1. The Commission has prepared two special reports on the situation of human rights in Guatemala. The first (OEA/Ser.L/V/II.53 doc. 21, rev. 2) was approved by the Commission on October 13, 1981, and considers the situation of human rights in that country up to that date, and the second (OEA/Ser.L/V/II.61 doc. 47) was approved by the Commission on October 5, 1983, and describes the situation of human rights only after March 23, 1982, date of the coup d’état which installed General Efrain Ríos Montt as President. In addition, the Commission has included in its annual reports to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States general summaries of the evolution of the human rights problem in that country.
2. With respect to the events leading up to the period covered by this report, on August 8, 1983, in a climate of unease and lack of confidence in the electoral process announced by General Efrain Ríos Montt, a coup d’état occurred, led by General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, the then Minister of Defense. The leader of that movement committed himself to governing Guatemala in accordance with the norms contained in the Fundamental Statute of Government promulgated by the previous regime in April of 1982, to implement a program of return to democratic and constitutional government, to promptly convoke elections, to suspend the special courts, to continue the counter insurgency war, and to meet Guatemala’s international commitments. He also called for the immediate lifting of the state of emergency which had been in force during a large part of the government of General Ríos Montt.
3. Despite the new Government’s declaration that it would observe the international commitments assumed by Guatemala and the norms contained in the Fundamental Statute of Government, the Commission has continued to receive denunciations of grave violations of human rights, attributed to the new administration of General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, and even more regrettably, it has verified the reappearance of the death squads, which were almost fully controlled under the administration of General Efrain Ríos Montt.
4. As a result of the reactivation of the death squads under the Government of General Mejía Víctores, the phenomenon of disappearances of persons in Guatemala takes on serious proportions.
According to information in the possession of the Commission, the number of recorded cases of disappearances of persons in Guatemala between August 8, 1983 and April 30, 1984 totals 635 cases, which is an average of almost 80 disappearances per month.
In reaction to these events, various nongovernmental human rights organizations have initiated international campaigns to spur awareness of this situation and to bring pressure to stop this inhumane practice. Deserving particular mention are the World Campaign for Life, Freedom from Forced and Involuntary Disappearances, Disappeared while Awaiting Trial, and the Sentenced by the Special Courts of Guatemala.
Also deserving special mention is the work carried out in this field by the Working Group on Forced and Involuntary Disappearances of the United Nations, which, despite its outstanding work, nevertheless, has not received satisfactory replies from the Government of Guatemala, as can be seen from a report which recounts that of 1,382 registered cases, only 12 replies have been received from the Government of Guatemala, and government replies have only clarified 9 cases.
In this regard, one of Guatemala’s human rights organizations sent the following remarks to the Commission:
It is normal in our country to see the families of victims of disappearances or kidnappings file through the morgues of the hospitals, funeral homes or cemeteries, seeking their loved one among the hundreds of dear who turn up on roadsides, in ditches or in clandestine cemeteries. Detention-disappearance has been practiced by the government’s security forces, on the basis of plans already established, which are based on psychological, anthropological and cultural studies of Guatemalan society … as part of a global counterinsurgency plan.
5. In the context of this violence and disregard for fundamental human rights, the “Pro-Peace Commission” was established in Guatemala with the consent of the Government, in order to investigate fully accusations of human rights violations. The Commission was made up of representatives of the University, Church, private sector, journalists, Army and the Government, and the coordinator of the Commission is the Senior Dean of the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, Dr. Eduardo Meyer Maldonado.
Unfortunately, the “Pro-Peace Commission existed for only a short time, reportedly because of the impossibility of achieving the purposes for which it was created, i.e. to attempt to deter violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and due to the increase in the number of disappeared persons, especially from among its own ranks, as is the case of the University of San Carlos, and the Commission was obligated to terminate its work.
In presenting his resignation as Coordinator of the Pro-Peace Commission, Dr. Eduardo Meyer Maldonado, Dean of the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, stated on May 22 of this year, among other things:
It is with regret that we must state that if firm measures are not taken to counter the many kidnappings or disappearances that are recorded daily in the nation, affecting members of the University community as well another sectors of society—workers, peasants, businessmen, professionals, etc.—the process of violence will degenerate into what is known in sociology as a “state of terror”, similar to that which prevailed in an alarming way under past regimes.
