1992, Chapter IV, “Guatemala”, p. 204 et seq.

[12] IACHR, Annual Report 1991, supra, p. 210.

[13] “Report of the [United Nations’] Independent Expert, Mr. Christian Tomuschat, on the human rights situation in Guatemala” [hereinafter “Tomuschat Report 1992”], E/CN.4/1992/5, January 21, 1992, para. 189.

[14] Ibid, para. 140.

[15] Commission for Historical Clarification, Guatemala, Memoria del Silencio [“Memory of the Silence”, hereinafter referred to as the “CEH Report”], “Las Violaciones de los Derechos Humanos y los Hechos de Violencia” [Human Rights Violations and Acts of Violence], Vol. III, p. 151.  The mandate given to the Commission for Historical Clarification at the time it was established was “to shed as objective, fair and impartial a light as possible on the human rights violations and acts of violence that have caused so much suffering among the Guatemalan people in connection with the armed conflict”, to issue a report on its investigations and findings; and “to make specific recommendations calculated to foster peace and national comity in Guatemala…”.

[16] CEH Report, “Conclusions and Recommendations”, para. 10.

[17] CIDH, Annual Report of the IACHR 1989-1990, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.77 rev. 1, Doc. 7, May 17, 1990, p. 157.

[18] CEH Report, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], Chapter II, Vol. 2, para. 356.

[19] IACtHR, Velásquez Rodríguez Case, Judgment of July 29, 1988, paras. 56-68; Fairén Garbi and Solís Corrales Case, Judgment of March 15, 1989, paras. 80-88 and 90-93 92; Godínez Cruz Case, Judgment of January 20, 1989, paras. 59-70; Exceptions to the exhaustion of domestic remedies (Art. 46(1), 46(2)(a) and 46(2)(b) American Convention on Human Rights) Advisory Opinion OC-11/90 of August 10, 1990, Ser. A No. 11, para 34.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1989-1990, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.77 rev. 1, Doc. 7, 17 May 1990 and CEH Report.

[23] “1992 Tomuschat Report”, para. 184.

[24] Ibid, paragraphs 356-57.

[25] Ibid, para. 357.

[26] CEH Report, p 187, para. 1282.

[27] See, IACtHR, OC-11/90, supra, paragraphs 33-34; see, for example, IACHR, Report 6/94, Case 10.772, El Salvador, published in the Annual Report of the IACHR 1993, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.85, Doc. 9 rev., February 11, 1994, pp. 181, 185-186.

[28] For a more in-depth analysis of the Civil Patrols, see: Decree-Law 19-86, January 10, 1986; Guatemalan Congressional Decree 143-96 of November 28, 1996; Peace Agreements, 1996-1998, Agreement on the Strengthening of the Civil Authority and Function of the Army in a Democratic Society, September 19, 1996; Persecution by Proxy: The Civil Patrols in Guatemala.  The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, 1993; Institutional Violence: Civil Patrols in Guatemala, 1993-1994.  The Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, 1994; Civil Patrols in Guatemala.  An Americas Watch Report, 1988; Closing the Space: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices; Annual Reports of Amnesty International, 1984, 1985 and 1986;  Report of the Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances, United Nations Human Rights Commission, 1993;  Report of the Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances, United Nations Human Rights Commission, 1991; Commission for Historical Clarification, Guatemala, Memoria del Silencio, Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, Report Inter-diocesan Project to recover the memory of the past, Guatemala Nunca Mas [hereinafter, “ODHAG, Guatemala Nunca Más”] .

[29] CEH Report, “Las Patrullas de Auto Defensa Civil” [The Civil Patrols], Volume II, p. 182.

[30] In fact, the PAC have existed since 1981 and operated in conjunction and in coordination with the Army on the Victoria 82 and Firmeza 83 campaign.  See Diario de Centro América, April 14, 1983.

[31] For its part, Decree 160-83 created the Fund for Military Protection for Civilian Defense, “for the sole purpose of providing economic assistance, in the event of death, to personnel of the PAC, provided the member dies in the line of duty, as certified by the Chiefs of Staff of National Defense.”

[32] CEH Report, “Las Patrullas de Auto Defensa Civil” [The Civil Patrols], Volume II, p. 184.

[33] Tomuschat Report 1992, para. 193.

[34] Guatemalan Congressional Decree 143-96, November 28, 1996, rescinded Decree Law 19-86, which legally established the Civil Defense Committees; one paragraph of the preamble to that decree states the following: “Some Civil Patrols, now called the voluntary civil defense committees, have strayed from their original purpose over the years… performing missions that properly pertain to the regular organs of the State; in exceeding their authority, members of those committees repeatedly perpetrated human rights violations.”

