REPORT OF THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION
Owing to the severe situation of the violence and violation of human rights of recent years in Guatemala, the IACHR has been reporting year after year on the status of those rights in that country in its Annual Report to the General Assembly. It has also composed three special reports on the human rights situation in Guatemala: the first running down to the Government of Romeo Lucas Garcia; the second, covering the period in which General Efraín Ríos Montt exercised power (23 March 1982 to 8 August 1983), and the third covering of Government of General Oscar Humberto Mejía Victores (8 August 1983 to 16 January 1986, the date of accession to the Presidency of the Republic of Mr. Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo). It may also be mentioned that the IACHR has made three visits to the Republic of Guatemala, the first in 1982, the second in 1985, and the third, with the consent of the present government, from 25 to 28 January 1988.
On the occasion of the installation of President Cerezo Arévalo’s Government, which took place on 16 January 1986, the IACHR expressed satisfaction with the advent of the new democratic and constitutional regime of Guatemala and, in its Annual Report to the General Assembly of October of that year, despite information it was receiving that the forced disappearance of persons had not ended, lauded the progress made by President Cerezo’s Government in the human rights area in the first months of his administration.
The latest report to the General Assembly also described on the efforts being made by President Cerezo’s Government to promote and defend human rights, and cited as specific examples of such progress, among others, the withdrawal of the reservation entered by the Government of Guatemala in ratifying on May 20, 1986, the American Convention on Human Rights in relation to paragraph4, Article 4, which exempts political crimes but not common crimes in connection with political crimes from the death penalty; the country’s ratification of the Inter-American Convention to Prevent and Punish Torture on January 29, 1987; and its acceptance on March 16, 1987, of the obligatory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. However, the report last year noted that, despite the good intentions expressed by the Government of President Cerezo, violations of the right to life continued at an alarming rate in the form of extralegal executions and detentions of persons who later disappeared both in the capital and elsewhere in the country.
In its session of March 1987, the Inter-American Commission
on Human Rights gave careful consideration to the situation in Guatemala and, in
view of how events were unfolding and the lack of response to requests for
information and investigation made by the IACHR to the country’s government,
it decided to request the consent of the Government of Guatemala for a
delegation of the Commission to come to the country to make observations in
situ and convey to the Government of President Cerezo the concern of the
IACHR over the recrudescence of forced disappearances of persons and to learn
about the status of the investigations conducted on the matter.
The Government granted this request, and the visit was made in January
1988 by a delegation headed by the then Vice Chairman of the Commission, Dr.
Marco Tulio Bruni Celli.
Later, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, in a meeting in March 1988, took cognizance of a report of the special delegation that had visited Guatemala and, in view of what that mission had found, decided to make the following recommendations to the Government of Guatemala:
a. To exhort the
Government of Guatemala to establish a Commission on Human Rights to investigate
the forced disappearances of persons prior to the installation of the present
b. To cause the
Central Register of Detainees to function as originally proposed, that is, that
every judicial, police, security and military authority competent to make
arrests be required to inform this Central Register of the detention of any
person within 24 hours of having done so, and that the record made thereof shall
include the detainee’s name, the date and hour of his detention, the identity
of the detaining authority, the date on which the detainee was brought before a
competent court, an itemized account of every transfer of the detainee from
place to place and, if he is released, the date and place thereof and the reason
c. To give the
work that the International Committee of the Red Cross will begin to do in
Guatemala the firmest possible support so that, on the basis of the periodic
reports of that agency, the Government may take in each case the measures it
regards as most appropriate to remedy excesses and abuses as they are brought to
In view of the
ineffectiveness of petition for habeas corpus, in which a judge does not
more than establish whether the person to be produced is detained and, if that
person cannot be found, proceeds to deny the petition, the Commission proposes
an amendment of the procedure to permit the magistrate to investigate the facts
effectively, and that, until the whereabouts of the missing person have been
established, the procedure be required to continue and the investigation by the
justice authorities not be declared closed;
e. Finally, in
view of reports in some cases of the use by police stations of two sets of
records, one to show to judges and the other to carry the true facts about
detained persons, the IACHR considers it useful to recommend, in addition to an
explicit prohibition of this practice, that severe punishments be prescribed for
those by whose order the twin sets of records are kept and those who carry them.
