REPORT Nº 32/96
October 16, 1996
In 1982, the military regime of General Efraín Ríos Montt
established a system of Civilian Autodefense Patrols ("PACs").
The patrols were created as a part of a government policy of the
time of extermination of the guerrilla movement through the relocation
of the indigenous population and the eradication of all
"suspicious" persons and communities.
The Guatemalan Government has changed the status and title of the
civil patrols a number of times, but they are generally still referred
to as PACs.
According to army sources, during certain periods, the PACs were
over 800,000 persons strong.
During the time period of the events in this case, the person of
the military commissioner served as a liaison between the community and
the Army. The military
commissioner reported directly to the Army and often worked closely with
On April 12, 1990, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
(the "Commission") received a complaint from the petitioners
(Human Rights Watch/Americas, the Center for Justice and International
Law, Emily Yozell, and CERJ), which alleged that military commissioners
and patrol chiefs had undertaken actions against inhabitants of the
community known as Centro Parraxtut Segundo, in the municipal district
of Sacapulas, department of El Quiché, which ended with the murder of
María Mejía, the aggravated assault and wounding of her husband, Pedro
Castro Tojín, and death threats to another 39 family and community
members. The petition
alleged that these attacks were carried out in reprisal for the refusal
of members of the community of Parraxtut Segundo to participate in the
PACs. Also related in the
petition was an attack on March 27, 1990, by PAC members and military
commissioners against Amílcar Méndez Urízar, a human rights activist,
and the 39 threatened community members who were attempting to return to
Parraxtut Segundo after having been away from the community following
the harassment to which they were subjected.
Finally, the petition denounced the lack of action taken by law
enforcement and the courts in connection with complaints lodged by the
members of the Parraxtut Segundo community to enforce their rights.
The petition points out that rural persons, indigenous peoples
and residents of Centro Parraxtut Segundo learned, through educational
workshops organized by the Runujel Junam Ethnic Communities Council (CERJ)
that, as provided by Article 34 of the Political Constitution of
Guatemala, they were not required to participate in the PACs and that,
on that ground, a number of them refused to participate in them.
As a result of the aforementioned refusal to participate and
their work with the CERJ, these persons were the targets of threats and
harassment by the military commissioners and the PAC members.
With the assistance of the CERJ, the affected persons filed
motions for personal appearance (otherwise known as habeas corpus) with
the Human Rights Ombudsman and the regional justice of the peace, but no
authority investigated the charges.
The complaint details that, as reprisal for not participating in
the PACs, the military commissioner of the community of Parraxtut, Juan
de León Pérez, ordered local mills to refuse to accept corn for
grinding from the family of Pedro Castro Tojín or from 17 other persons
as of January 29, 1990. Mr.
Castro Tojín reported this fact to the authorities.
On several occasions during the months of January and February,
1990, María Mejía was detained along with her children as she went to
Santa Cruz del Quiché to buy supplies, and was forced to return home.
Juan de León Pérez told one of María Mejía's sons, Francisco
Castro Imul (15 years of age), that if the family left the town, they
would be killed.
For their part, the older sons of María Mejía, Juan Tum Mejía,
23 years of age, and Domingo Tum Mejía, 17 years of age, and another
community resident, Diego Yat Us, also 17 years of age, left Parraxtut
in late February 1990 and filed complaints regarding the threats against
them. Out of fear for their
lives, they decided to take refuge at the CERJ offices in Santa Cruz del
The district judge of the area (Santa Cruz del Quiché) refused
to accept the writ of habeas corpus submitted in behalf of the
threatened persons on March 2, 1990. As a result, the coordinator of the CERJ, Amílcar Méndez Urízar,
had to request the President of the Supreme Court of Justice in the
capital city to intervene to make sure the motion was accepted.
Murder of María Mejía and wounding of Pedro Castro Tojín
The human rights violations increased, ending with the murder of
María Mejía at the hands of military commissioners, as well as serious
injuries to her husband, Pedro Castro Tojín.
On March 17, 1990, at approximately 7:30 pm, while María Mejía
was eating supper with her spouse, Pedro Castro Tojín, and her two
children, Francisco Castro Imul and Diego Castro Imul, they heard a dog
bark. They went out into
the yard to see who was coming and they met two armed men, dressed in
camouflage military clothing. These
men identified themselves as members of the Guerilla Army of the Poor.
They shot María Mejía, wounding her in the chest.
When Mr. Castro showed a flashlight in their faces, and
recognized two military commissioners, they shot him in the leg.
The two military commissioners returned approximately two minutes
later, walked up to the body of Mrs. Mejía and shot her in the face.
Showing their lights over the yard, they saw Pedro Castro, shot
at him several times and left. Mr.
Castro, and his younger son, Diego Castro Imul, then went to the house
of Magdalena Us Lux, a family member and the closest neighbor.
petition continues to the effect that on the following day, March 18,
community members, including relatives of the victims, went to the
justice of the peace in Sacapulas, Noriego Natareno, to inform him of
the crime and to seek assistance. However, his response was that, "María Mejía was
probably drunk, or if she wasn't, the military commissioners were drunk.
But, if she was found lying dead in her house, we will bring her
judge was informed, through the statements of Pedro Castro Tojín, that
the death was caused by two military commissioners, but when he went to
Parraxtut and asked about them, he was told that the community had not
had any military commissioners for years, and he ended his inquiry at
petition notes that the autopsy of the body of María Mejía was
conducted in a summary manner and without any legal physician in
attendance. The forensic
report states that the body showed four bullet wounds.
