Press Release

IACHR Publishes Report on the Human Rights Situation in Guatemala

March 14, 2016

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today publishes the report "Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala: Diversity, Inequality and Exclusion," which addresses structural challenges on public safety, access to justice and impunity, marginalization and discrimination that seriously affect the human rights of its inhabitants. The report particularly analyzes the system of administration of justice in Guatemala and the need for appropriate, efficient, independent and impartial, in order to respond to structural impunity for several past and present human rights violations. Also, the report especially addresses the situation of the indigenous peoples of Guatemala, whose rights to their ancestral lands and territories have been affected, and suffer exclusion, inequality and malnutrition as a result of racism and structural discrimination. The report analyzes the situation of human rights of human rights defenders, journalists, women, children and adolescents, persons with disabilities, lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual and intersex persons and migrants.

"We have noticed changes in Guatemala in favor of a society that is more respectful of human rights," said the IACHR Rapporteur for Guatemala, Commissioner Enrique Gil Botero. "These advances have been promoted and triggered by the efforts of public officials committed to justice, as well as human rights defenders and social leaders. Their work, which often endangers their life and integrity, has been and continues to be essential. "

Among the improvements, the IACHR highlights the reduction in the homicide rate and the September 2015 Constitutional Court’s decision, which for the first time ordered the implementation of a prior and informed consultation with the indigenous communities affected by an investment project. Furthermore, also regarding administration of justice, the Commission highlights the efforts of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Public Ministry in their work dismantling criminal networks and fighting against corruption. The IACHR also appreciates the efforts taken by the State in order to create a program to protect journalists, prevent and combat human trafficking, as well as to register differentiated statistics on violence against women to feed the design of public policies, among others. The IACHR also applauds the decision taken by the government to extend the mandate of the CICIG in 2015, whose work has been crucial.

The year 2015 has been one of special consequences for the Guatemalan society. Since the revelation of the so-called "La Línea Case" and another series of acts of corruption, the Guatemalan society took to the streets to demand justice. On September 3rd, 2015, Otto Perez Molina resigned to the Presidency of the Republic, having been indicted for his alleged role in the network of customs fraud. On October 25th, 2015, James Ernesto Morales was elected in a second round as President of the Republic.

"The new government has crucial challenges on human rights," said the IACHR President, James Cavallaro. "To take steps to ensure that Guatemalans live in a country free of violence, continue the fight against impunity, corruption, exclusion and discrimination are just some of them. The Commission urges the new government to resume the agenda of the peace agreements and ensure compliance with the recommendations of the Commission and judgments of Inter-American Court, "he added.

The IACHR report contains recommendations to cooperate with the State in addressing some of the persistent problems that Guatemala has been facing for decades, including poverty, racism, discrimination, exclusion, violence and impunity. These problems are framed in a weak state structure, with few resources by poor tax collection and high level of corruption. The report concludes that impunity, corruption, organized crime, intolerance and political violence, and social exclusion of various sectors represent a serious danger of setbacks in the effective validity of the rule of law and restrict the full enjoyment of human rights in Guatemala. The report focuses its analysis on three fundamental aspects of the human rights situation in the country: public safety, administration of justice and the situation of inequality and exclusion of indigenous peoples.

High levels of violence and insecurity suffered by Guatemala are related to social exclusion and lack of law enforcement. In this context, the situation is aggravated by the resurgence of the practice of disappearance of persons, mainly associated with the activities of organized crime groups; the issue of lynching people and the use of private security in a disproportionate and little supervised manner. The response of the Guatemalan State has been problematic, due to the continuous weakening of the National Civilian Police, the disproportionate use of states of emergency, militarization of citizen security, and the creation of special squads, which have only increased tensions and exacerbated the problem.

An efficient, independent and autonomous administration of justice is crucial for the strengthening of democracy and the observance of the rule of law. The Commission is particularly concerned by the selection processes and the length of the tenure of justice operators, which impacts on the independence of the judiciary. The IACHR is also concerned by the lack of access to justice and the high rates of impunity, particularly with respect to violations of human rights committed during the internal armed conflict.

“Most of the incidents that took place during the armed conflict from 1960 to 1996 remain unpunished,” said Commissioner Gil Botero." Although there has been progress in this regard, further efforts are required, due to the significance of the cases that are still unpunished," he added.

On the other hand, the report analyzes the situation of inequality and exclusion suffered by indigenous peoples in Guatemala as a result of racism and of historical and structural discrimination.

"According to UNICEF figures, eight out of ten indigenous children suffer from chronic malnutrition. This fact is symptomatic of a situation of exclusion and inequality that has been affecting the indigenous peoples of Guatemala for generations, "said the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Commissioner Francisco Eguiguren Praeli. “As recommended in the report, Guatemala must redouble efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, especially to eliminate child malnutrition," he added.

The lack of prior, free and informed consultation to indigenous peoples, in the context of extractive projects and other type of initiatives that involve the exploitation of natural resources in their ancestral lands and territories, is a problem that aggravates the situation of inequality and exclusion of this group. Although the State of Guatemala has indicated that the right of indigenous peoples to be consulted is unquestionable, the report suggests that mining projects, monoculture, hydroelectric plants and others developed in recent decades, have been made without prior consultation, in contravention of the inter-American human rights standards. In addition, the development of these projects has resulted in the contamination of their water and soil as well as forced displacement from their lands.

The report also addresses the situation of right to freedom of expression. Three journalists were killed in Guatemala in 2015. In addition, there have been episodes of harassment and attacks against journalists and media workers, where those responsible have been both organized crime as well as political leaders and local state authorities. This context generates an atmosphere of intimidation against the press with the consequent inhibitory effect and self-censorship among journalists and the impact on the right to information in different areas of the country. In addition, the IACHR and its Rapporteurship on Freedom of Expression have not received any information on progress regarding the legal recognition of community broadcasting and the implementation of effective allocation of frequencies for community stations, which has been recognized by the State as its obligation in several opportunities. On the contrary, it continued to criminalize this type of media. The situation of concentration of media ownership in the country has also remained unchanged.

The report includes recommendations to the State to address serious human rights problems in the country. In particular, the IACHR recommends retaking the agenda of the Peace Agreements as instruments to advance in the development of a country that is more democratic, just, tolerant and respectful of human rights. The report also includes specific recommendations regarding the situation of violence and insecurity, administration of justice and the situation of indigenous peoples.

The Commission reiterates its commitment with the Guatemalan State in the search of solutions to the problems identified and in the implementation of the recommendations of this report, made in a constructive and cooperative spirit. The Commission is at the disposal to the State, within the framework of its mandate and functions, to collaborate with Guatemala to ensure the effective enjoyment of human rights of all people.

The Commission welcomes and appreciates the information provided by the Government and representatives and civil society organizations to prepare the report.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 035/16