THE RIGHT TO LIFE
With regard to the phenomenon of lynchings, the Commission
recommended that the State:
1. Analyze and document the nature, characteristics, and extent of
lynchings and attempted lynchings, and design integrated strategies
aimed at preventing their repetition, and at fomenting measures of
nonviolent conflict resolution.
2. Amplify and intensify efforts underway to educate and train
police, prosecutorial and judicial officials, and authorities and
leaders at the local level in strategies to prevent lynchings and to
respond to incidents that occur so as to avoid bloodshed.
3. Further incorporate the participation of members of the
affected communities in the design and implementation of the programs
referred to above.
4. Establish a process, incorporating the participation of law
enforcement, prosecutorial, and judicial officials at the national and
local levels, to review cases of lynchings and attempted lynchings, to
verify the status of each investigation and/or prosecution underway,
and to determine the actions to be taken to impel each to a definitive
With reference to the first recommendation, which deals with
the design of strategies aimed at preventing further lynchings and at
fomenting nonviolent conflict resolution, the Commission commends the
efforts made by the State and several of its agencies in eradicating
these manifestations of social violence. The MINUGUA verification
report notes that in recent years, the government of Guatemala has
made major efforts to step up its presence in the interior of the
country and to strengthen the human and material resources of the
bodies responsible for law enforcement and the administration of
justice. As a result, practically all municipalities now have police
stations and magistrates courts (“courts of peace”), numerous
conciliation centers have been established, and there has been an
increase in the numbers of prosecutors, public defenders, and
first-instance courts. However, in addition to underscoring the
importance of those efforts by the authorities, the Commission
believes it must reiterate that the State’s efforts, if they are to
be effective vis-à-vis such a complex phenomenon, must be a part of
an integrated, planned strategy.
In light of the information supplied, the Commission notes that
the increase in institutional coverage has not led to a commensurate
decrease in the number of lynchings. Specifically, MINUGUA’s
Thirteenth Report on Human Rights states that during the period July
2001 through June 2002 there were 57 lynching incidents or attempted
lynchings carried out against 139 people, resulting in 21 deaths, some
of whom were not of adult age. Accordingly, we underscore and insist
on the need for the State to incorporate the different strategies
adopted by its different agencies into a global strategy that can then
seek out the necessary complement of support from political and social
Training, and Civic Participation
With respect to the second recommendation, the Commission
recognizes the positive impact of the Lynching Prevention Program
launched in 1999 by the Unit for the Modernization of the Judiciary,
the Ministry of Education, and the National Civil Police, in
conjunction with MINUGUA. It should be pointed out that other
institutions and bodies gradually became involved in these activities,
including the National Civil Police, the Ministry of Education,
COPREDEH, INGUAT, FONAPAZ, and SEPAZ.
106. The Commission notes the important consensus-building
power of these workshops and reiterates the need for continued joint
efforts to achieve the project’s ongoing implementation.
The Commission believes that the State’s actions as regards
the third recommendation–community participation in the
implementation of these programs–have been weak. The State’s
initiatives must be aimed at the goal of generating points of
commonality and forums for interrelations between judicial officers
and communities, enabling discussions and the identification of the
problems faced in seeking out effective, joint solutions. It is also
essential that the institutions closest to the population are
strengthened as civil institutions in order to achieve greater social
In its comments on this follow-up report, the State indicated
that the Judiciary Modernization Unit, with financial support from the
World Bank, had planned and carried out a series of lynching
prevention workshops. It also said that members of the PNC had
received seminars on alternative conflict resolution methods, with
support from the Guatemalan Institute of Comparative Criminal Science
Studies, and that COPREDEH had held lynching prevention workshops in
11 regions of the country.
In connection with the fourth recommendation–regarding a
process for reviewing lynching cases and attempted lynchings–the
Commission notes with concern that in spite of the seriousness of this
phenomenon, the number of prosecutions and the number of judgments
handed down against the perpetrators is very small. The Commission
thus believes that the recommendation has not been effectively
implemented by the State and, consequently, the impunity that
generally surrounds lynchings has not been dissipated by conducting
the relevant investigations, punishing the guilty, and redressing the
Thus, between January and June 2001, MINUGUA recorded seven
lynchings in which one or more victims lost their lives, and it
carried out a verification of the official investigations that ensued.