… We cannot continue to coordinate this Commission, since it has become a merely decorative post of little practical use, since bodies continue to be found on the roads daily and kidnappings or disappearances, in general, continue.
In addition to the Dean of the University of San Carlos of Guatemala, the metropolitan Archbishop, Monsignor Próspero Penados del Barrio, the representative of the Evangelican Churches, Minister Virgilio Zapata, and the representative of the Association of Journalists of Guatemala, Mr. Gonzalo Marroquín, also decided to resign from the Pro-Peace Commission, reportedly because of impediments to its operation and due to the absence of minimal guarantees.
6. The Commission is also concerned about the respect for the right to life following the recent discoveries of hidden burial sites; the denunciations of village bombings, especially in the area of San Marcos, in Suchitepeque, which took place between March and April of this year, and in Ixcan last February, among other examples; alleged violations of the humanitarian rights set forth in the Geneva Conventions, with respect to mistreatment, mutilation, torture, cruel treatment and execution of combatants who surrender or fall prisoner and/or who are wounded; attacks on undefended refugee villages for Guatemalans located in the Mexican state of Chiapas, visited by a Subcommittee of the IACHR in January of 1983, particularly the attack that took place on April 30 of this year in the camp called “El Chupadero” which shelters nearly 3,000 refugees, and as a result of which many were wounded and eight died.
According to data recently received by the Commission, violence has produced the greatest number of political assassinations in the past month of August, and in one of its first decisions, the recently established Constitutional Assembly had approved, unanimously, a resolution attributing the assassination of the son of a Christian Democratic representative, whose body was found on August 17, to police forces.
7. The Commission thus considers it indispensable to concern itself with the situation that has affected the University of San Carlos of Guatemala. It is a well-known fact that students, professors and workers of the University of San Carlos of Guatemala have frequently been victims of human rights violations by the last three governments of Guatemala.
The situation of the University of Guatemala has not improved under the Government of General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, and once again the victims include students, professors and administrative personnel. Below is a partial list sent to the Commission of persons connected to the University whose disappearance or assassination took place after the Government of General Mejía Víctores took office:
Dr. Gustavo Adolfo Meza Soberanis, age 26, surgeon, disappeared on September 7, 1983. The following day his sister also disappeared;
Mayra Hanneth Meza Soberania, age 23, psychology student, disappeared on September 8, 1983;
Marco Antonio Quiñonez Florez, age 33, law student, kidnapped on September 8, 1983;
Luis René Juarez, Director of the Americas Institute, disappeared on September 9, 1983;
Dr. Benjamín Rolando Orantes Zelada, veterinarian, found dead November 12, 1983;
Leonel Carrillo, Dean of the School of Chemistry and Pharmaceutics and former Dean of the University, shot dead on November 25, 1983;
Sergio Vinicio Samayoa Morales, age 29, engineering student, wounded by unidentified officials on February 1, 1984, and taken to the Roosevelt Hospital in the city of Guatemala, and that same night kidnapped from the intensive care unit by 10 armed men, found dead on February 6 on a road in the city. Also a member of an entire kidnapped family;
Natael Isaias Fuentes Monzón, age 26, student at the School of Legal and Social Sciences, disappeared in early February, 1984;
Alfredo Fernando Aguilar, age 25, student of journalism in the School of Communications Sciences, disappeared on February 3, 1984;
Jorge David Calvo Drago, age 29, student of political science and member of the Student Association. His father, Jorge Roberto Calvo Barajas was also kidnapped. Both have since disappeared;
Víctor Hugo Quintanilla, attorney. His wife has also disappeared;
Alma Livia Samayoa, dentist, kidnapped on February 19, 1984. Former member of the Senior Council of Government of the University;
Sergio Saul Linares Morales, age 31, civil engineer, professor at the School of Engineering, kidnapped on February 23, 1984. Had been a member of the Senior Council of Government of the University. His house was searched two days later by members of the Armed Forces, who removed his personal property;
Luis Rodríguez Fernándes, student of economics, kidnapped from the Roosevelt Hospital in Guatemala City where he had been taken 6 days earlier for a bullet wound.
To the events related above should be added many others that could be explained, according to reports, by the fact that the University of San Carlos of Guatemala has been considered by the Guatemalan authorities for some time as an ideological center of subversion, and has consequently been a focus of intense governmental interest and attention as regards counterinsurgency activities.