The Commission, for its part, received news of the acts carried
out during the investigation period by Judge Edwin Dominguez who ordered
ballistics and fingerprint tests, but it did not receive any information
as to whether or not these examinations were actually carried out.
Threats to family members of victims and members of the Parraxtut
petition goes on to say that on March 19, 1990, the day of María Mejía's
burial in Parraxtut Segundo, the military commissioners gave the family
members of the deceased ten days to leave the community or else they
would suffer the same consequences.
Out of fear, the majority sought refuge or moved to other places.
March 22, 1990, three relatives of María Mejía, specifically, Domingo
Tum Mejía, Abelardo Ixcotoyac Tum and Diego Yat Us, went to the office
of the Justice of the Peace of Sacapulas to seek to have the military
commissioners arrested because those persons continued to threaten
community members and remained at liberty despite the fact that
information pointed to them as the parties responsible for the death of
María Mejía and the injuries to Pedro Castro Tojín.
The Justice of the Peace asked the chief of the area military
detachment to come to his office. The
military officer stated that the military commissioners had told him
that Mrs. María Mejía was murdered because she was a member of the
guerrilla forces. The head of the military detachment told the relatives of María
Mejía that they should stop working with human rights groups such as
March 23, 1990, the CERJ filed several petitions with the Human Rights
Ombudsman and the Justice of the Peace of Santa Cruz del Quiché
requesting protection for 39 individuals from Parraxtut Segundo,
including relatives of María Mejía.
These persons were being threatened with death by the military
commissioners and PAC members and were obliged to seek refuge outside
their community. Many of
them went to the CERJ offices in Santa Cruz del Quiché.
Unsuccessful return of Parraxtut Segundo community members
March 27, 1990, in response to numerous requests, representatives of the
Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman, including the Assistant Ombudsman,
César F. Alvarez Guadamuz, went to Santa Cruz del Quiché to accompany
the displaced members of Parraxtut Segundo on their return to their
homes. Their intention was
to speak with the military commissioners and to inform them of their
duties and rights and to also see to it that the persons responsible for
the crime against Mrs. Mejía were arrested.
judge in charge of the case involving the death of María Mejía, the
head of the Second Chamber of the First Criminal Court of Instruction,
issued an arrest warrant for the two military commissioners identified
by Pedro Castro Tojín as the persons who had killed his wife, following
questions by the Assistant Ombudsman.
To carry out the warrant, the Assistant Ombudsman went with two
National Police Force agents as well as two individuals dressed as
civilians who identified themselves as military representatives.
Amílcar Méndez Urízar, a human rights activist and coordinator
of CERJ, also accompanied the group.
they approached the village of Parraxtut, they came upon a sentry box
and a barrier across the road that blocked their advance.
Twelve armed men awaited the group and ordered César F. Alvarez
Guadamuz and Amílcar Méndez to get out of their vehicles and to
identify themselves. The petition notes that when the patrol members realized that
Amílcar Méndez was in their presence, they said, "we have the
head man himself of the guerrilla force," and "we have orders
to kill Amílcar Méndez." They
pushed and insulted Mr. Méndez and pointed their guns at his head.
Assistant Ombudsman and his companions attempted to convince the patrol
members and the military commissioners that they were Government
authorities but they too had guns pointed at them and were threatened.
Approximately 50 armed men also came to the place were the deputy
attorney and his group were detained.
As César F. Alvarez Guadamuz attempted to carry out his mission,
the distraction he created enabled Amílcar Méndez to get into his car
and escape. The Office of
the Human Rights Ombudsman carried videotaping equipment and filmed the
incident. The members of
the Parraxtut Segundo community escaped in their vehicles, and were
chased and fired at for a distance of two kilometers.
The official representatives stayed to speak with the deputy
mayor and the patrol members, and to try to carry out their mission. The attempt to carry out the arrests, however, did not
Tum Mejía was able to identify six of the military commissioners and
PAC members who carried out the attack.
Documents were attached to the petition to verify the incident of
March 27, 1990.
The reply to the Petition
a letter dated May 29, 1990, the Commission informed the Government of
Guatemala of the petition and requested information under the terms of
Article 34 of its Regulations, within a period of 90 days.
When no response was forthcoming, the Commission repeated its
request on September 6, 1990. On
that same day, the Commission received a communication from the
Government requesting a 30-day extension of time to respond in this
case. On September 12,
1990, the Commission sent a letter granting the extension of time.
When no response was received from the Government, on January 24,
1991, the Commission once again reiterated its request and informed the
Government of the possible application of Article 42 of its Regulations
which allows for the presumption of the truth of the facts related by
on March 11, 1991, the Government of Guatemala responded to the
Commission, providing information relating only to a portion of the
events included in the petition. The response indicated that the Second Chamber of the First
Court of Santa Cruz del Quiché, El Quiché, was processing criminal
case No. 411-90 which was investigating the events that occurred on
March 27, 1990, in prejudice to Mr. Amílcar Méndez Urízar and others. It also informed that the case was currently in the summary
stage and that one of the four suspects in the judicial proceedings was
being held in detention. On
the basis of the existence of this legal case in progress, the
Government of Guatemala requested the Commission to declare the petition
inadmissible. The Commission transmitted the pertinent parts of this
information to the petitioners.
Subsequent processing before The Commission
petitioners sent their reply to the Commission in a note dated April 19,
1991. They considered that
the response from the Government was neither timely nor serious and that
it showed, furthermore, the Government's lack of willingness to
investigate the case and to make sure that justice was done.