In response to these recommendations, the Government of Guatemala stated to the Commission, in a note of April 27, 1988, as follows:
I am pleased to advise you that Mr. Marco Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, the Constitutional President of the Republic, has been informed of your letter in connection with the visit of a Delegation of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Guatemala, and that he regards the recommendations made by that delegation as most appropriate and is grateful for them.
On this occasion the Commission wishes to state its appreciation to the Government of Guatemala for the cooperation it has lately given to the Commission in the performance of its work.
During the period covered by the present report, though the
problem of violations of the right to life remains alarmingly great, as will be
shown further on, in many other respects the Inter-American Commission on Human
Rights has observed major progress in the human rights area in Guatemala.
Guatemala now has a significant number of government rights, and its
domestic legislation on human rights is, without any question, among the most
advanced. Moreover, Guatemala is a
party to and obligated by several international treaties on human rights, and
has also submitted to the obligatory jurisdiction of the Inter-American Court of
Human Rights. Besides, on January
29, 1987, it deposited its instrument of ratification of the Inter-American
Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of Torture, and the present
Government has undertaken to withdraw the reservation it entered in depositing
that instrument of ratification. Furthermore,
on April 21, 1988, Guatemala deposited in the United Nations its adherence to
the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol
thereto are at present awaiting approval by Congress.
The IACHR has been advised that a Government Decision of
November 3, 1987, directed the establishment of the Advisory Commission of the
Presidency of the Republic of Human Rights (COPADEH), which was constituted last
April with the following members: Lyuba
Martínez, as Chairman, and Deputies Jorge Luis Archila Amésquita and Ana María
Xugá, Messrs. Abel López Sosa and Roberto Pineda Sánchez, and Dr. Héctor
Gros Espiell, judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United
Nations Representative in human rights matters, as members.
Mrs. Carmen Rosa de León Escribano has been appointed the Executive
Secretary of that Commission.
The establishment of this Commission had been recommended
by the IACHR and its principal functions are to report to the President of the
Republic any instances of violations of human rights coming to its knowledge and
committed by officers of personnel connected with the Government; to propose
changes in standards relating to human rights, and the ratification of treaties,
conventions, and resolutions of the United Nations and the Organization of
American States on the same subject. It can also write opinions on questions of law or fact that
the President of the Republic may request or that the Commission deems advisable
for the information of the Executive Branch or of the public, and it also
collaborates with the Supreme Court of Justice, the Congressional Committee on
Human Rights and the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic on these
matters. It can obtain from
administrative authorities such reports as its deems necessary for the
performance of its functions. The
Commission must also receive, process and act upon complaints, charges,
accusations and petitions coming to its knowledge by any means for purposes of
informing the Executive Branch and interested parties or of bringing the facts
to the knowledge of the courts of justice, and collaborates in the writing of
reports on and replies to all manner of documents as the Government may require
for the full performance of Government’s obligations to the United Nations and
the Organization of American States in regard to human rights.
In addition to the aforementioned advisory functions, the Advisory
Commission must work with the other institutions already established under the
Constitution in activities relating to human rights. It must be pointed out however, that this advisory body is
not responsible for investigating cases of missing persons or of alleged
violations of human rights, but serves as a channel of communication and control
agency for requests from international bodies, including the IACHR, so that its
functions do not infringe the operational spheres of other government entities.
In regard to efforts to achieve peace in Central America,
on September 30, 1987, in compliance with the Esquipulas II Agreements, the
Commission for National Reconciliation was constituted in Guatemala in order to
create conditions for consolidation of the democratization process and its
further advancement in accordance with the standards established in the
agreement signed by the Chiefs of State of Central America.
This Commission of National Reconciliation was formed with the following
members: Roberto Carpio, Vice
President of the Republic of Guatemala, as the Government’s representative;
Jorge Serrano, erstwhile presidential candidate for the Movimeinto de Acción
Solidaria, Zacapa, representing the Church, and Mrs. Teresa de Zarco, co-owner
of the daily newspaper Prensa Libre, as a prominent citizen.
