A.        Scope of this report


1.           In keeping with its primary purpose of "promoting the observance and defense of human rights" in the hemisphere[1], the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (the "Commission," the "CIDH," or the Inter-American Commission) analyzes in this report the present status of the administration of justice and the rule of law in Guatemala.  This review assesses to what extent the human rights situation in Guatemala and government initiatives to improve that situation meet international standards and the obligation of the State to insure full enjoyment of fundamental rights by all its inhabitants.  To this end, the Commission has studied the progress made and the challenges that remain, using as a frame of reference the American Convention on Human Rights (the "Convention" or the "American Convention"), the provisions of other international treaties, the Guatemalan Constitution and the commitments made by Guatemala (the "Guatemalan State" or the "State") upon signing the Agreements on Firm and Lasting Peace in December 1996 (the "Peace Agreements").


2.                  Since the signing of the Peace Agreements, the State and society of Guatemala have managed to put an end to the systematic violations of human rights perpetrated by the State as part of its government counterinsurgency policy during the armed conflict.  The present priorities of the State, civil society and the international community are to strengthen a democratic, pluralistic, multicultural, multilingual and demilitarized State in which all persons are free to fully exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms.  Guatemala, with its majority of indigenous population, has a cultural heritage that is uniquely rich.  The Peace Agreements have provided a framework for reforming the Guatemalan State in the direction of a strong administration of justice and a democratic government that respects the country's existing ethnic and cultural diversity and the rights of its entire population.  However, this framework must be supplemented by the efforts of the State and society and by their cooperation.  There is a consensus among Guatemalan civil society, the Guatemalan State and the international community that strengthening public safety and the rule of law leads to better protection of human rights in the country.


3.                  The Commission believes that one factor detracting from the rule of law in Guatemala is the weakness of the administration of justice, which translates into an ineffectual judicial system and impunity.  To this must be added rampant crime and violence in the absence of an adequate government policy; diminished public safety and more corruption and organized crime; the influence exercised on government by power groups, with all its attendant consequences; and the violence that surrounds the electoral process.  The Commission believes that this situation holds serious consequences for people engaged in the protection of human rights and law enforcement and for certain sectors of the population that are particularly at risk--namely, indigenous populations, women and children--as well as for the exercise of freedom of expression.


4.                  The Commission notes with deep concern that actions taken by the State to reform the administration of justice, improve citizen safety, demilitarize the State and society, protect human rights advocates, law enforcement officials, journalists and other civic leaders, eliminate discrimination and social ostracism of indigenous populations, promote equal participation by women in society, extend special protection to children and allow ample exercise of freedom of expression, do not fully meet international human rights standards or the goals established in the Peace Agreements.  The Commission takes the view that addressing these situations effectively is vitally important to achieving full application of the rule of law in a democratic society.


5.                  This report reviews the present situation in the above-mentioned areas and makes recommendations to the State designed to strengthen democratic government, the rule of law and respect for fundamental human rights in Guatemala.  The specific recommendations made by the Commission on each set of topics dealt with in the report are intended to assist the State in its endeavors and in its relations with Guatemalan society, so as to build on the initiatives that have been launched and to overcome the serious challenges and difficulties that still exist.


B.        Background to the report


6.           The Commission has paid special attention to the human rights situation in Guatemala since the 1960s.  During the armed conflict, the Commission received many communications alleging violations of individual rights.  As a result of monitoring the situation in the early years of the conflict, the Commission published its "Requests for Information Conveyed to the Government of Guatemala" in 1966[2] and special reports on the country in 1981, 1983, 1985, 1993 and 1994[3].  Follow-up reports, in turn, were published on the general situation of the country every year between 1983 and 1991, and in 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997[4].  When the armed conflict ended, the CIDH prepared a lengthy report published in 2001[5] to review the progress made and the challenges that lay ahead in implementing the Peace Agreements and bringing about reconciliation and participatory democracy. A follow-up report was published in the Annual Report of the CIDH for 2002.  The Commission has made a total of eleven in loco visits to Guatemala since 1982[6] and has processed and published in its Annual Reports many reports on individual cases.  It has also ruled in favor of several protective measures for persons in Guatemala.


C.        The in loco visit


7.            In response to an invitation from the Guatemalan government, the Commission paid an in loco visit to Guatemala March 24-29, 2003, in order to observe the human rights situation.  In this visit, the delegation from the CIDH[7] was made up of its First Vice-President, José Zalaquett; its Second Vice-President, Clare K. Roberts; Susana Villarán, Commissioner and Rapporteur for Guatemala; Commissioner Juan E. Méndez; Commissioner Julio Prado Vallejo and the Executive Secretary, Santiago A. Canton.  The Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, Eduardo Bertoni, was part of the delegation.  Also included were the specialists María Claudia Pulido, Elizabeth Abi-Mershed, Isabel Madariaga, Andrea Galindo and Tamara Taraciuk.  The delegation received administrative support from Gloria Hansen, Martha Keller and Laura Ferrer.


8.                  During its visit the CIDH met with officials from the branches of government, including the Vice President of Guatemala acting as President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of the Interior, the Minister of Defense, members of the Security Cabinet, the Social Welfare Department, the Peace Department, the Secretary of Communications, the Secretary of the Indigenous Populations Fund, the Director of the National Civil Police, members of the Presidential Commission Against Discrimination and Racism, the Defender of Indigenous Women and the President of  COPREDEH.  The Commission also held meetings with members of the Supreme Court of Justice and a judge of the Constitutionality Court.  It met as well with the Attorney General and members of the Special Prosecutors Service, as well as with the Public Advocate, members of the Office of the Public Defender and with the President of the Congress and members of congressional commissions on human rights, women, children and the family.