Some nine months after the incidents, five of the cases had been filed
or had simply not progressed at all since the initial formalities
(police report, coroner’s report, death certificate).
The Commission notes with concern that the failure to comply
with this recommendation can be seen most clearly in those fatal
lynchings involving official actions that served to further the
impunity surrounding them. It has information that describes this
situation and bears witness to the urgent need for a consolidated
institutional commitment toward addressing this phenomenon with legal
measures. This information states that on March 29, 2001, in Franja
Transversal del Norte, Chisec, Mr. Cornelio Betancourt was
murdered, apparently in a mugging carried out by two unknown
assailants. Later, a group of local people caught, beat up, and burned
those individuals. The Public Prosecution Service’s file contains
the police report, which describes the incident, refers to two
possible witnesses, the coroner’s report, the forensic report, and
the SIC’s report describing the events that took place and setting
the task of interviewing the witnesses. Three months after the
lynching neither the Public Prosecution Service nor the SIC had
pursued any further formalities, such as summoning the two individuals
identified as witnesses in the police report, and the file was about
to be sent to archive because the perpetrator had not been identified.
In connection with this, Amnesty International has stated that
impunity in Guatemala is a key factor behind the new and growing
incidence of human rights violations. The Commission therefore
reiterates to the State the need to focus its political will on
encouraging the competent judicial bodies to review and duly process
lynching cases toward their final resolution.
conclusion, in spite of the State’s significant efforts in
addressing this phenomenon of social violence, the Commission, in
consideration of its complexity and deep roots in the social fabric,
underscores the pressing need for designing a law-and-order policy
that includes strategies for addressing these crimes and provides
methods for preventing and punishing them. Another essential step is
to design general and operations plans that specifically address the
lynching phenomenon, and to encourage coordination between the justice
administration system and the other agencies of the State in order to
secure results in investigating and punishing these crimes.
The Commission offered the State the following recommendations
with regard to the phenomenon of social cleansing:
1. Enhance the human and material resources dedicated to the
investigation of such crimes to ensure the existence of an adequate
evidentiary basis for the identification of those responsible and
their eventual prosecution and punishment.
2. Adopt the measures necessary to ensure that crimes linked by a
common modus operandi are investigated in light of their possible
3. Redouble its efforts to investigate such crimes with an
apparent link to State agents and/or illegal groups, such as former
military commissioners and PAC members. Only effective investigation,
prosecution, and punishment can stem the persistence of abuses by such
The Commission notes with extreme concern that its
recommendations given in connection with the subject of social
cleansing have not been implemented, revealing stagnation and a lack
of concrete progress in the treatment of this delicate issue.
The Commission underscores the need for the State’s efforts
to focus on the recommendations offered as regards the persecution and
extermination of members of specific groups–such as suspected
criminals, homosexuals, and street children–which represents, as
stated in its Fifth Report, a particularly reprehensible violation of
the right to life and humane treatment and has repeatedly been
condemned as such by the Commission.
. Specifically, as regards street children or youngsters
who spend much of their days on the streets, during 2002 the IACHR
received information about a number of violent attacks carried out
against the boys, girls, and adolescents who live on the streets in a
state of complete defenselessness. These incidents include a firearm
attack on six youngsters during the night of July 20, 2002, while they
were sleeping on Avenue 9 and Street 30, Zone 8, in Guatemala City, in
which three of them were killed and three were seriously wounded; an
attack on a girl in which two men dropped 50 lb (23 kg) of stones on
her while she slept in the morning of August 15, 2002, at the bus
station located in Zone 4 of Guatemala City; and a firearm attack
against a total of 22 boys, girls, and adolescents who were sleeping
in a house in downtown Guatemala City in the morning of October 16, 2002. The Commission was also
informed about the murder of the teenager Engelberth Armando López
González, which took place at 2:00 am on November 4, on a corner of
Street 8 between Avenues 11 and 12, in Guatemala City’s Zone 1.