The petitioners pointed out that the Government's response
referred only to the incident of March 27, 1990.
The response failed completely to take up the serious violations
of the Convention that were charged, such as the extrajudicial execution
of María Mejía, the serious injuries to her husband, Pedro Castro Tojín,
the threats to family members and other members of the CERJ, and the
consequent forced displacement of 39 residents of Parraxtut Segundo.
petitioners agreed that case No. 411-90 had been opened in the Second
Chamber of the First Court of Santa Cruz del Quiché and that one of the
four suspects had been detained. However,
they clarified that this case referred only to the threats and
mistreatment of Mr. Méndez Urízar when he attempted, in the company of
relatives of Mrs. Mejía and members of the Parraxtut Segundo community,
and the Assistant Human Rights Ombudsman, to enter the canton of
Parraxtut to arrest the presumed murderers of Mrs. Mejía and to return
the displaced families to their homes.
petitioners also pointed out that the Government made no reference to
the fact that the other three suspects in the judicial proceedings were
living in freedom in Parraxtut despite the order to detain them issued
on January 17, 1991, by the Second Chamber of the First Criminal Court.
petitioners charged that the responsibility for the death of María Mejía
had been proven because the two military commissioners responsible were
identified by the personal eye-witness, Pedro Castro Tojín.
The culpability of these two was further confirmed by the fact
that they had threatened the family of María Mejía on previous
occasions. The petitioners
reported that one week before Mrs. María Mejía was murdered, the
Assistant Human Rights Ombudsman of Santa Cruz del Quiché, Oscar
Cifuentes Cabrera, called the two military commissioners identified by
Pedro Castro Tojín to his office to insist that they end their threats
and harassment of the victims.
the petitioners charged that the requirement of exhaustion of domestic
remedies did not apply to the case because such remedies were totally
response of the petitioners was transmitted to the Government on August
7, 1991, for its final considerations.
On November 10, 1993, the Government was once again requested to
provide information within a period of 30 days, and the Commission
informed it that it would consider the possible application to this case
of presumption of truth under Article 42 of its Regulations.
December 9, 1993 and on April 4, 1994, the Government of Guatemala
requested the Commission to grant extensions of 30 days for it to
furnish the pertinent information. The Commission granted the requested extensions on December
10, 1993 and April 11, 1994.
June 1, 1994, the Government of Guatemala furnished information relating
to the case. The information indicated that the Second Chamber of the
First Criminal Court was processing case No. 332-90.
That court issued a temporary writ of incarceration on May 15,
1990, against the two military commissioners identified by Pedro Castro
Tojín. The Government
further indicated that, following this, the court decided that
sufficient elements did not exist that would lead to the conclusion that
the two suspects participated in the events charged.
As a result, on May 31, 1990, the preventive detention order for
the two aforementioned persons was revoked and they were freed on bail.
It was finally reported that the case was in the summary stage,
waiting for the Public Ministry or relatives of the victim to provide
new evidence. The pertinent
parts of this letter were communicated to the petitioners.
letters dated June 23, 1994, to the petitioners and the Government, the
Commission placed itself at the disposal of the parties for the purpose
of reaching a friendly settlement.
August 10, 1994, the petitioners provided their observations to the
information provided by the Government.
They indicated that the Government of Guatemala had not complied
with its obligation under Article 1.1 of the Convention.
They pointed out that after the passage of more than four years
after the murder of María Mejía, the Government could still give no
valid reasons to justify the obvious delay of justice and the lack of a
serious investigation of the case beyond its systematic effort to ensure
and legitimize the impunity of persons who commit violations of human
August 17 and September 16, 1994, the Government of Guatemala furnished
the Commission information relating to the case.
It indicated in these two communications that case 332-90 was
still in the summary stage and that for this reason, domestic remedies
had still not been exhausted in this case.
The Government also reported that the case had been transferred
to the Office of the Attorney General of Guatemala for all appropriate
addition, the Government stated that at the moment it did not desire to
submit the case to a friendly settlement proceeding since domestic
remedies had still not been exhausted.
a note dated September 28, 1994, the Commission addressed the parties
requesting information and arguments from them regarding the
effectiveness of the domestic remedies in the case and the applicability
of the requirement of exhaustion of domestic remedies.
November 21, 1994, the petitioners responded arguing that an exception
to the application of the rule on exhaustion of domestic remedies
applied on the basis of Article 46.2 of the Convention.
The Commission transmitted to the Government of Guatemala the
pertinent parts of this communication.
Government of Guatemala furnished additional information on April 21,
1995. In this information
it repeated that the remedies of domestic jurisdiction were still not
exhausted in this case and it rejected the Commission's offer to start a
friendly settlement proceeding.
a letter dated June 27, 1995, the petitioners answered the communication
from the Government and stated that they did not accept the offer of the
Commission to mediate a friendly settlement proceeding.
March 20, 1996, the Commission once again wrote to the petitioners and
to the Government and placed itself at their disposal to explore a
friendly solution to the case, requesting a response to the offer within
a term of 30 days. On March
25, the petitioners reported to the Commission that they had decided to
not agree to a friendly settlement proceeding of the case.