[35] CEH Report “Las Patrullas de Auto Defensa Civil” [The Civil Patrols], Volume II, p. 200.

[36] “Furthermore, the coercive methods used to form the PAC in the Mayan communities undermined the latters’ system of authorities and institutions, their mechanisms for social control, the rules and procedures they used to regulate society and to settle conflicts.  In so doing, they altered the Mayan communities’ social, economic, religious and cultural values.  Compulsory participation in the PAC, with long shifts that cut into the daily activities of the patrolmen and the communities, altered social life as a whole…  As the PAC modus operandi, patrolmen were required to make lists of alleged 'enemies', give information, hand over suspects, turn in neighbors or family members.  The effect was to break down ties of community solidarity and create conflict, thereby seriously affecting the integrity of indigenous and rural communities.”  See, CEH Report. Volume II.

[37]  Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, Report Interdiocesan Project to Recover the Memory of the Past, Guatemala Nunca Más (hereinafter “ODHAG, Guatemala Nunca Más”), Volume II, p 119.

[38] The PAC were also a low-cost system of surveillance and repression since they represented little in the way of cost to either the Army or the State: scant weaponry in many cases, no salaries, and so on. Furthermore, in many places they were used as a form of forced labor, especially for jobs involving provisioning, infrastructure works, and the like.  See, “ODHAG, Guatemala Nunca Más”, Volume II, p. 119.

[39] IACtHR, Blake v. Guatemala Case, Judgment of January 24, 1998, para.76.

40 The following has been said in this regard: “Despite the intrusion in a daily routine that the PAC represented (lost days of work, dangerous tracking operations, internal mistrust, and the like), in much of the testimony compiled personal and family safety and the chance of surviving in an environment hostile to any criticism of the imposed military system were among the main reasons cited for participating in the PAC.”  See “ODHAG, Guatemala Nunca Más”, Volume II, p. 126.

[41] “ODHAG, Guatemala Nunca Más”, Volume II, p. 124.

[42] IACHR, Fourth Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala, 1993, p. 60.

[43] CEH Report, “Las Patrullas de Auto Defensa Civil” [The Civil Patrols], Volume II.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] See, Diario Oficial [Official Gazette], Guatemala, volume XXIII, No. 19, July 20, 1938. It reports that they are “agents of the military authority who discharge their mission within the villages, hamlets and towns where the organization of the militia necessitates their presence.” Article 1 states that “They shall carry out the orders they receive from their immediate superiors in all matters pertaining exclusively to call-ups, summons, recruitment, apprehension of criminals, cases of persons who fail to respond to summons, deserters and, in general, military orders.”

[47] CEH Report, “Los Comisionados Militares” [The Military Commissioners], Chapter V, Vol II, p. 169.

[48] See, Blake v. Guatemala Judgment, para. 78.

[49] CEH Report, “Los Comisionados Militares” [The Military Commissioners], Chapter V, Vol. II.

[50] CEH Report, “Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], Chapter  II, Vol. 2, para. 223.

[51] IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1989-90, supra, p. 161.

[52] Ibid, p. 150-151.

[53] IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1990-91, supra, p. 452.

[54] Ibid, pp. 445-446.

[55] Human Rights Ombudsman, Los Derechos Humanos: Un Compromiso por la Justicia y la Paz [Human Rights: a commitment to justice and peace] (1992), p. 24.

[56] See IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1990-91 supra, p. 445; Annual Report of the IACHR 1991, p. 206.

[57] CEH Report, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], Chapter II, Vol. 2, paras. 127,155.

[58] Ibid, para. 127.

[59] IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1989-90, supra, p. 154.

[60] IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1990-1991, supra, p. 445.

[61] “Report of the Independent Expert, Mr, Christian Tomuschat, on the human rights situation in Guatemala” [“Tomuschat Report 1991]", E/CN.4/1991/5, January 11, 1991, para. 115.

[62] CEH Report, “Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], para. 264.

[63] CEH Report, “Las Patrullas de Auto Defensa Civil” [The Civil Patrols], p. 347.

[64] Ibid.

[65] “ODHAG, Guatemala Nunca Más” Volume II, p. 134.

[66] CEH, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], Chapter II, Vol. 2, para. 161; see, in general, paras. 171-191 (where the various types of executions perpetrated by the Army are described).

[67] Ibid, paras. 161-62; see, in general, paras. 192-210 (where the various types of executions carried out by the PAC and the military commissioners are described); paras. 211-16 (describing executions by the National Police and Treasury Guard); and paras. 217-22 (where executions by the Army-linked death squads and police are described).

[68] IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1990-91, supra, p. 445.

[69] IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1991, supra, p. 205.