Also in keeping with the Esquipulas II Agreements, on
August 7, 1987, the Government of Guatemala announced its readiness to enter
into unconditional talks with the insurgents of the country even though it had
theretofore been unwilling to talk with the rebels “so long as they have
weapons in hand.”
In early October 1987, the Government of President Marco
Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo sent to Spain a government delegation consisting of
Roberto Valle, First Vice Chairman of Congress and four high-ranking officers of
the Government of Guatemala to meet in Madrid with representatives of the Unidad
Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) as the first official contact toward
future talks between the Government and insurgents of Guatemala.
The insurgents’ delegation was headed by Gaspar Ilón, Commander of the
Organización Revolucionaria del Pueblo en Armas (ORPA), and one of each of the
four guerrilla groups that formed the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional
Guatemalteca (URNG). The talks
between the representatives of the Government and the insurgent forces were
broken off a few days earlier and several attempts to restart them have been
ineffectual. The Government’s
position remains that it has completed all the procedures of Esquipulas and that
the only thing not yet done is the establishment of contact between the National
Reconciliation Commission and the insurgents, and it has pointed out that the
latter must fulfill the requirement of stating whether they want to participate
peacefully in the democratization process, which they have not yet done.
Another significant step forward is the installation in
Guatemala of an Office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC),
which is also collaborating in the efforts being made to bring about greater
observance of and control over the human rights situation in the country.
Having closely followed the problem of violence in
Guatemala for many years, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
considers that the most common violations of human rights during the period
covered by this report continue to be violations of the right to life, though
there have also been violations of the right to personal liberty and to the
safety and integrity of the person.
In regard to the right to life, the Inter-American
Commission on Human Rights emphasizes its concern at the continued occurrence of
forced disappearance of persons. In
the interview between members of the IACHR’s special delegation and the
National Police in January 1988, the latter presented to the IACHR a statistical
table showing the numbers of persons reported as missing, and also of those who
had reappeared, during the period from April to December 1987 and the first
twenty-three days of January 1988, i.e., down to the day on which the special
delegation began its official work in Guatemala.
According to the summary breakdown, of the grand total of persons who had
disappeared and reappeared between April 1987 and 23 January 1988, 335 male
persons disappeared, and 181 reappeared, which implies that actually 154 male
persons disappeared during the stated period.
The women who disappeared numbered 268, of which 155 subsequently
reappeared, leaving a real total of 113 women who actually did disappear.
The certified disappearances of persons of both sexes totaled 267 in nine
In relation to the problem of missing persons, the National
Police confirmed the existence of a special Missing Persons Department, whose
function was to investigate and follow up on the facts relating to all
disappearances of persons. According
to information provided by the Center for Joint Operations of the General
Directorate of the National Police, of 848 persons who disappeared in the first
half of 1988, only 158 could be established as having reappeared, leaving a
total of 690 who remain missing. The
table provided by the National Police is as follows:
AND REAPPEARANCES BY MONTH,
JANUARY TO JUNE 1988
The official statistics in the tables provided, in the fullest spirit of collaboration, by the authorities of the National Police present incontestable proof of the excesses being committed in the use of this inhuman practice. Nevertheless, despite the gravity of the facts described in the tables, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is of the view that the situation, though disquieting, cannot compare with the macabre spectacle presented by Guatemala some years ago when the missing persons numbered in the thousands and corpses turned up every morning in different parts of the capital of the country and the departmental capitals showing unmistakable signs of having been atrociously tortured and murdered by death squads.
While the right to personal liberty is fully recognized by
the Constitution and the Guatemalan laws, and constitutional guarantees have not
been suspended in any department of Guatemala despite the present state of armed
confrontation, there can be no question, despite repeated denials, that
detentions continue to be made by members of the security forces and the army.
In consequence of an interpretation of the Constitution, at
present all crimes against the security of the state are being investigated by
the Guatemalan army and no police entity may interfere in this area of
investigation. Though Article 6 of
the Constitution requires that every person who is arrested must be brought
before a competent judge within 6 hours and cannot be placed under any other
authority, it is clear that this provision is widely unobserved in the country
because the term established by law is impractically short, in consequence of
which many persons who have been arrested allege that they have been held far
longer than the period established by law without having been brought before a
competent judicial authority.