Considerations regarding the admissibility of the petition
39. The facts described above imply violations of the rights recognized in the American Convention on Human Rights such as the rights to life, (Article 4.1), the right to humane treatment (Article 5), the right to not be subject to forced labor (Article 6), the right to freedom of movement and residence (Article 22) and the right to protection under the law (Articles 8 and 25) and to the obligation established in Article 1 of the same. As a result, the Commission is competent to take up this case.
compliance with the conditions imposed by Articles 46.c and 47.d of the
Convention, the Commission has received no information indicating that
the petition constitutes a substantial reproduction of a petition
already reviewed or that any other proceeding under international
arrangements is pending.
disposition of Article 46.b of the Convention which provides that every
petition must be filed within a term of six months as from the date on
which the final decision has been handed down is not applicable to this
case because, according to the Government, the domestic remedies are
still in progress and, as a result, no final ruling has been made in
this case. In application
of the provisions of Article 37.2 of the Commission's Regulations on the
exception to exhaustion of internal remedies, in connection with Article
38.2 of its Regulations, the Commission concludes that the petition was
presented within a reasonable term as from the date on which the
presumed violations of human rights occurred.
two occasions, the Commission placed itself at the disposal of the
parties to initiate a proceeding of friendly settlement of this case.
The two parties have communicated on repeated occasions that they
have no intention of entering into negotiations for a prospective
Exhaustion of domestic remedies
to Article 46.2 of the Convention, the requirement of exhaustion of
domestic jurisdiction remedies to which Article 46.1.a refers does not
apply in this case. Article 46.1.a stipulates that for a petition to be admitted
by the Commission, the requirement is that "the remedies under
domestic jurisdiction must have been invoked and exhausted in accordance
with the generally recognized principles of international law." However, according to Article 46.2.b, exhaustion is not
required when, "the party alleging violation of his rights has not
been permitted access to the remedies under domestic law or has been
prevented from exhausting them."
According to Article 46.2.c, the exhaustion requirement is not
applicable when "there has been unwarranted delay in rendering a
final judgement under the aforementioned remedies."
The provisions of Article 46.2.b, c exempt the present case from
exhaustion since the victims and their relatives in the Parraxtut
Segundo community have sought reparation by means of the appropriate
mechanisms under domestic law but have nevertheless not obtained any
result or decision, even six years after the time when the events
connection with the murder of Mrs. María Mejía and the wounding of Mr.
Pedro Castro Tojín, community members and the victims' relatives filed
a complaint with the justice of the peace on the day after the events
and later sought, on many occasions, to move the legal process ahead and
bring about the arrest of the persons who allegedly committed the crime.
For example, on March 22, 1990, three members of María Mejía's
family appeared before a justice of the peace in Sacapulas to seek the
arrest of the two military commissioners identified by Pedro Castro Tojín
as being responsible for the death of María Mejía.
In addition, on March 27, 1990, Amílcar Méndez and the
community members who had been forced to leave the community returned to
Parraxtut Segundo along with the Assistant Human Rights Ombudsman, for
the purpose of asserting their rights and moving the case ahead.
Their efforts were in vain, however, as described above, because
of the attack by the PACs and the military commissioners.
the efforts of the community members and the victims' relatives, the
case was not investigated and properly handled, as evidenced by the lack
of any investigation by the justice of the peace immediately after the
event and the negligent performance of the autopsy, and no results were
achieved. Although an order
for preventive detention was issued in case No. 332-90 by the Second
Chamber of the First Court with respect to the two commissioners
identified by Pedro Castro Tojín, the court later concluded that
sufficient evidence did not exist regarding the involvement of those two
suspects in the events as charged.
On this ground, the Second Judge of the First Court revoked the
writ of incarceration of the aforementioned parties on May 31, 1990, and
set them free.
to the latest information provided by the Government on the status of
this case, which was forwarded to the Commission on September 16, 1994,
the case continues at the investigation level and the file has been
transferred to the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic,
pursuant to the new Criminal Procedure Code of Guatemala, for
continuation of the pertinent investigations.
The Commission has not received any information indicating that
the Office of the Attorney General has carried out any actions and the
Government has not reported on any progress in the case.
No final decision has been made for the case even though six
years have passed since the time of the crimes against María Mejía and
Pedro Castro Tojín.
respect to the incident of March 27, 1990, Mr. Amílcar Méndez Urízar
filed a formal complaint with the authorities.
This complaint initiated criminal case No. 411-90 at the Second
Chamber of the First Court of Santa Cruz del Quiché.
Four persons were charged in this case.
Three additional persons identified as having participated in the
attack by Juan Tum Mejía were never prosecuted.
The Government reported in its response of May 13, 1991, that an
arrest order had been issued for the accused persons on January 17,
1991, and that the authorities had detained one of the suspects.
The Government, however, never reported whether the other persons
named as suspects in the case had been detained.
In addition, based on information in the possession of the
Commission, the only detained suspect was later released.
Six years after the event, there has been no final decision with
respect to this legal proceeding nor has any person been convicted.
connection with the harassment experienced by the members of the
Parraxtut Segundo community, besides the incident of March 27, 1990, a
writ of habeas corpus was filed on March 23, 1990, on behalf of the 39
persons who were forced to leave their community.
The writ of habeas corpus is the appropriate remedy in Guatemala
to protect persons who are experiencing harassment and threats.
The 39 Parraxtut Segundo community members who were particularly
affected by the harassment by the PACs also filed complaints about their
situation to the Assistant Human Rights Ombudsman at Santa Cruz del
However, the Government has never reported on any investigation,
action or resolution with respect to the case relating to the harassment
of these 39 persons.
victims of the human rights violations charged in this case and their
family members have not had effective access to domestic remedies
theoretically available in Guatemala.
