Document - Guatemala: Open Letter from Amnesty International to Guatemalan Presidential Candidates for the September 2007 Elections
Open Letter from Amnesty
International to Guatemalan Presidential Candidates for the
September 2007 Elections
29 August 2007
Amnesty International (AI) is
a worldwide movement of over 2.2 million people who campaign for
internationally recognized human rights. AI’s vision is of a world
in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international
human rights standards.
AI has always valued open and
constructive communication with authorities and decision makers
around the world. In Guatemala, the organization has been
documenting the human rights situation and making recommendations
to successive governments for more than forty years. It is in this
spirit that Amnesty International now turns to you, the
Presidential candidates, to engage with you on the human rights
issues affecting Guatemala.
Human rights concerns affect
all areas of life in Guatemala. Although specific human rights
concerns have fundamentally changed since the end of the internal
armed conflict in 1996, serious issues remain largely untackled:
respect for the rule of law, impunity, torture, violence against
women and discrimination against indigenous peoples, among others.
Without a strong and healthy respect for human rights Guatemala
will continue to face the current crisis in areas of pubic
security, administration of justice, poverty and exclusion based on
gender and ethnicity.
To address these issues
Guatemala needs resources, innovative and inclusive policies. The
government of Guatemala’s concrete political will remains, however,
the first and foremost requirement if the current human rights
concerns in the country are to be successfully addressed. Without
the real political will of the office you aspire to, real change in
Guatemala will be slow and difficult. As Presidential candidates AI
calls on you to expressly commit yourselves to demonstrating in
practice the political will necessary to address human rights
In 1998 the UN-sponsored
Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) concluded that over
200,000 people were forcibly disappeared or killed during the
internal armed conflict which ended in 1996. Widespread rape,
torture and acts of genocide perpetrated against Indigenous peoples
were also documented by the CEH. Of the victims it could document
and identify, 83 per cent were of Mayan origin. Some 93 per cent of
human rights violations were attributed to government forces.
Despite these facts there have been few satisfactory prosecutions
of those responsible for perpetrating human rights violations
during the internal armed conflict and the whereabouts of most of
the adults and children who were forcibly disappeared still remain
It is in this context that
the legacy of the internal armed conflict continues to be most
present in modern day Guatemala. The failure to hold to account
those responsible for past extra-judicial executions, rape, torture
and forced ‘disappearances’ is linked to the present human rights
situation: the freedom with which clandestine groups (criminal
networks that have infiltrated many state institutions) operate,
factoimpunity perpetrators of
human rights violations enjoy and the consistent attacks against
human rights defenders. These problems are the result of the
failure of successive governments to hold to account those accused
of committing human rights violations, to combat impunity, to
strengthen the rule of law and to make the respect and defence of
human rights a priority.
Over the last few years, the
situation of public security has deteriorated with higher and
higher murder rates being reported by the police. In this context,
agents of the security forces have been accused of carrying out
extrajudicial executions and torture. Reports from local
organizations and international bodies, including the United
Nations, have made credible and substantiated allegations that
members of the security forces are implicated in cases of torture
and extrajudicial execution of those they deem to be criminals or
members of youth gangs, including minors. These serious
allegations, sometimes referred to as "social cleansing", require
the immediate attention of the authorities.
Within the context of the
public security crisis, AI has repeatedly expressed its concern
over the number of women killed in Guatemala and the manner in
which they are killed. Many cases of women killed continue to show
signs of sexual violence, torture and exceptional brutality,
including mutilation. According to police records, 581 women were
killed in 2006. Despite repeated calls from the UN international
treaty monitoring bodies to improve key areas in the prosecution
and investigation of the killings (such as the collection of
forensic evidence and the elimination of gender bias in the
investigations) and the treatment of surviving relatives (such as
terminating the practice of focussing on the sexual history of the
victims), little progress has been made.
Human rights defenders are
sometimes considered a ‘barometer’ of the general human rights
situation: the freedom with which they are able to conduct human
rights work is indicative of the degree of respect for human rights
within a country. In Guatemala, year on year there are large
numbers of reports of threats and intimidation against human rights
defenders. In 2007 AI has received reports of at least two human
rights defenders being killed, together with two of their
relatives. In addition, there has been at least one attempt to kill
two other defenders. AI considers it imperative that the next
President of Guatemala commits to ensuring protection for defenders
and freedom to carry out their legitimate human rights
AI has continuously expressed
its concern over the incidents, threats and acts of intimidation
which human rights defenders have suffered over the years.
According to local organizations there have been approximately 577
incidents against human rights defenders between 2004 and 2006, and
another 136 in the first six months of 2007. These incidents have
taken the form of killings, threats (delivered by telephone and in
written notes), break-ins into offices of human rights
organizations and surveillance.
The existence and operations
of clandestine groups embedded in the State apparatus is widely
accepted. These groups openly flout the rule of law and have a
knock-on effect on the administration of justice, as their freedom
to act with impunity is unchallenged. Despite repeated assurances
from the current government that it would tackle impunity,
strengthen the rule of law and combat clandestine groups, such
assurances have so far resulted in no significant
The ratification of the
International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión
Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG) on 1 August
2007 is an important step for Guatemala that must be followed by
immediate and effective cooperation and support by the government
to ensure the Commission is able to set up with full powers and
without further delay.