Moreover, kidnappings remain in Guatemala an everyday event
to the point that they have become a constant menace hanging over all Guatemalan
families, a good many of which have already had this terrible experience.
Recently, however, despite the lack of novelty of kidnapping in
Guatemala, one case has arisen of such a nature as to have aroused suspense and
This case is the kidnapping of Magistrate Julio Aníbal Trejo Duque, Judge of the 7th Criminal Court, who was violently kidnapped by heavily armed unmasked men in full view of many people on a street on Thursday July 21, 1988, as he left the building of the Judicial Agency in which he worked and was on his way home. Judge Trejo Duque was held by his captors without, as he says, being threatened or mistreated, and was released the following day.
This case is full of strange coincidences. Magistrate Trejo Duque is conducting an important investigation involving, as it happens, a band of murdering kidnappers who for some time have been using while panel trucks in there operations; at first it was though that only one truck was involved–it had been identified and described as present in countless kidnappings. The facts that prompted the investigation were reported by the then General Director of National Police, Col. Julio Caballero Seigné, with the support of the then Minister of Government, Mr. Juan José Rodil Peralta. The person mentioned as the head of the band of kidnappers is Oscar Díaz Urquizú, General Director of the Treasury Guards at the time of the denunciation, which also includes almost all of the general staff of the Treasury Police and all the agents of the Intelligence and Narcotics Section (SIN) of that police agency. What makes the case so spectacular is not only the identity of the accusers and accused, but also the spectacular manner in which the facts were learned and presented to the Judicial Branch, for it was Col. Caballeros himself, the General Director of the National Police, who, revolver in hand, captured the Treasury guards in the act of committing another kidnapping. Later, the Director of the Treasury Guard was dismissed. His accuser, Col. Caballeros, was also dismissed. The resignation of the Minister of Government was announced shortly after.
Regarding the right to personal safety and integrity, it is clearly not a policy of the Guatemalan government to encourage, protect or permit the mistreatment and torture of prisoners. However, many persons that have been imprisoned claim to have suffered extreme police brutality and also to have been subjected to psychological torture in the form of threats made to compel them to talk. Nevertheless, it cannot be stated with certainty that the security forces for the army use torture routinely, though their treatment of prisoners is considerably rough and callous. Repeated but isolated cases of torture have certainly been reported to this Commission, and the use of these methods appears to be inspired more by orders from subordinate officers than by a general pattern based on some governmental decision.
As for the problem of the administration of justice, it may also be mentioned that during its visit to Guatemala the Special Committee discussed with the authorities of the Judicial Branch, the problem of the Central Prisoner Control Registry (RECEDE), an office established on the recommendation of the IACHR, for whose effective operation the Executive Secretariat of the IACHR obtained from the Government of Australia the gift of a computer to ease the work of updating the information records on prisoners.
The Central Registry of Prisoners, which from the first should have registered every person detained in the country so that any one could inquire and obtain information on the detention status of a prisoner, has been performing, as was explained to the IACHR’s special delegation, only part of its function, for it registers the names of persons indicted for trial, but not those of persons detained by the police, security, or armed forces.
Moreover, the Commission has been informed that the thousands of case dossiers processed by former Judge Labbé have all been closed and filed away. The placement in storage of this mass of files, many of them full of useful information, conspires against elucidation of the status of many missing persons, and the Commission has recommended to the authorities of the Judicial Branch that a circular be issued instructing the judges to proceed in a different way and, in compliance with Article 109 of the Law on Amparo, Habeas Corpus and Constitutionality, when denying a petition for habeas corpus, if there are indications that the person in whose behalf the petition was entered has disappeared, they issue an order, as the law requires for continuation of the investigation of the case.