They have been prevented from exhausting any such remedies
despite their attempts to move ahead with domestic legal procedures in
this case because the Government has not conducted the investigations or
the appropriate court procedures. The Government was obliged to undertake the investigation of
the violations which form the subject of this case "as its own
legal duty, not as a step taken by private interests that depends upon
the initiative of the victim or his family or upon their offer of
The facts involved in this case, "because they involved
crimes against the person, should have been investigated on the
Government's own initiative in fulfillment of the State's duty to ensure
However, despite the fact that the Government was notified of the
violations and even with the cooperation of the victims and their
families who engaged in actions which sought to clarify those
violations, the Government never complied with its duty to investigate
independently the violations and to move forward with the appropriate
addition, there has been an unjustified delay in the resolution of the
processes which were initiated. Six
years have passed since the events that are the subject of these charges
occurred, and there is still no resolution of the case initiated with
respect to the death of María Mejía and the wounding of Pedro Castro
Tojín, or the case initiated on the grounds of the incidents of March
27, 1990. No court case has
been opened, much less any final
decision issued, regarding the status of the 39 persons who had to flee
the community of Parraxtut because of the harassment they experienced.
Considerations regarding the merits of the case
Commission analyzes the facts denounced in this case within the context
of the previous findings of the Commission and the findings of other
international bodies which have concluded that the PACs and military
commissioners commit serious human rights violations and create
increased social insecurity in communities in Guatemala.
Commission believes that sufficient evidence exists to confirm that
military commissioners murdered María Mejía and wounded Pedro Castro
Tojín seriously on March 17, 1990.
Besides the statements made by the surviving victim (Mr. Castro),
whose testimony appears in the complaint and identifies two military
commissioners as the aggressors, the file also contains documentary
proof attesting to the event.
proofs include statements provided to the appropriate Government
authorities in relation to the murder of María Mejía and the wounding
of Pedro Castro Tojín committed by military commissioners,
as well as documents which show that, prior to the events of March 17,
1990, María Mejía's family had complained to the Government
authorities about threats and intimidation by the military commissioners
and the PAC chiefs of Parraxtut Segundo.
addition, the facts alleged in connection with the death of María Mejía
and the wounding of Pedro Castro Tojín at no time were refuted or
denied by the Government. The Government responded to the charges in this case with
extremely brief answers which referred strictly to the processing of the
criminal proceedings under domestic law.
The jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
(the "Court") states that, "the silence of the accused or
elusive or ambiguous answers on its part may be interpreted as an
acknowledgment of the truth of the allegations, so long as the contrary
is not indicated by the record or is not compelled as a matter of
In the present case, the Commission has sufficient information to
establish the events charged and evidence or information showing the
contrary does not appear in the record.
Commission also concludes that the information contained in the file for
this case proves the fact that 39 members of the community of Parraxtut
Segundo, persons who worked with the CERJ, who refused to serve with the
PACs and who were related to the case of the death of María Mejía,
were the targets of threats and harassment by the military commissioners
and the PAC chiefs in Parraxtut Segundo.
This harassment included a threat made by the military
commissioners during the burial of María Mejía to her family members
in attendance that they would be killed within 10 days.
It has been proven that these 39 persons had to leave their
community to escape the threats and attacks they were experiencing and
that many of them were forced to take refuge at the CERJ offices at
Santa Cruz del Quiché for an extended period.
The Government has also not denied these events at any time nor
has it provided any information in connection with them.
the Commission accepts as clearly proven, through the videotape included
in the record and other evidence, the attack of March 27, 1990, against
Amílcar Méndez and the 39 members of the community of Parraxtut
Segundo who sought to return to their homes in the company of the
Assistant Human Rights Ombudsman, César F. Alvarez Guadamuz.
The documents in the record prove that this attack was committed
by military commissioners and PAC members.
The Government has not denied these events nor has it provided
any information about them.
Considerations regarding the law
The acts described were committed by State agents acting in
the present case, agents of the Guatemalan State committed the
violations described in this report.
Members and leaders of the PACs and military commissioners were
responsible for the events which have been proved to have taken place in
this case. The PACs are a
form of paramilitary entity, and their members act as state agents.
Guatemalan law provides explicitly that the PACs are coordinated
by the National Defense Ministry.
During the period of time relevant to this case, the Guatemalan
Army openly provided them with training and arms, and the Army held
control over the decision as to when a PAC was no longer necessary and
should be dissolved.
The military commissioners frequently worked in collaboration
with the PACs and reported directly to the Army.
The Commission concludes, also, that the patrollers, leaders of
the PACs and military commissioners carried out the attacks acting as
such and, therefore, while under color of official authority.
The right to life
arbitrary deprivation of the life of María Mejía at the hands of State
agents constitutes a clear and grave violation of Article 4 of the
Right to humane treatment
wounds to Pedro Castro Tojín caused by the actions of the military
commissioners constitute a violation of Article 5.1 of the Convention,
which recognizes the duty of the state to respect and guarantee humane
treatment (physical, mental and moral) of its citizens.
threats to the community members of Parraxtut Segundo committed by the
PACs and the military commissioners, which forced 39 persons to abandon
their homes, also constitute a violation of Article 5.1.
Through these threats, the military commissioners and the PAC
members caused trauma and anxiety to the victims and constrained their
ability to lead their lives as they desire.