116. In its comments submission the government of Guatemala
said that it shared the Commission’s concern about specific cases
involving street children but that regardless, those incidents should
not be associated with a pattern of social cleansing but rather with
the climate of common crime prevailing in the country, against which
the government is deploying intense efforts. The State reported that
to date, in general terms, there were no indications of the existence
of social cleansing operations.
With respect to acts of violence against children and young
people who live on the streets or spend much of their days there, the
IACHR welcomes the fact that the State of Guatemala shares its concern
regarding the specific cases referred to by the Commission, which are
common knowledge at the international level. However, the Commission
would like to note its apprehension about the fact that the State
merely expressed its concern regarding the aforesaid cases of
violence, without concluding that the incidents constitute social
cleansing; neither did it submit a single argument to support that
conclusion. Thus, not only does the State of Guatemala fail to provide
any additional information about the investigation, identification,
and punishment of the perpetrators of these grave incidents of
international importance, but it also classifies them as belonging to
a pattern of common crime.
The Commission notes that the argument most frequently used by
defendants of social cleansing campaigns is to blame growing levels of
insecurity among the citizenry on street children and on sectors
deemed dangerous for historical or circumstantial reasons, and to
condone informal repression on the grounds that the state agents
charged with enforcing the law are inadequate to the task. Believing
it to be a most serious phenomenon, the Commission notes with great
concern the persistence of a pattern of systematic and brutal violence
against street children and youngsters that resembles what has been
called the social cleansing of sectors deemed “undesirable,” “marginal,”
“dangerous,” or “potential criminals”–traditionally the case
with the socioeconomically disadvantaged children and adolescents who
live on Guatemala’s streets.
In light of the above, the Commission emphasizes the need for
the State to redouble its efforts to investigate, prosecute, and make
amends for these crimes and, consequently, prevent them from
reoccurring and impacting society.
In relation to extrajudicial executions by State agents in
custodial situations and through abuses of authority, the Commission
urged the State to:
1. Implement additional training activities to ensure that members
of the National Civil Police are fully apprised of the procedures to
be followed in effectuating arrests and detentions.
2. Adopt further measures of training, oversight, and enforcement
to ensure that State agents authorized to use force apply it in strict
conformity with the principles of necessity, exceptionality, and
proportionality set forth in the UN Code of Conduct for Law
3. Take additional steps to ensure that any deprivation of liberty
effectuated by a State agent is immediately registered, and subject to
judicial supervision without delay.
4. Implement the measures necessary to suspend officers under
investigation for incidents involving excessive force or abuse of
The Commission has received information indicating that the
State has made no significant progress with these recommendations.
reports of 89 alleged human rights violations between July 2001 and
June 2002, and it confirmed 13 extrajudicial killings and 25 attempts.
Specifically, as regards the first two recommendations in the
section, dealing with training, information, and oversight for agents
of the State in compliance with the terms of the UN Code of Conduct
for Law Enforcement Officials, the Commission notes with concern that
no positive results have been reported.
State agents continue to commit serious human rights
violations; excessive use of force by PNC members is one of the causes
of extrajudicial killings. MINUGUA has reported cases in which
detainees have been shot while in custody; Otoniel Ramos Suchite, for
example, who died on October 17, 2001, in Quebrada de Agua, Zacapa.
Some 50 police officers from La Unión, Gualán, and Zacapa had been
sent to arrest Ramos Suchite, on charges of murder and robbery, and,
according to witnesses, he was shot by the police as he emerged,
unarmed, from his home. Likewise, on January 29, 2002, during an
illegal incursion into the village of Chocón, Izabal, members of the
police Antinarcotic Operations Department (DOAN) opened fire on a
group of people, killing two. At first, the police claimed that the
two fatalities–Abinail Cerna Castañeda and Leonel Arnoldo Díaz
Valenzuela–were drug dealers who had resisted arrest. However,
National Civil Police’s Professional Responsibility Office (ORP) has
made 17 of the department’s officers available to the courts in
connection with the case. The Commission recognizes the speed and
seriousness of the actions of the ORP and the MP in this case, which,
according to information given to the Commission by the attorney
general, filed charges against 16 DOAN officers on July 28, 2002. On
October 17, 2002, under an agreement issued by the Interior Minister,
the DOAN was disbanded. The Commission believes that in this case, the
government adopted exemplary measures that should be applied with
similar vigor in other cases involving right violations and
As regards the IACHR’s recommendations on the question of
extrajudicial killings, the State’s comments indicate, first of all,
that training on arrest procedures and the Code of Conduct for Law
Enforcement Officials has been given to PNC officers through workshops
and lectures and in the different courses contained in the study plans–basic
and specialized alike–at the Academy.