8. With respect to justice and the ineffectiveness of habeas corpus, it should be recalled that in its Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala (1983) the Commission pointed to the country’s judicial system as responsible for defects in the administration of justice, and indicated that the transitory regime established in the Fundamental Statute of Government, far from improving conditions established under the repealed Constitution of 1965, had converted the Judiciary into a more dependent, subordinate and submissive agency, and with respect to the lack of protection and observance of fundamental human rights, the Commission found that agency responsible for not carrying out or enforcing the mission of the juridical system, which had led to the discrediting and growing lack of confidence in the judiciary.
In this regard, since the person who most intensely defended the contrary thesis and sought to justify the inapplicability of habeas corpus remedies was then president of that branch, Mr. Ricardo Sagastume Vidaurre, who has been relieved of his post, in disgrace, by the new Government authorities, it is interesting to note his present declarations.
In being relieved of his post, according to the Head of State General Mejía Víctores, “To expedite the application of Justice,” in the ceremony and to General Mejía Víctores himself, whom he addressed in public, in alluding to the subject, Mr. Ricardo Sagastume Vidaurre stated the following:
With the passage of time it was necessary in various activities closely related to the administration of justice to emphasize abuses committed against the nation’s population and against the judicial authorities. Most of those abuses stemmed, and unfortunately still stem, from groups linked to police authorities and military circles. Abuses such as the attempt to force court employees to participate in civil autodefense patrols, pressure to which I was always opposed and which you denied, to imprisonment of persons without a judicial warrant, in violation of the fundamental guarantees now in force.
The remarks of the former president of the Judiciary and of the Supreme Court, illustrate a fact that was originally denied: habeas corpus remedies were ineffective during the Government of General Efrain Ríos Montt, either under the state of emergency or otherwise, and according to Mr. Sagastume’s public testimony, they continue to be so today, under the Government of General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores.
In addition, the new president of the Supreme Court, Mr. Baudilio Navarro Batras, stated on August 31, that the military authorities continued to obstruct habeas corpus remedies, and he also accused court employees of negligence in processing such writs.
Statements from reliable sources explain why the nearly one thousand habeas corpus writs presented by the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, with headquarters in Mexico, in connection with the disappearance of persons under this Government have nearly all been declared null and it likewise illustrates the lack of judicial protection against the arbitrariness to which Guatemalan citizens are subject.
9. With respect to the Special Courts, which the Commission was pleased to see dissolved by the current Government, at the beginning of its administration, the Commission had requested a review of the illegal trials and sentences passed. It should be noted with satisfaction that Decree Law 74/84 has recently been issued, by which an amnesty is given to all those sentenced by these courts and who are serving the sentences given them.
On the other hand, the Commission is concerned that by means of the above-mentioned decree such improper proceedings have been validated, obliging those granted pardon to pay civilian reparations as a result of their sentences, instead of ordering payment to them for the damage and injury of an unmerited prison term, and in the case of those executed, of a death sentence issued without the minimal guarantees of due process.
The Commission is also concerned in this regard with the situation of those arrested but not sentenced, who number approximately 300 and whose location and trial status is not known, despite the innumerable writs that their family members have brought before the courts.
10. The right to freedom and personal integrity has likewise continued to be one of most frequently violated, despite the repeal of the state of emergency at the beginning of the administration of General Mejía Víctores. Despite the repeal, illegal detentions continue to occur daily, and to thwart the protection of citizens who present writs of habeas corpus. The current government seems to have generalized the practice of declaring that persons detained by government forces are not being held in official detention centers, yet according to denunciations received by the Commission, the detainees are confined in clandestine prisons, where they are held incommunicado and submitted to torture and police interrogation without guarantees of an adequate defense, or in unfit places that are overcrowded and incompatible with human dignity.
In this regard, the Commission is aware that in the Pavon Prison Center, built for 800 prisoners, there are more than 3,500 detainees. The Commission is also concerned about the implementation of a police operation called Operativo Pulpo carried out by the National Police, to detain persons who are allegedly suspect and who do not carry personal identification documents, as a result of which 2,264 persons have been detained over a few days in violation of the right to freedom of movement within the territory of their country. According to statements of the Minister of the Interior himself, the number of detainees up to December 1983 reached 6,134 men and 1,015 women, arrested in the capital of the country, while the number of subsequent detentions is unknown.