The victims lived in fear until they were eventually forced to
leave their community, thereby having to reorganize their lives as a
result of the threats. The
harassment seriously endangered the mental and moral integrity of these
39 members of the community of Parraxtut Segundo.
attack of March 27, 1990, on Amílcar Méndez and the members of the
community of Parraxtut Segundo who tried to return to their homes in the
company of the Assistant Human Rights Ombudsman, César F. Alvarez
Guadamuz, also violates Article 5.1 of the Convention.
The military commissioners and the armed patrols who detained and
harassed the group clearly acted with the intention of, at a minimum,
intimidating Amílcar Méndez and the community and sowing the seeds of
panic among its members. This
activity was a deliberate violation of the rights of Amílcar Méndez
and the members of the community to their mental and moral integrity.
Prohibition of slavery and servitude
persecution by the members of the PACs and the military commissioners
against those who leave the PACs constitutes a violation of Article 6.2
of the Convention. Members
of the PACs are required to participate in watch patrols and other
vigilance and similar types of work without any compensation. Obligatory
participation in the PACs thus implies an obligation of forced labor
with the PACs.
As a result, the Commission concludes that Article 6.2 of the
Convention, which expressly proscribes forced labor, prohibits forced
participation in the PACs and protects the right to refuse such an
obligation. The Commission
also points out that the exercise of the rights protected in the
American Convention can never justify attacks or reprisals by state
the present case, Government agents sought to maintain the obligatory
participation in the PACs in Parraxtut Segundo and carried out reprisals
against the individuals who attempted to assert their rights, as
embodied in the Convention, by refusing to serve in the PACs.
Military commissioners murdered María Mejía and wounded Pedro
Castro Tojín as a consequence of the work being carried out by the
family of María Mejía with the CERJ and their support for the members
of the Parraxtut Segundo community who refused to serve in the PACs.
In addition, in reprisal for working with the CERJ and refusing
to work with the PACs, military commissioners and PAC members threatened
and harassed continuously the members of the Parraxtut Segundo
community, forcing 39 persons to leave their homes in that community,
and attacked Amílcar Méndez and members of the community when they
attempted to return to their homes on March 27, 1990.
These reprisals for having refused to serve in the PACs amount to
clear violations of Article 6.2 of the Convention.
Right of free movement and residence
forced displacement of 39 members of the population of Parraxtut
Segundo, who had to take refuge at the CERJ offices and other places
outside their community because of threats by the military commissioners
and PAC leaders, constitutes a violation of Article 22.1 of the
Convention which recognizes the right of freedom of movement and
Commission considers that the right of movement and residence also was
violated when local PAC members detained and threatened on March 27,
1990, the group headed by the Assistant Human Rights Ombudsman, César
F. Alvarez Guadamuz, and which included Amílcar Méndez Urízar and the
39 members who attempted to return to their residences.
The PAC members detained the group on the road to Parraxtut
Segundo for a significant amount of time, blocking their entrance to the
town, and thereby infringing on the rights of these persons to free
movement. In addition, the
incident helped to intimidate the displaced persons into not returning
to live in their community, implying a violation of the right of these
persons to choose their place of residence.
Right to judicial guarantees and judicial protection
actions of the jurisdictional authorities who have prevented the
investigation and processing of those responsible for the criminal
events which are proven in this case, and the lack of implementation of
proper procedures to bring about an effective investigation of the two
criminal cases that were initiated and in the processing of the right of
habeas corpus filed on behalf of the 39 displaced persons constitute a
violation of the right to due process and judicial protection, as
embodied in Articles 8 and 25 of the Convention.
explained before in the discussion of the application of the exceptions
to the requirement of exhaustion of domestic remedies, the court cases
initiated in this case have been ineffective and inefficient and have
not produced any result for six years.
The Court has stated that this situation not only justifies the
application of the exceptions to the exhaustion of domestic resources
but also implies a violation, by the state, of the Convention, which
provides that, "States Parties have an obligation to provide
effective judicial remedies to victims of human rights violations (Art.
25), remedies that must be substantiated in accordance with the rules of
due process of law."
Obligation to respect and guarantee rights
violations to which this case refers demonstrate that the State of
Guatemala has not complied with the commitment assumed by the States
Parties in conformity with Article 1.1 of the American Convention,
"to respect the rights and freedoms recognized herein and to ensure
to all persons subject to their jurisdiction the free and full exercise
of those rights and freedoms."
first obligation of any State Party to the American Convention consists
of respecting the rights and liberties established in it.
Whenever a State organ, official or public entity violates one of
those rights [recognized in the Convention], . . . the State is
responsible for the acts of its agents undertaken in their official
capacity and for their omissions,
even when those agents act outside the sphere of their authority or
violate internal law.
stated above, PAC leaders and members and military commissioners acted
as State agents when they committed the violations which form the
subject of this case. The State of Guatemala, consequently, has violated Article
1.1 of the Convention with respect to the violations of Articles 4, 5,
6, 22, 8 and 25 committed by those agents.
second obligation of the State consists of ensuring the full and free
exercise of the rights recognized by the Convention.
The Court has expressed that it is:
the duty of the States Parties to organize the governmental
apparatus and, in general, all the structures through which public power
is exercised, so that they are capable of juridically assuring the free
and full enjoyment of human rights.
As a consequence of this obligation, the States must prevent,
investigate and punish any violation of the rights recognized by the
Convention and, moreover, if possible attempt to restore the right
violated and provide compensation as warranted for damages resulting
from the violation.
Government also has failed to comply with this obligation to ensure.