With regard to the administrative actions that the IACHR
recommended, the State reported that in general terms it had been told
about such actions carried out by senior officials at the Defense
Ministry, the Interior Ministry, the judiciary, and the National Civil
Police, following reports of security force involvement in actions
leading to the loss of human life. However, the Commission notes that
the State did not specify the cases in which those actions have been
pursued nor the penalties, if any, that have been applied.
On the question of forced disappearances, the Commission urged
the State to:
1. Adopt the measures required to promptly and thoroughly
investigate the isolated cases denounced to ensure that the fate of
the victims is clarified and those responsible are held accountable.
2. Ensure that any failure of any State agent to register a
deprivation of liberty and subject the detention to judicial
supervision without delay is met with the prompt application of
enforcement measures to hold him or her accountable.
3. Give due consideration to the withdrawal of its reservation to
the application of Article V of the Inter-American Convention on
Forced Disappearances, in light of its obligations as a Party, and its
obligations under domestic law and the inter-American system
The Commission has no information about the State’s
compliance with the first two recommendations. Although the State’s
comments claimed that in general terms it had investigated those
isolated and occasional cases in which forced disappearance was
suspected, the Commission believes that the information is
insufficient to assess the degree of compliance with its
In light of its failure to observe the terms of the
recommendation, the Commission once again calls on the State to give
due consideration to withdrawing its reservation to Article V of the
Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearances.
In connection with the imposition and application of the death
penalty, the Commission recommended that the State:
1. Consider presenting a request for an advisory opinion before
the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to reconcile the divergent
interpretations of domestic courts as to the compatibility of the
amplification of the death penalty to apply to kidnapping which does
not involve the death of the victim with the Constitution and the
Consider, in light of the requirement of scrupulous adherence
to all due process guarantees in the face of this irrevocable penalty,
imposing a moratorium on executions until the basic reforms
contemplated in the peace accords to correct serious deficiencies in
the administration of justice are implemented and operative.
3. Take the legislative and/or administrative measures necessary
to prescribe a process to request clemency and make related
representations in cases where this penalty has been imposed.
As it has already stated in its Fifth Report on Guatemala, the
Inter-American Commission believes it must point out that although the
American Convention does not prohibit capital punishment, its
application must be carried out in strict compliance with Article 4 of
that international instrument. The following paragraphs assess the
extent to which the recommendations presented to the State have been
put into practice.
for an Advisory Opinion
The Commission notes that the State of Guatemala has not as yet
complied with the terms of the first recommendation by lodging a
request for an advisory opinion with the Inter-American Court to
reconcile the domestic courts’ divergent interpretations of whether
or not applying the death penalty to kidnappings that do not involve
the death of the victim would be compatible with the American
The Commission has received information stating that twelve
people are currently facing the capital punishment for deathless
kidnappings; although nobody has yet been executed under that law,
their sentences have been upheld or are currently being examined by
either the Supreme Court of Justice or the Constitutional Court.
Accordingly, the Commission reiterates how important it is for the
State to comply with that recommendation.
The Commission notes with satisfaction that the State has duly
implemented its recommendation that a moratorium be placed on
executions until the justice system has adopted the reforms set forth
in the peace accords. However, the IACHR believes it must point out
that this decision issued by the high echelons of government still
requires a legal framework.
With respect to the fourth recommendation, the Commission notes
with concern that the State of Guatemala has not as yet enacted
legislation to regulate procedures for pardons and clemency and has
thus not implemented the recommendation.