[70] Tomuschat Report 1991, para. 126; see also Tomuschat Report 1992, para. 105 (noting the role torture plays in the violent deaths denounced and, in a number of cases, the evidence of the security forces’ involvement).

[71] Ibid. pp. 163 and 167; see, in general, “Conclusions and Recommendations”, Conclusions, paras. 10, 56, 94 and 95; “Denial of Justice”, para. 434.

[72] Tomuschat Report 1991, para. 122.

[73] Ibid, para. 126; see also, Tomuschat Report, paras. 140-41.

[74] See, in general, CEH Report, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], Chapter II, Vol. 2, para. 155; Tomuschat Report 1991, paras. 117-20.

[75] See IACHR, Annual Report of the IACHR 1989-90, supra, p. 150; Annual Report of the IACHR 1990-91, supra, p. 449; Annual Report of the IACHR 1991, supra, p. 206; Tomuschat Report 1991, p. 120.

[76] “The first organization established to defend the rights of Guatemala’s Mayan population, CERJ’s mandate was to disseminate knowledge among the Indian communities of the rights specified in the Guatemalan Constitution …” It served as a means of preserving “ethnic culture and identity.” See IACHR, Annual Report 1990-91, pp. 448; Annual Report 1991, pp. 206-208; Tomuschat Report 1992, para. 90.

[77] See IACHR, Annual Report 1989-90, p. 150; Annual Report 1991, pp. 206-208; CEH, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], Chapter II, Vol. 2, para. 308; Tomuschat Report 1992, para. 91; Tomuschat Report 1991, para. 117.

[78] See IACHR, Annual Report 1989-90, p. 150 and 151; CEH Report, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], para. 308; Tomuschat Report 1992, para. 92; Tomuschat Report 1991, para. 117.

[79] See IACHR, Annual Report 1991, pp.206-208.

[80] See CEH, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], para. 308; Tomuschat Report 1992, para. 94; Tomuschat Report 1991, para. 117.

[81] See IACHR, Annual Report 1989-90, pp. 156-157; Annual Report 1991, pp. 206-208.

[82] See IACHR, Annual Report 1990-91, pp. 440-51; CEH Report, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], para. 308; Tomuschat Report 1991, paras. 117, 119.

[83] See IACHR, Annual Report 1991, pp. 206-208, 210; CEH Report, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], para. 308; Tomuschat Report 1992, para. 93.

[84] See CEH Report, “Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], paras. 356-360.

[85] See, in general, Ibid, paras. 224-36.

[86] See Ibid, para. 235.

[87] Ibid, para. 236 (citing Carlos Figueroa Ibarra, El Recurso del Miedo: Ensayo sobre el Estado y el terror en Guatemala, Programa Centroamericano de Investigaciones, first edition, San José).

[88] Ibid, para. 240.

[89] See, in general, Ibid, para. 295.

[90] See Ibid, para. 293, and graph 19.

[91] See Ibid, para. 308; Tomuschat Report 1992, para. 94.

[92] See CEH Report,Las Ejecuciones Arbitrarias” [Arbitrary Executions], paras. 173-78; 205-08.

[93] Ibid, p. 347.

[94] See, in general, Ibid, para. 299.

[95] Ibid, para. 237.

[96] IACtHR, Velásquez Rodríguez Case (Merits), supra, paras. 127-30; Godínez Cruz Case (Merits), Judgment of January 20, 1989, Ser. C No. 5, paras. 133-36; Fairén Garbi and Solís Corrales Case (Merits), Judgment of March 15, 1989, Ser. C No. 6, paras. 130-33; Gangaram Panday Case (Merits), Judgment of January 21, 1994, para. 49.

[97] See, in general, Velásquez Rodríguez Case (Merits), supra, paras. 134, 172-73.

[98] CEH Report, para. 264.

[99] See, IACHR, Report 5/97 (On Admissibility), Case 11.227, Colombia, published in Annual Report of the IACHR 1996, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.95, Doc. 7 rev., March 14, 1997, paras. 26-38.

[100] With respect to the crime of forced disappearance, the Inter-American Court ruled that if it is shown that a State either carried out or tolerated this practice and if a specific case can be linked to that practice, the allegations in that case will have been proven, so long as the evidence presented on both points meets the standard of proof required in such cases.  See, in general, Velásquez Rodríguez Case (Merits), supra, para. 126; Godínez Cruz Case (Merits), supra, para. 132; Fairén Garbi and Solís Corrales Case (Merits), supra, para. 129.

[101] In its 1990 Annual Report, the Commission pointed out that members of the CERJ “have been under attack since its creation in 1988, and to the present some 13 members have been murdered or disappeared.”