The Government has not acted to prevent the violations of the
rights of María Mejía, Pedro Castro Tojín or the 39 persons who had
to leave the community of Parraxtut Segundo.
First, despite many complaints to the authorities about the
harassment experienced by the members of the community who had refused
to join the PACs, the Government did not provide any protection to
prevent a violation of human rights as occurred when María Mejía was
murdered and her spouse was wounded seriously on March 17, 1990.
The Government also failed to act after March 17, 1990, despite
the complaints registered with the authorities indicating new threats,
to protect the members of the community.
As a result of this, 39 persons had to leave their homes to take
refuge in other places.
the Government has not complied with its duty to investigate and
sanction the human rights violations that occurred in this case nor has
it provided reparation for the damages produced by the violations.
As pointed out before, none of the legal proceedings initiated in
this case has been properly processed nor yielded any results.
No person has been found responsible for the acts committed
against María Mejía, Pedro Castro Tojín, Amílcar Méndez Urízar and
the 39 persons who had to leave the community of Parraxtut Segundo, and
no reparations or compensation have been provided for damages suffered
by these persons.
RESPONSE TO THE COMMISSION'S ARTICLE 50 REPORT
to Article 50 of the Convention, the Commission during its 92º Special
Session, approved Report 27/96 concerning the present case.
That report and the recommendations contained therein were
transmitted to the Government of Guatemala by communication of June 3,
1996 with a request that the Government inform the Commission of the
measures which it had adopted to comply with the recommendations of the
Commission and to remedy the situation examined within a period of 60
note of July 22, 1996, the Government of Guatemala requested an
extension of time to provide its response to the Article 50 report.
An extension of 30 days was granted by the Commission on August
1, 1996. By note of
September 20, 1996, the Government of Guatemala responded to Report
relation to the Government's response, the Commission notes the
importance and significance of the steps which the new Government of
Guatemala has taken to prevent further violations of the nature which
occurred in this case. The
Commission finds especially important the implementation of the decision
of the Guatemalan Government to eliminate the system of "military
commissioners" and the recent decision to dismantle and disarm the
its response to Report 27/96, the Government emphasizes that, "[O]n
September 15, 1995, the Government . . . eliminated the position of
'military commissioner,' and those persons were demobilized."
The Government added that, "campaigns have been carried out
on a national level to make available information so that
the population learns of the demobilization."
The Government attached to its response Government Decree No.
434-95 which provides for the demobilization of the military
the Government notes in its response that:
On August 13, 1996, the Government officially announced the
complete dissolution and disarmament of the members of the Voluntary
Civil Defense Committees throughout the national territory.
That process has already been initiated and it is expected to be
concluded before November 15 of this year.
The Commission has received information indicating that the
process of dissolution of the PACs is moving forward, and Government
authorities have shown a serious interest in acknowledging and ending
the abuses committed by the PACs. On
the occasion of the dissolution of the PACs in Colotenango,
Huehuetenango, the President of the Presidential Coordinating Commission
for Executive Policy on Human Rights Issues, Dra. Marta Altolaguirre,
gave a speech in which she recognized that some PACs members "acted
in excess of their authority and in abuse of their weapons, attacking
outsiders for the mere fact that they did not participate in PAC
activities." She went
on to state that Government authorities seek to "ensure the full
exercise of the fundamental human rights of the person and to reject any
act which violates the law."
Commission considers, however, that the Government 's response does not
establish that the Government has fully complied with the
recommendations of the Commission for the resolution of the situation
under examination in this case. In
its response, the Government indicates that it is "premature"
for the Government to take a position on the case, because the events
under examination are still under investigation in the domestic
State of Guatemala may not avoid responsibility nor avoid compliance
with the recommendations of the Commission on the grounds that an
investigation is ongoing in this case.
The events subject of the case took place more than six years
ago. Yet, the Commission
has been informed of no results or significant advances in the
investigations or judicial proceedings.
Government notes in its response the jurisprudence of the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights which holds that:
In certain circumstances, it may be difficult to investigate acts
that violate an individual's rights.
The duty to investigate, like the duty to prevent, is not
breached merely because the investigation does not produce a
The Commission acknowledges that there may exist difficulties in
investigating violations of human rights and that the duty of the State
is not to obtain a specific result.
the Commission wishes to make reference to the latter part of the
citation of the Court which is also quoted by the Government of
Guatemala. The Court there
states that an investigation:
must be undertaken in a serious manner and not as a mere
formality preordained to be ineffective.
An investigation must have an objective and be assumed by the
State as its own legal duty, not as a step taken by private interests
that depends upon the initiative of the victim or his family or upon
their offer of proof, without an effective search for the truth by the
In this case, it has not been shown that the Guatemalan State is
carrying out a serious and effective investigation and search for the
truth. The Commission
discussed this point in the original Article 50 report.
In its response to the Article 50 report, the Government limits
itself on this point to a statement indicating that the case and the
Commission's recommendation to investigate have been transferred to the
Office of the Prosecutor General of Guatemala and to the Public Ministry
and that the Commission will be informed of any advances.
may the State avoid responsibility alleging that the Government may not
interfere in the work of the Public Ministry or the Judiciary. Although
certain Government entities, such as the Judicial Branch or the Public
Ministry may be independent from the Executive Branch, the decisions or
actions taken by those entities or their omissions generate
international responsibility directly imputable to the State party to
In fact, the State is obliged to investigate and sanction those
representatives of the Public Ministry and the Judiciary who do not
carry out their duties fully and in accordance with the law.
