REPORT Nº 19/97
March 13, 1997
On August 3, 1993, members of local communities met in
Colotenango, Huehuetenango, Guatemala to protest against the abusive and
illegal activities of the civil patrols in the area (known as Civilian
Self-Defense Patrols, PACs, or Voluntary Committees for Civilian
After the peaceful protest concluded, the protestors dispersed to
walk home. Most had to
cross the Los Naranjales bridge, which connects Colotenango to the Pan
American Highway. While
crossing the bridge, they were confronted by members of the local PACs,
who had positioned themselves at each end of the bridge.
PAC members attacked and opened fire on the group, leaving Juan
Chanay Pablo dead. Julia
Gabriel Simón and Miguel Morales were seriously injured, and others
sustained injuries of less severity.
Thereafter, civil patrol members began obstructing the legal
proceedings that had been initiated with respect to the August 3 events
by intimidating and attacking witnesses, the private accusers, and an
attorney participating in the case.
As the proceedings continued, those involved in the case
continued to suffer reprisals for their actions to impel the judicial
PROCESSING BEFORE THE COMMISSION
The Commission began processing case 11.212 in response to a
November 4, 1993 petition alleging that the State of Guatemala bore
responsibility for having breached its obligations under the American
Convention with respect to the attack, as well as the failure of the
authorities to respond with due diligence to the
itself and to the intimidation of witnesses and others involved in the
The case was opened on November 8, 1993, and, pursuant to Article
34 of the Commission's Regulations, the pertinent parts of the
denunciation were transmitted to the Government with a request that it
provide the information deemed pertinent within 90 days.
In addition to the processing normally applicable to an
individual petition under the American Convention and the Commission's
Regulations, on November 18, 1993, pursuant to Article 29 of its
Regulations, the Commission requested that the Government of Guatemala
adopt the precautionary measures necessary to protect the lives and
physical integrity of nine individuals reported to be in danger due to
their participation in the domestic legal proceedings.
The March 18, 1994 response of the Government indicated that it
was investigating what it believed had been an incident of crossfire
between the patrollers and the demonstrators due to the provocation of
the latter or their attempt to disarm the former.
The Government reported that an arrest order had been issued
against the fifteen patrollers believed responsible for the August 3,
1993 attack. On March 30,
1994, the Commission addressed the Government to request that it take
the precautionary measures necessary to protect the security of two
On April 29, 1994, the Commission received the observations of
the petitioners in response to the report of the Government.
The petitioners alleged a series of irregularities in the
domestic processing of the case, and described apparent acts of reprisal
against several persons involved in pursuing the matter before the
courts. The pertinent
portions of those observations were transmitted to the Government.
On June 17, 1994, the Commission requested that the
Inter-American Court of Human Rights order the State to take the
provisional measures necessary to protect twelve individuals whom the
petitioners claimed were at risk due to their involvement in the case.
By means of a resolution of June 22, 1994, the Court ordered that
such measures be taken in order to protect Patricia Ispanel Medimilla,
Marcos Godínez Pérez, Natividad Godínez Pérez, María Sales López,
Ramiro Godínez Pérez, Juan Godínez Pérez, Miguel Godínez Domingo,
Alberto Godínez, María García Domingo, Gonzalo Godínez López,
Arturo Federico Méndez Ortíz and Alfonso Morales Jiménez.
The Court ordered the Commission and the Government to report
periodically on the status of the measures adopted. In addition to its reporting, in September of 1994, the
Commission travelled to Guatemala to verify the situation and security
of the twelve individuals with respect to whom the Court ordered that
provisional measures be taken.
On July 14, 1994, the Government submitted its response to the
April 29, 1994 observations of the petitioners.
During its 87th Regular Session in September of 1994, the
Commission held a hearing on this case, and received additional
information from the parties.
On December 1, 1994, pursuant to the consent of the State
expressed in a November 28, 1994 hearing, the Inter-American Court
ordered that these measures be extended for six months.
The Court further ordered that they be amplified to include
Francisca Sales Martín, and that the measures taken include those
necessary to effectuate the arrest of the accused civil patrollers.
The Commission and the Government continued to periodically
report to the Court on the status of the provisional measures adopted.
In December of 1994, the Commission conducted an on site visit to
Guatemala. On December 28,
1994, the Commission sent the Government information that had been
provided by the individuals for whom protection had been ordered.
The Government sent its response to this information on January
The petitioners provided additional information on March 24,
1995, and the Government provided a response thereto on May 5, 1995.
On May 16, 1995, the Government submitted an additional report on
the measures it had taken to arrest eight of the individuals implicated
in the August 3, 1993 attack. On
June 28, 1995, the Commission sent the Government the observations of
the petitioners in response to the latter's May 5, 1995 submission.
On July 20, 1995, the petitioners responded to the May 16, 1995
communication of the Government. On
August 28, 1995, the Government responded to the petitioners'
to the reporting of the Commission and the Government to the Court on
the status of the provisional measures ordered, these parties were
convened to appear for a hearing on September 16, 1995.
November 23, December 1 and December 18, 1995, the petitioners submitted
additional information and documentation in the case.
The Government submitted an additional report on January 2, 1996.
In the interim, on December 5, 1995, the Commission had requested
that the Government provide information in response to several specific
January 29, 1996, the Commission submitted a written request to the
Court that the provisional measures ordered in the case be extended.
The Government had requested that they be terminated after
February 1, 1996. The
measures were extended by the Court for an additional six months by
resolution of February 1, 1996. The
Commission and the Government continued to report to the Court on the
status of the provisional measures adopted.