The information supplied indicates that since May 2000 no
pardon pleas have been processed, with the government claiming that no
legal procedure exists for that purpose and that it has no competence
over such requests. Public defenders have used other judicial
procedures, such as appeals for review or amparo relief, but they have
not lodged pleas for pardon on account of this situation.
The Commission reiterates that it cannot be ruled that the
possibility of a clemency petition simply does not exist, because it
is required by the applicable international law.
The American Convention specifically states that “every person
condemned to death shall have the right to apply for amnesty, pardon,
or commutation of sentence, which may be granted in all cases.”
International law requires that condemned prisoners are given a last
opportunity for their situations to be assessed; the Commission
therefore underscores the importance of implementing this
recommendation and it notes that the procedure to be put in place must
incorporate a minimum of procedural guarantees so that effective use
can be made of the right.
RIGHT TO PERSONAL INTEGRITY
In its Report on Guatemala, the Commission expressed its
concern about four key questions regarding the right to personal
integrity. The first deals with the vulnerability of the population, a
large proportion of which believes that its personal integrity is
threatened by violence and common crime. The second relates to the
persistence of reports concerning the use of torture or inhumane
treatment by agents of the security forces for the purpose of
extracting information or “confessions” from detained suspects.
The third involves threats to personal security within the prison
system. Finally, the fourth area of concern involves the increasing
number of threats and attacks perpetrated against members of
organizations involved in the promotion and protection of the rights
of the populace.
In the Fifth Report, the Commission reiterated the need for the
quick and effective investigation, prosecution, and punishment of
crimes against personal integrity as the only way to bring them under
Security of Detainees
With regard to the situation faced by detainees, the Commission
offered the State the following recommendations:
Further refine the selection process to screen prospective
members of the public security forces, as well as guards and other
prison personnel, to ensure that individuals selected have the
capacity to respect the law while enforcing it.
2. Further strengthen training programs for security and prison
personnel, to develop an institution-wide knowledge of and respect for
human rights norms.
3. Take the measures necessary to ensure that all detainees are
immediately informed of their rights, including to a lawyer and to
bring complaints in event of mistreatment, and to ensure that any
detention is subject to prompt judicial supervision.
4. Adopt additional measures of training and oversight to ensure
that declarations are not taken by unauthorized nonjudicial personnel,
and to ensure that declarations or confessions obtained under duress
are not accepted into evidence.
5. Take the measures necessary to ensure that, while allegations
that a State agent subjected a person in custody to torture or inhuman
treatment are being investigated, the agent in question is suspended
from any duties that would bring him or her into contact with persons
6. Ensure that all claims of torture or inhuman treatment are
subjected to prompt and effective investigation designed to clarify
the facts, identify those responsible, and ensure their prosecution
and punishment pursuant to the appropriate processes of domestic law.
The Commission was informed that between mid-2001 and mid-2002,
cases of cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment inflicted by police
officers on detainees increased by 128 percent. Specifically, MINUGUA
reported that it received 551 complaints of alleged violations of that
kind, of which it was able to corroborate 270, most of which were
committed by members of the National Civil Police.
The Commission reiterates how urgent it is that the State adopt
effective measures to train and oversee its agents, and it emphasizes
the need for comprehensive internal controls to ensure that the State’s
police officers use force in a legitimate fashion.
In its comments on the follow-up report, the State reported
that the PNC Academy
has an ingenious system for selecting and evaluating candidates,
involving academic, physical, and psychological tests, and that
Professional Responsibility Office carries out investigations into
mistakes made by police officers, with the application of disciplinary
measures depending on the results thereof.
The Commission must also emphasize the need for measures to
investigate and, if appropriate, punish those guilty of making abusive
use of force or of abusing their authority.
Since it has received no information from the State about the
foregoing recommendations, the Commission repeats them and demands
that they be complied with.