THE INTER-AMERICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS,
the basis of the information and the observations set out in this report
and taking into consideration the observations submitted by the
Government of Guatemala in relation to Report 27/96, that the State of
Guatemala has failed to comply with the obligations established in
Article 1.1 of the American Convention and is therefore also responsible
for violations of:
The right to life of María Mejía, embodied in Article 4 of the
The right to humane treatment embodied in Article 5 of the
American Convention as to Pedro Castro Tojín, Amílcar Méndez Urízar
and the 39 persons who were obligated to leave the community of
Parraxtut Segundo, which persons are the following:
Ixcotoyac de Leon
Ixcotoyac de Leon
The right to freedom from slavery and involuntary servitude
embodied in Article 6 of the Convention with respect to the members of
the community of Parraxtut Segundo who were the targets of reprisals for
having refused to join the PACs, especially María Mejía, Pedro Castro
Tojín and the 39 persons named above who had to leave their community
because of the reprisals taken by the military commissioners and the
members of the PACs.
The right of freedom of movement and residence embodied in
Article 22.1 of the Convention with respect to Amílcar Méndez Urízar
and the 39 persons named above.
The right to due process, judicial guarantees and judicial
protection protected through Articles 8 and 25 of the Convention with
respect to the family members of María Mejía who sought to obtain
justice in the case of her death, including Pedro Castro Tojín, and
also with respect to Amílcar Méndez Urízar, and the 39 persons named
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommends that the State of
Undertake an immediate, impartial and effective investigation of
the violations proven in this case to establish the identity of the
authors, including the identity of the members of the judicial agencies
that have not complied with their obligations, and to impose all
Provide reparation for the violations committed, including a
compensatory indemnity to the victims and their family members.
Take the measures necessary to insure that violations of this
nature do not occur in the future.
86. To publish this report, pursuant to Article 48 of the Commission's Regulations and Article 51.3 of the Convention, because the Government of Guatemala did not adopt measures to correct the situation denounced within the time period.
See Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Third Report on the
Human Rights Situation in the Republic of Guatemala at 101, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.66,
Doc. 16, 3 october 1985 [hereinafter "Third Report"].
See the petition of Diego Yat Us and Domingo Tum Mejía,
presented to the Assistant Ombudsman for Human Rights of Santa Cruz
del Quiché on March 2, 1990 [hereinafter Petition of March 2,
1990]; Writ of Habeas Corpus filed on March 2, 1990, with the First
Judge of the First Departmental Court and the District Justice of
the Peace of Santa Cruz del Quiché on behalf of Domingo Tum Mejía
and Diego Yat Us [hereinafter Writ of Habeas Corpus of March 2,
See Complaint presented by several residents of Parraxtut
Segundo, including the children of María Mejía, to the Assistant
Human Rights Ombudsman of Santa Cruz del Quiché, dated March 23,
1990 [hereinafter Complaint of March 23, 1990]; the Writ of Habeas
Corpus filed by Amílcar Méndez Urízar with the District Justice
of the Peace of Santa Cruz del Quiché, dated March 23, 1990
[hereinafter Writ of Habeas Corpus of March 23, 1990].
See Videotape recorded by the Office of the Attorney of Human
Rights on March 27, 1990; "Attorney discusses incident,"
El Gráfico, March 29, 1990; "Assistant Attorney (HR) assaulted
by PAC," Prensa Libre, March 29, 1990.
Id., par. 180. Guatemalan
law similarly provides that the investigations and prosecution
should have been carried out at the Government's own initiative.
See Code of Criminal Procedure of Guatemala, Law Number
52-73, Arts. 16 (Public Ministry) and 68 (Public Action).
See, e.g., Fourth Report at 53; 1994 Annual Report of the
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights at 191, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.88,
Doc. 9 rev., February 17, 1995 [hereinafter 1994 Annual Report];
1993 Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
at 414, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.85, Doc. 9 rev., February 11, 1994; First
Report of the Director of the United Nations Mission for the
Verification of Human Rights in Guatemala ("MINUGUA") at
par. 35-36; Second Report of the Director of MINUGUA at par. 192,
194; Report of the United Nations Independent Expert on Human Rights
in Guatemala, Mónica Pinto, December 20, 1994, par. 187.
See the videotape recorded by the Office of the Human Rights
Ombudsman, March 27, 1990; "Attorney discusses incident,"
El Gráfico, March 29, 1990; "Assistant Ombudsman (HR)
assaulted by PAC," Prensa Libre, March 29, 1990.
See Doctrinal Concepts Relating to Civil Matters, published
by the Army Directorate on Civil Matters (D-5); Self-Defense Civil
Patrols: People's Response to a Socio-Economical Political Integration
in Guatemala Today, published by the Public Relations Office of the
Guatemalan Army, May, 1984 at 11, 13, 16; The Civil Defense
Committees in Guatemala, published by the Institution of the Human
Rights Ombudsman, 1994, at 37; Third Report, at 101.
See Third Report, p. 101.
Although in recent years Government policy relating to the
PACs and military commissioners has been modified, the Commission
has received no information which indicates that the situation in
the community of Parraxtut Segundo has changed significantly.
See Iversen v. Norway, App. No. 1468/62, Judgment of December
17, 1963, Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights, vol.
6, p. 338 (defining forced labor as work:
1) executed by the worker against his will; 2) which is
injust or oppressive in and of itself or which involves an unjust or