February 26, 1996, the Commission received an additional communication
from the Government responding to the former's December 5, 1995 request
for information, and responding to prior submissions of the petitioners.
to its authority under Article 50 of the American Convention, and,
having considered the various submissions of the parties, on March 1,
1996, the Commission adopted Report 8/96 setting forth its findings and
recommendations with respect to the situation denounced.
The report was transmitted to the Government with a request that
it inform the Commission of the measures taken to implement those
recommendations within a period of 60 days. During the period referred to in Article 51 of the
Convention, the parties agreed to enter into a negotiation process,
under the mediation of the Commission, with the objective a reaching a
friendly settlement of the matter in conformity with Convention Article
48.f. This process included a series of meetings between the
parties, under the auspices of the Commission, as well as the
Commission's processing of communications between them.
the period when these negotiations were underway, President Alvaro Arzú
took the noteworthy decision to disband the PACs.
During an August 9, 1996 ceremony held to commemorate the
disbanding of the PACs/CVDC's, the President of the Presidential
Coordinating Commission for Executive Policy in Human Rights recognized
that while many members of the CVDCs defended themselves against
"the attacks of subversion," "some also acted in excess
of their competence and abuse of their arms, attacking individuals
solely for non-participation in their activities."
These who committed abuses were responsible for intimidating the
population, particularly toward those who expressed discontent with the
conduct of some members of those Committees.
.... Mention must be made of the lamentable event that occurred
in 1993, in this community, when various demonstrators were attacked,
leaving Juan Chanay Pablo dead and Julia Gabriel Simón and Miguel
Thirteen other members of the community were later threatened
with death, a fact which motivated the intervention of international
organizations in favor of their protection.
The President of the Republic and the highest authorities of the
country recognize the excesses of all these years of armed confrontation
and reiterate the political will of the Government to put an end to
impunity, in order that justice predominates and the rule of law is
restored throughout the nation. Colotenango
is not an exception....
August 21, 1996, as the negotiation process continued, the Government
addressed the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to request that the
provisional measures it had ordered be extended for an additional six
months in order to offer "a framework of security and tranquility
to the ... friendly settlement process."
negotiation process was successfully concluded with the February 20,
1997 signing of a friendly settlement agreement in Colotenango,
Huehuetenango and simultaneously at the Commission's headquarters in
Washington, D.C. by representatives of the Republic of Guatemala; the
representatives of the individuals from the communities of Colotenango
who were affected as a result of the events of this case: the Human
Rights Office of the Archbishop (ODHA), the Center for Justice and
International Law (CEJIL) and Human Rights Watch/Americas (HRW/A).
The final text of the agreement was signed by the President of
the Commission and Rapporteur on Guatemala, Dean Claudio Grossman, and
the Commission's Executive Secretary, Ambassador Jorge E. Taiana.
THE FRIENDLY SETTLEMENT
agreement stipulates that the State of Guatemala shall provide communal
assistance to the affected communities of Colotenango, in accordance
with a program of projects agreed upon by the parties (to be executed by
FONAPAZ.) The State shall
pay Q 300,000, to be divided among the citizens directly affected by the
events in question, and to be used to cover the medical and legal costs
the petitioners deem pertinent. The
petitioners shall provide the names of the individuals concerned to the
Commission, and a list of the precise portion of the total each is to
receive. The Inter-American
Commission shall ensure that the specified amounts are delivered to the
petitioners acknowledge that all their claims arising in respect of this
case have been satisfied. The
Government shall take the measures necessary to assure that justice is
done in this case, including through the investigation of the facts;
continued efforts to detain those implicated who remain at liberty and
to punish those responsible, in accordance with the international norms
in effect in the State so that those found responsible are not left in
impunity. A Commission of
Verification and Follow-up shall monitor compliance with each of the
agreed upon provisions, and submit a written report to the Commission
twice a year.
accordance with the foregoing, having placed itself at the disposal of
the parties in accordance with Article 48.1.f of the Convention, having
facilitated the agreement reached by the parties, and having determined
that it was concluded on the basis of respect for the human rights
recognized in the American Convention, the Commission:
its profound satisfaction with the successful conclusion of a friendly
settlement agreement in this case.
its full appreciation to each of the parties, the State of Guatemala and
the petitioners, for their efforts to collaborate together with the
Commission in order to resolve the situation denounced.
The Commission recognizes the steps taken by the Executive to
dissolve the PACs as important in resolving this case, and as a valuable
advance in favor of the protection of human rights in Guatemala.
Both parties are commended for having entered into the process of
friendly settlement with good faith and the will to try new approaches
to resolve complex matters.
to publish this report in the Annual Report to the General Assembly of
 The PACs were created in 1981, under the military regime of
General Efraín Ríos Montt, as part of a policy to eradicate
"suspicious" persons and communities. On the basis of its own reporting, as well as that of
national, international and intergovernmental human rights groups,
indicating that the PACs were responsible for serious human rights
violations, the Commission repeatedly recommended their dissolution.
See, e.g., Fourth Report on the Situation of
Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.83, Doc. 16 rev., June
1, 1993, at 53-61.
 Prior to receiving the petition, during a September, 1993 on
site visit to Guatemala, the Commission had travelled to Colotenango
and spoken with members of the PACs and victims of the August 3,
1993 attack. By a note
of September 1, 1993, the Government had offered the Commission
information on the status of its investigation into the matter.