While the freedoms of expression and the press are constitutionally guaranteed in Guatemala and indeed, there is broad freedom of expression in the country, during the period covered in this report some obstacles to the exercise of these rights have emerged. The Human Rights Attorney referred to this matter in a letter of June 14, 1988 in which he presented the following considerations and facts to President Cerezo:
I am profoundly concerned over the latest events, which have had a serious effect on the media. In recent days a foreign news agency was the target of an attack that drove it and its reporters out of the country owing to threats against it, the Government having been unable to give them the protection and safety to which every person is entitled. Afterwards, withdrawal of the channel license of the corporation Radio Televisión Guatemala, S.A., by the General Directorate of National Radiobroadcasting made it impossible to continue the scheduled transmissions of the “Aquí en El Mundo” news program on Channel 3, and this television news program is now off the air owing to expiration of its contract with that corporation. While this last matter is of a private nature, it can only give cause for concern that the closing down of this television news program is depriving the public of information to which it is entitled, particularly since Radio Television Guatemala, S.A. is now more than a government concessionaire, and in any case, the interest of the many should prevail over the interest of the few. I must also refer to the abuses committed by members of the National Police against local and foreign newspapermen, including, among others, those suffered by newsmen covering the arrival in the Air Terminal of Guatemalan citizens who had been living abroad, the detaining of several newspaper in the building of the General Accounting Office, the prohibition on reporters from entering to the building of the National Electrification Institute and, recently, the illegal detention in the sixth corps of the National Police of two reporters of the newspaper Prensa Libre, all in open violation of elementary constitutional guarantees. The threats made to the newsmen who covered the Atitlán III event contributes to the generation of a climate of disquiet. As the culmination of all this pattern, the destruction of the offices of the weekly La Epoca at the end of last week constitutes a new and reprehensible attack on the free expression of thought. In addition to all the foregoing, it is reported that the television news program “Siete Días” will soon have to go off the air because the concessionaire of Channel 7 will not renew its contract.
Another important event bearing on the exercise of political rights is the municipal elections of April 24, 1988, the first to be held in Guatemala since President Vinicio Cerezo took office. For this event, 15 political parties were registered for the election of 272 members of municipal corporations. As a result of those elections, in which about 2,840,000 citizens over 18 years of age voted, the Christian Democratic Party (DC) won 140 of the 272 majority races. The Unión del Centro Nacional (Union of the National Center, or UCN), a center-right party, came in second with 56 mayors. The Movement of National Liberation (MLN) captured 12 town halls, and the Revolutionary Party (PR) 9. The Communist Party of Guatemala, called the Guatemalan Labor Party (Partido Guatemalteco del Trabajo or PGT), which is outlawed under current legislation repudiated the holding of elections.
Another notable point is doubtlessly the restoration and consolidation of democracy now in progress. When President Cerezo took up the reins of government in Guatemala, the IACHR celebrated the advent of democracy to the country and made much of the fact that this event put an end to many years of military government in Guatemala and that President Cerezo was the third head of state, in fifty years of Guatemalan political history, to be elected to head the government of his country, which for most of its existence as a republic had been governed by military men.
After such a long succession of military regimes and too many infamous dictatorships in Guatemala, the IACHR is truly gratified that the country is having its first democratic experience, although the democracy is not yet out of danger, as is proved by the attempted coup d’etat of May 11.
In its session of May 12 the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States expressed its support to President Vinicio Cerezo in the firmest and most categorical terms, and deplored the episodes that had disturbed the constitutional order in that country. In the wake of that uprising, severe punishments were administered to the chief officers and persons involved in it. Subsequently, the uncovering of another attempted coup d’etat was confirmed in August 4. This rebellious and antidemocratic attitude of certain civilian and military sectors is unrepresentative of the civilian population and the Armed Forces of Guatemala; it has inspired at least three attempts to overthrow President Cerezo and is a very serious source of concern to the IACHR, which most energetically rejects and condemns these coups.
Despite these two attempted coups by a group in the Armed Forces, reportedly encouraged and backed by the more conservative and wealthiest sectors in Guatemala, the democratic process continues to advance in Guatemala and needs, in the Commission’s judgment, to be preserved and consolidated.
To summarize, in the Commission’s judgment, the main problem in the observance of human rights in Guatemala remains the constant violation of the right to life. Even though forced disappearances and extrajudicial executions continued during the period covered by this report, the Commission sees progress in the attitude of the Government of Guatemala in redoubling its efforts to put an end to this long record of uncontrollable violence, which more than once has gravely imperiled the stability of the constitutional Government itself. All this, the Commission feels, makes it necessary to continue the efforts in progress to consolidate the democratic process and the protection and defense of human rights in Guatemala.