Nº 08/01  



1.           The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ("the Commission" or "the IACHR") today made public its Fifth Report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala.  The Commission is a principal organ of the Organization of American States responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights in the hemisphere.  It is composed of seven independent experts who act in representation of all the OAS member states. The members of the IACHR are Dean Claudio Grossman, President; Dr. Juan E. Méndez, First Vice President; Dr. Marta Altolaguirre, Second Vice President; and Prof. Robert K. Goldman, Dr. Hélio Bicudo, Dr. Peter Laurie and Dr. Julio Prado Vallejo, Members. The IACHR’s Executive Secretary is Amb. Jorge E. Taiana, and its Assistant Executive Secretary is Dr. David J. Padilla.


2.           The report was prepared using information and documentation received before, during and after the on-site visit carried out by the Commission in the Republic of Guatemala at the invitation of its Government.  In accordance with the terms of the Commission’s Regulations, a draft version of the report was transmitted to the Guatemalan Government, which then formulated its comments and observations and provided information on certain specific issues.  This information was analyzed and incorporated in the text of the report to the extent deemed pertinent, and the final version was approved by the Commission on April 6, 2001.


3.           In its report, the Commission deals with a diverse range of aspects of the situation of human rights in Guatemala, including chapters on the situation of human rights since the signing of the Firm and Lasting Peace, economic, social and cultural rights and the administration of justice.  It also addresses the situation of the right to life, the right to personal liberty, and that of persons detained in the Guatemalan penal system.  Further, the report contains specific chapters on the right to freedom of thought and expression, the right to political participation and the electoral process, and on the rights of indigenous peoples, the rights of the child, the rights of women and the rights of the population uprooted by the armed conflict which took place in the country.


          4.           This Report presents the first in-depth analysis of the human rights situation in Guatemala by the Commission since the signing of the firm and lasting peace in 1996.  It is within the context of that act of inestimable importance for the protection of human rights in Guatemala that the Commission has examined the significant advances achieved and the vital challenges that remain in implementing the national agenda of peace and reconciliation, and consolidating a fully participatory democracy.  Among the advances achieved through the energetic efforts of both the institutions of the State and actors of civil society are the cessation of the pattern and practice of human rights violations perpetrated as State policy during the conflict, the opening of vital new spaces for political participation, the incorporation of previously excluded sectors of civil society in the development and implementation of public policy, the initiation of a process of demilitarization, and the taking of critical steps toward establishing the truth about the fundamental violations that were both a cause and a consequence of the conflict.


5.           Among the principal aspects that have a broad impact on the enjoyment of human rights in Guatemala, the Commission emphasizes that the goal of creating a Guatemala in which all members of the population can freely and fully exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms will not be realized until crucial pending challenges are met.  The present report focuses in particular on the paramount challenge of creating a judicial system that offers effective protection for the rights of the population, because it is necessarily the national judiciary that serves as the first line of defense of individual rights and freedoms.  While the State of Guatemala has initiated some positive steps aimed at strengthening the judiciary, a state of impunity continues for human rights violations -- both past and present.  This impunity controverts the obligations of the State under national and international law, subverts the most basic principles underlying the peace accords, and undermines the rule of law.  The inability of the judiciary to provide protection for basic rights and the lack of public confidence in the mechanisms of the State exacerbate the potential for social conflict.  Another manifestation of the deficiencies in the administration of justice is the lack of an adequate response to grave violations, such as, for example, lynchings, or the threats and attacks against victims, witnesses, lawyers and judges as a reprisal for their search for justice.


6.           The Commission hopes that the State will adopt the measures necessary to continue advancing in the consolidation of democracy and the full effectiveness of human rights in Guatemala, and encounter solutions to the serious human rights problems that affect the inhabitants of the country.  In particular, the Commission urges the State to apply and develop the recommendations set forth in its report.  The Inter-American Commission considers it essential that the consideration of solutions to such problems take into full account the views of the nongovernmental organizations and other members of civil society.  The Inter-American Commission offers its collaboration to the State in the activities of promotion, protection and consultation necessary to advance in the resolution of problems in the sphere of human rights. 


7.          As is pointed out in the report in relation to the resolution of cases being processed within the framework of the petition system, the Commission values the efforts of both the Government of President Alfonso Portillo and the petitioners aimed at taking advantage of the friendly procedure set forth in the American Convention on Human Rights.  This Government has recognized its institutional responsibility in various cases, and has assumed the commitment to initiate friendly settlements to achieve justice through searching for the truth, punishing those responsible and compensating the victims or their families.  This positive approach to the case system represents a noteworthy advance with respect to the role of the State in the regional human rights system, and the Commission encourages its continuation.


8.          Finally, the Commission wishes to reiterate its appreciation to the Guatemalan State and the organizations of civil society for the collaboration offered during the on-site visit to Guatemala, as well as for the cooperation and information offered in the process of preparing the report.  The complete text of the report is available on the web site of the Commission:



Washington, D.C., May 4, 2001