The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is releasing today the report Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala. This report is based on observations made during the on-site visit conducted from July 31 to August 4, 2017, along with other visits by the IACHR and its Thematic Rapporteurships. Such visits take place in the framework of the monitoring tasks the Commission carries out in fulfilment of its mandate, using various mechanisms at its disposal including hearings, precautionary measures, petitions and cases.
This report examines the human rights situation in Guatemala. The IACHR addresses the system for the administration of justice, the situation of human rights defenders and justice operators, women, children and adolescents, indigenous peoples and afrodescendants, migrants and displaced persons, the situation regarding freedom of expression, citizen security issues and the situation of people in State custody. The report further provides recommendations aimed at assisting the State of Guatemala in strengthening its efforts to protect and enforce human rights in the country.
In this document, the Commission values progress made regarding human rights. It highlights progress in the fight against impunity, thanks to the concerted efforts of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Public Prosecutor's Office, and acknowledges once again the work done by both institutions. In terms of security, the IACHR welcomes the State’s plans to gradually withdraw the Army from citizen security duties. The Commission further acknowledges progress towards the specialization of the justice system, as well as the entry into force of the new Migration Code.
However, major human rights challenges remain. Several of the reasons that prompted the internal armed conflict persist: an economy based on the concentration of economic power in few hands and a weak State structure, with few resources due to low tax revenues and high levels of corruption and violence. The Commission also received repeated information about the persistence of parallel power structures that prevent the fight against impunity and corruption and the consolidation of the rule of law. Structural problems persist too, such as racial discrimination, social inequality, entrenched poverty and exclusion, and lack of access to justice, which hamper the full enforcement of human rights. Guatemala is now the Latin American country with the worst chronic malnutrition record, and it is one of the countries with the highest rates of chronic malnutrition in the world. In relation to violence and insecurity, the overall homicide rate in the country remains one of the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, despite a slight decrease over the past few years.
Guatemala faces a high level of impunity that stems from the lack of a strong and efficient system for the administration of justice. Historically marginalized population sectors, such as women, LGBTI persons, children and adolescents, indigenous peoples and communities, afrodescendants and migrants, among others, face specific obstacles that restrict their effective access to justice. The IACHR examines in its report the importance of ensuring independence and impartiality, through selection and appointment processes for justice operators and high officials that comply with international standards. The IACHR urges the State to push through major constitutional reform in the field of justice.
The IACHR further highlights in its report the serious situation faced by human rights defenders in Guatemala and the importance of preventing and punishing attacks and intimidation against human rights defenders, in light of the valuable work they perform and given the multiplying impact that such attacks have on the protection of human rights in the country. The report also confirms the worrying situation of justice operators in the country, who face accusations, harassment, smear campaigns, assault and threats to their life and integrity, especially when they are involved in high impact cases of corruption, serious human rights violations or cases with significant economic interests at stake. This situation has led the IACHR to request that the Guatemalan State adopt precautionary measures for the benefit of human rights defenders and justice operators, including the Human Rights Ombudsman. The Commission notes the importance of creating a program or public policy for the comprehensive protection of human rights defenders, in keeping with the provisions of the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case Human Rights Defender et al. v. Guatemala.
Regarding the rights to truth, justice and reparation, the report says that progress made in cases arising from the internal armed conflict has been limited compared to the number of human rights violations perpetrated during the conflict and the obligations of the State of Guatemala in that respect. The IACHR also notes with concern the lack of progress in the genocide case.
Regarding the right to prior consultation, the IACHR highlights that its implementation must, above all, respect the right to self-determination and make sure that it does not become a mere procedural formality that fails to take into account the particular characteristics of the indigenous people or community involved. The IACHR also received extensive information on forced eviction actions that have affected hundreds of residents of rural areas, and the risk faced by a significant number of peasant and indigenous communities of being evicted by the State in execution of judicial warrants.
The report further examines the tragedy that took place at the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción, a home where 41 girls and adolescents died in State custody. This tragedy brought to light the unsafe conditions in such homes, the deplorable situation in detention centers and the weakness and disarray of institutions in charge of children's rights, as well as the lack of a National Public Policy that is neither reductionist nor protectionist in its focus on enforcing the rights of children and adolescents.
Regarding journalists, the report notes that Guatemala is engulfed in a context of violence characterized by murders, threats and a discourse that aims to stigmatize media outlets and journalists engaged in the fight against corruption and the abuse of power. During its on-site visit, the IACHR further confirmed that Guatemala has made no progress with respect to the excessive concentration of ownership and control in audiovisual media, especially free-to-air television.
Regarding persons deprived of their liberty in detention centers, the report notes that the Guatemalan prison system is mainly characterized by overcrowding, an excessive use of pre-trial detention, and delays in the administration of justice. Furthermore, it is characterized by deplorable conditions of detention, high levels of violence, a lack of effective programs for social reintegration, corruption, and the absence of effective control by the authorities inside detention centers. The IACHR further notes the forced confinement faced by persons with mental disabilities at Federico Mora National Mental Health Hospital, given the lack of appropriate services to facilitate their integration in the community.
The report provides the State of Guatemala with recommendations to address the country’s serious human rights problems. In particular, the Commission recommends that the State double down, as an immediate measure, on its commitment to the fight against impunity, violence, intolerance and corruption, through policies and programs focused on prevention and on respect for human rights, as well as a strengthened, independent and impartial justice system. The report provides other specific recommendations regarding the administration of justice, transitional justice and reparation to victims of the armed conflict, regarding the inequality and exclusion that persist among certain groups and communities, regarding violence and insecurity, and regarding specific population sectors, such as women, indigenous peoples, afrodescendant communities, human rights defenders, children, migrants and people in State custody.
The IACHR stresses its commitment to supporting the State of Guatemala in the search for solutions to the problems that have been identified and in the implementation of the recommendations provided in this report, made in a constructive, cooperative spirit. The IACHR remains available to work with Guatemala in efforts to monitor compliance with the report’s recommendations, with a view to ensuring effective enjoyment of human rights by all people under the jurisdiction of the State of Guatemala.
The Commission is grateful to President Jimmy Morales and his Government for the invitation to conduct this on-site visit. It also appreciates all the logistics support and assistance that made a successful visit possible. The Commission values the information provided by State authorities and their openness to engage in constructive dialogue with the IACHR. The Commission further appreciates the efforts made by victims of human rights violations and their families and by groups, civil society organizations, and indigenous and Afro-descendant authorities to meet with the delegation and present their testimony, complaints, and communications.
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 and to defend 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.