Another legacy (and cause of)
the internal armed conflict is the high degree of land
concentration coupled with high levels of rural poverty and the
socio-economic exclusion of Indigenous peoples (who mostly live in
rural areas). In this context disputes over the tenancy and
ownership of land are widespread as are the human rights violations
associated with them.
Since 2004, AI has received
reports of more than 85 evictions have taken place in rural areas.
Forced evictions have been recognized by the UN Commission on Human
Rights to be a gross violation of human rights. AI has already
called on the government to place a moratorium on forced evictions
until non-violent mechanisms for dispute resolution are put in
place. The organization now calls on the Presidential candidates to
commit to such a moratorium.
The various issues raised
above give cause for much concern for the human rights situation in
Guatemala. In turn, national and international non-governmental
human rights organizations have produced a large body of research
which substantiates these concerns. The organizations, including
AI, have also made recommendations aimed at addressing specific
policies, practices and legislation.
During the electoral period
AI urges the Presidential candidates to commit to implementing
these recommendations should they succeed in obtaining office.
These recommendations are aimed at contributing to improving the
rule of law and respect for human rights in Guatemala.
The implementation of these
recommendations will require financial, legal and political
initiative to ensure they succeed. These elements are in second
place to the political will that is necessary of the candidates and
future President in order to ensure they are implemented and for
human rights to be respected in Guatemala.
AI expresses its desire to
continue communication with you and hopes the future government of
Guatemala will be willing to engage with the organization in
constructive and open dialogue.
On the Peace Accords and
recommendations of the CEH:
- Review the Government’s
implementation of the Peace Accords to date and set an agenda for
the implementation of the remaining accords.
- Review the Government’s
implementation of the recommendations of the CEH to date and set an
agenda for the implementation of the remaining
On impunity and the
administration of justice:
- Present and support a
legislative agenda which seeks to ensure the effective functioning
- Address the investigative
and prosecutorial deficiencies in the administration of justice by
setting out a timetable for the full implementation of all
outstanding recommendations made by the United Nations, in
particular by the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges
and lawyers, Dato’ Param Cumaraswamy, in his 2001
On the public security
- Ensure effective and
independent judicial investigations into all reports of torture and
extrajudicial executions by members of the security forces of
minors or so-called criminal suspects.
- In line with the
recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture, end the
practice of joint patrols and ensure that the armed forces do not
have a role in internal security.
- Ensure that all state
agents linked to human rights violations, in particular agents of
the National Civilian Police (Policía Nacional Civil, PNC) and the
Public Prosecutor’s Office are suspended from active duty pending
On human rights violations
that occur in the context of land disputes:
- Ensure that the government
adopts measures aimed at creating a non-violent conflict resolution
mechanism for disputes over land.
- Place a moratorium on
forced evictions until a proper mechanism for the peaceful
resolution of disputes is in place.
- Ensure that excessive force
is not used during forced evictions, and that proper training
relating to evictions is provided to the police (using for example,
UN Basic principles on the use of force and firearms by law
- Present and support a
legislative agenda which seeks to suspend the Law of Supplementary
Titles, modify articles of the Labour Code relating to labour
entitlements, and modify articles of the criminal code relating to
On violence against
- Ensure effective
cooperation amongst all state institutions responsible for
preventing and resolving cases of violence against women, in
particular amongst the PNC, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and, in
regard to information management, the judicial system.
- Ensure the appropriate
funding of the National Institute of Forensic Sciences (Instituto
Nacional de Ciencias Forenses, INACIF) in order to strengthen
forensic evidence on gender related killings.
- As President present and
support a legislative agenda which seeks to eliminate
discriminatory provisions (such as Articles 200, 176 and 177) and
improve protection and respect for the rights of women.
On the protection of human
- Ensure that human rights
defenders are free to carry out their activities without any
restrictions or fear of reprisals, as set out in the United Nations
Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals,
Groups and Institutions to Promote and Protect Universally
Recognised Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by the
General Assembly on 8 March 1999.
- Ensure that reports of
killings, threats, attacks and acts of intimidation against human
rights defenders are thoroughly and promptly
- Ensure protection of human
rights defenders by setting up appropriate measures to assess cases
swiftly and effectively.
On crimes against humanity
and other human rights violations committed during the internal
- Ensure that it is the
policy and priority of the State of Guatemala that all cases of
human rights violations committed during the internal armed
conflict are investigated and prosecuted either in Guatemala or
abroad without further delay.
- As President, and in your
role as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, ensure that
military documents relevant to cases of human rights violations
committed during the internal armed conflict are released to
domestic and foreign courts that request them.
- Ensure that witnesses,
survivors and human rights defenders, judges, prosecutors and
others associated with cases of human rights violations committed
during the internal armed conflict are able to advance their cases
in the courts free from persecution and intimidation.
- Ensure all necessary steps
are taken to clarify the whereabouts of adults and children who
disappeared during the internal armed conflict.