Human Rights Defenders
With specific reference to the protection of human rights
defenders, the Commission recommended that the State:
1. Take further measures to recognize and value the work of human
rights defenders and social leaders, including through the development
of additional training activities to ensure respect for human rights
and human rights defenders among members of the security forces, and
the issuance of clear and unequivocal statements by high level
officials confirming the legitimacy and importance of the work of
human rights defenders and their organizations.
2. Ensure that appropriate protective measures are made available
and effective in cases where personal security is at risk.
3. Act with redoubled resolve to ensure the investigation,
prosecution, and punishment of threats, attacks, and other acts of
intimidation against human rights defenders and social leaders.
Consider the establishment of specialized units within the
National Civil Police and Public Prosecutor’s Office, with the
resources and training required to coordinate efforts and respond with
due diligence to this critical problem.
The Guatemalan State informed the Commission that as a part of
its protection of human rights defenders, it had created a Special
Prosecutors Unit for human rights, responsible for investigating
threats and other acts of aggression against rights workers. The
Commission applauds this initiative and urges the State to provide the
new prosecutor for human rights with all the human, technical, and
scientific resources necessary to pursue serious and effective
investigations to determine the origin of threats, illegal searches,
harassment, and other forms of aggression carried out against human
In its comments on the report, the State told the IACHR that
the Interior Ministry had established specialized units for dealing
with complaints lodged by human rights defenders, for investigating
such cases, and, if so requested, for providing those defenders with
protection on a coordinated basis between the units and the PNC.
However, the Commission has been observing, with concern, a
clear deterioration in the situation of human rights activists in
recent years, including cases in which they have been singled out for
the work they do, thus placing them in grave danger. This can be seen
in the significant increase in the number of threats, acts of
intimidation, illegal searches, and wire taps suffered by activists
and the members of their families. The Commission was told that
between January and July 2002, some 135 such cases were reported. The
IACHR has also been informed about isolated incidents in which human
rights defenders have been killed.
The Commission understands that more than 60 percent of these
attacks are directed against groups working to reveal the truth and
secure justice in the aftermath of the armed conflict. According to
reports received by the IACHR, in spite of the State’s replies in
the formal arena, in practical terms there has been nothing more than
a recognition of patterns in the acts of violence against rights
defenders and of the existence of clandestine groups.
In its comments submission, the State described the creation of
an interinstitutional group for dealing with threats against human
rights workers, made up of the PNC, the Public Prosecution Service,
the Secretariat for Strategic Analysis, the Secretariat for Peace, the
judiciary, and COPREDEH. The State reported that as a result of that
group’s work, a study was carried out that drew up recommendations
for State authorities vis-à-vis how exactly to treat threats against
activists; these included the creation of an elite force within the
National Civil Police responsible for investigating such cases.
The Commission states once again that human rights defenders
play a fundamental role in a comprehensive rule of law. The actions of
defenders–in defending individuals and groups who fall victim to
human rights violations, in publicly denouncing injustices that affect
large sectors of society, in the necessary control they exert over
public officials and democratic institutions, and in other activities–make
them irreplaceable players in constructing a solid and lasting
democratic society. When human rights defenders are silenced by
intimidation and fear, thousands of people are denied the opportunity
of resolving the violations and injustices that affect vast sectors of
The Commission believes that impunity, the weakness of the
oversight agencies, the mobilization of the PACs, the existence of
clandestine groups, and, most particularly, the acts of intimidation
against human rights defenders combine to make up a disturbing
deterioration in the conditions needed to defend human rights that
continues to seriously affect Guatemalan society.
MINUGUA, Lynchings: A Persistent Scourge,
MINUGUA, Verification Report, Lynchings: A Persistent Scourge,
IACHR, Cases 11.598 and 11.599 (Brazil), Reports Nos. 9/00 and
10/00, published in IACHR, Annual Report 1999, April 13, 2000,
paragraphs 33-34, Reports on the situation of human rights in
Brazil, The Rights of Children.
MINUGUA, Thirteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations
Verification Mission in Guatemala, October 2002, Guatemala City,
IACHR, Fifth Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala.
American Convention, Article 4(6).
MINUGUA, Thirteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations
Verification Mission in Guatemala, October 2002, Guatemala City,