11. With respect to the situation of political rights, the Commission is greatly satisfied by the Government’s fulfillment of its commitment to hold elections and to make efforts leading to a democratic outcome in the country. Indeed, on last July 1 an election was held in which 88 members of a Constitutional Assembly were elected. Over one thousand candidates of 17 political parties participated in the election, and a record 1.7 million Guatemalans cast their ballots, representing 70 percent of the 2.5 million registered voters in the national voter registration lists.
This event merits special attention, due to the following considerations:
a. It took place in a climate of freedom and respect by the Government of General Mejía Víctores;
b. The election and inauguration of the Constitutional Assembly is the first stage in a process to consolidate democratic institutions in Guatemala, as the Assembly’s first mission is to draft a new Constitution, the fourth in the country’s history since 1954;
c. Never before in the history of the country has there been such a massive turnout for an election;
d. No acts of violence or interference by leftist guerrilla groups took place, which could be a favorable and auspicious sign for the future government; and
e. None of the candidates or participating political parties have charged that the election was rigged, unfair or fraudulent.
The final results give the Christian Democratic Party of Guatemala the highest number of votes, 318,000 or 15.59 percent of the participating national electorate, with the Unión del Centro Nacional in second place with 269,448 votes, representing 13.20 percent of total votes. In descending order of votes received were the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional (12.02%), the Partido Revolucionario (6.98%), the Partido de Renovación Nacional, (6.35%), the Partido Democrático Institucional (5.04%), the Partido Unificación Anticomunista (2.99%); and the Frente de Unidad Revolucionaria (2.21%).
The National Constitutional Assembly was installed on August 1, and elected as its President Mr. Roberto Carpio Nicolle, from the Christian Democratic Party, who together with the new Partido Unión del Centro Nacional and the right-wing coalition of the Movimiento de Liberación Nacional and the Central Auténtica Nacionalista shared leadership positions.
It should be noted that at the inaugural ceremony, Chief of State General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores spoke in favor of “[A] democratic government and system on the basis of free and fair elections, as a result of the Guatemalan people’s dedication to a search for peace and democracy,” recalling also that the Constitutional Assembly should draft the Magna Carta and the constitutional laws of amparo and habeas corpus. Likewise, General Mejía Víctores has promised that the next elections will be free, clear and fair and that there will be no official party.
12. The information presented in this report leads the Commission to formulate the following conclusions and recommendations:
a. The greatest human rights problem confronting Guatemala is the continuous disappearance of persons, most of them prior victims of kidnappings and illegal detentions, attributed to the Government’s security forces as well as to the death squads. This situation merits the utmost attention of the Government of Guatemala, due not only to the climate of fear, insecurity and extreme anguish that it causes the population, but also due to the gravity that it implies, and with respect to which the OAS General Assembly, meeting in Washington, D.C. last year, declared the disappearance of persons a crime against humanity;
b. Closely linked to the problem of disappeared persons, and directly affecting the right to life, is the right to freedom and personal integrity, since the first stage of disappearance is the illegal detention of persons, a problem about which the Commission has made known its views on repeated occasions. It has urged the Government of Guatemala to definitively eradicate this illegal practice in which, in such cases as that of Dr. Carlos Padilla Vidal, described in detail in the Commission’s previous report on Guatemala, it was possible to personally verify the direct intervention of Guatemalan authorities;
c. The inefficacy of judicial institutions to protect the population from abuse by government authorities, such as the writ of habeas corpus, which the Commission’s past reports strongly recommended be strengthened, has again become apparent under this government, which makes it necessary to emphasize the need to provide the Judiciary with the independence and appropriate means to enforce respect for the law and the reign of justice;
d. The Commission is concerned with the situation of over 300 persons tried by Special Courts, who were not sentenced but did not benefit from the special amnesty granted through Decree Law 74/84, and whose whereabouts are not known, and the Commission is also concerned with the status of the proceedings initiated against them, which leads it to request the Government of Guatemala to provide a report on this particular as soon as possible.
e. The political elections held under the auspices of the Government of Guatemala truly represent a first step toward democratization of the country. The Commission trusts that this process will continue to evolve without hindrances.