9.                  The CIDH also met with civic leaders. It interviewed nongovernmental human rights organizations, representatives of organizations involved in protecting the rights of indigenous populations, children, women, representatives of religious denominations, peasant organizations, organizations devoted to strengthening the administration of justice, journalists, trade unionists and business representatives.  In addition, it heard testimony from victims of human rights violations.  The Commission was also in contact with international organizations, including MINUGUA[8] and UNICEF.


10.              Furthermore, the Commission received information and testimony on conditions in every region of the country.  In particular, a delegation from the Commission traveled to Nebaj, Department of Quiché, where it met with the Governor, the mayor, the civil judge, the Public Advocate, justice of the peace officials, members of legal aid societies and the chief of police, as well as members of local organizations and the Church.  The Commission also assessed the situation in the Los Cimientos community, as well as the conditions of violence that affect young people in Villanueva, a Guatemalan city.


11.              At the same time, in a temporary office set up for the visit, the Commission met with people who wished to file complaints about alleged violations of human rights or to receive information on the operation of the Inter-American system for the protection of human rights.  Information on the general status of human rights in Guatemala was also received, duly analyzed and systematized for the preparation of this report.  The complaints that were filed are being processed under the applicable rules of the American Convention, the Statute and the Rules of Procedure of the Commission.


12.              The commission stresses that it had complete freedom to meet with anybody it chose.  The Guatemalan authorities gave the Commission their full assistance and cooperation to carry out its program.  The Commission is grateful to the Government of President Portillo and, in particular, to COPREDEH for this cooperation.  It is likewise thankful for the help and information provided by several civic organizations and civic leaders, which makes it possible to monitor the status of human rights in Guatemala[9].


D.        Preparation and approval of the report


13.         This report was approved by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on November 12, 2003.  Pursuant to Article 58 of the Commission's Rules of Procedure, this report was transmitted to the Government of Guatemala on that date, with the request that it present any observations thereon within one month.


14.        On December 15, 2003, by means of Note 12 804-03 from the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the Organization of American States, the Guatemalan State presented its observations.  In accordance with article 58(c) of its Rules of Procedure, the Commission examined those observations, and included the ones it considered relevant.  The Commission approved publication of the report "Justice and Social Inclusion: the Challenges of Democracy in Guatemala," on December 29, 2003.




[1] Article 41 of the American Convention provides:

The main function of the Commission shall be to promote respect for and defense of human rights. In the exercise of its mandate, it shall have the following functions and powers:

a.         to develop an awareness of human rights among the peoples of America;

b.         to make recommendations to the governments of the member states, when it considers such action advisable, for the adoption of progressive measures in favor of human rights within the framework of their domestic law and constitutional provisions as well as appropriate measures to further the observance of those rights;

c.          to prepare such studies or reports as it considers advisable in the performance of its duties;

d.         to request the governments of the member states to supply it with information on the measures adopted by them in matters of human rights;

e.         to respond, through the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States, to inquiries made by the member states on matters related to human rights and, within the limits of its possibilities, to provide those states with the advisory services they request;

f.          to take action on petitions and other communications pursuant to its authority under the provisions of Articles 44 through 51 of this Convention; and

g.         to submit an annual report to the General Assembly of the Organization of American States.

[2] OEA/Ser.L/V/II.15, Doc. 5, August 3, 1966.

[3] Report on the Status of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.53, doc. 21, rev. 1, 1981; Report on the Status of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.61, doc. 47, 1983; Third Report on the Status of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L./V/II.66, doc. 16, 1985; Fourth Report on the Status of Human Rights in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.83, doc. 16, rev. 1, 1993; Report on the Status of Human Rights in the so-called “Communities in Resistance” in Guatemala, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.86, doc. 5, rev. 1, 1994.

[4] These reports are published in the IACHR Annual Report for the relevant year: OEA/Ser.L/V/II/63, doc. 10, 1984; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/66, doc. 10 rev. 1, 1985; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/68, doc. 8 rev. 1, 1986; OEA/Ser. L/V/II/71, doc. 9 rev. 1, 1987; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/74, doc. 10 rev. 1, 1988; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/76, doc. 10 rev. 1, 1989; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/77, doc 7 rev. 1, 1990; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/79, doc. 12 rev. 1, 1991; OEA/Ser. L/V/II/81, doc. 6 rev 1, 1992; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/85, doc. 9 rev., 1994; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/88, doc. 9 rev., 1995; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/95, doc. 7 rev., 1997; OEA/Ser.L/V/II/98, doc. 6 rev., 1998.

[5] OEA/Ser.L/V/II.111, Doc. 21 rev., April 6, 2001.

[6] The in loco visits were in 1982, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994 (March), 1994 (December), 1995, 1998 and 2003.

[7] Ms. Marta Altolaguirre, President of the IACHR and a Guatemalan national, was not part of the delegation, in line with Article 17 of the Rules of Procedure of the IACHR, which provides that members may not participate in deliberations or decisions on matters dealing with countries of which they are nationals.

[8] United Nations Guatemala Verification Mission. It began its work in 1994. In December 1996, after the signing of the “Agreement on Firm and Lasting Peace,” it was entrusted with verification of the "Peace Agreements" that went into effect at that time.

[9] At the end of its visit, the IACHR issued Press Release N° 08/03 with its preliminary comments on the matters reviewed in this report.