Human Rights: Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace
Comprehensive Agreement Human Rights (Mexico City, 19 March 1994)
I. General Commitment Regarding Human Rights
1. The Government of the Republic of Guatemala reaffirms its adherence to the principles and norms designed to guarantee and protect the full observance of human rights, and its political will to enforce them.
2. The Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall continue to encourage all those measures designed to promote and perfect norms and mechanisms for the protection of human rights.
II. Strengthening Institutions for the Protection of Human Rights
1. The Parties consider that any behaviour that limits, restricts or impairs the functions assigned to the judiciary, the Counsel for Human Rights and the Public Prosecutor's Office in respect of human rights undermines fundamental principles of the rule of law and that, accordingly, those institutions must be supported and strengthened in the exercise of those functions.
2. With regard to the judiciary and the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Government of the Republic of Guatemala reiterates its will to respect their autonomy and to protect the freedom of action of both vis-a-vis pressures of any type and origin, so that they may enjoy fully such guarantees and means as they may require in order to operate efficiently.
3. With regard to the Counsel for Human Rights, the Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall continue to support the latter's work so as to strengthen that institution, backing his actions and promoting such reforms of the enactments as may be needed to enable him to better carry out his functions and responsibilities. The Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall support initiatives designed to improve the technical and material conditions available to the Counsel for Human Rights in carrying out his tasks of investigation, monitoring and follow-up to ensure full enjoyment of human rights in Guatemala.
III. Commitment Against Impunity
1. The Parties agree on the need for firm action against impunity. The Government shall not sponsor the adoption of legislative or any other type of measures designed to prevent the prosecution and punishment of persons responsible for human rights violations.
2. The Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall initiate in the legislature necessary legal amendments to the Penal Code so that enforced or involuntary disappearances and summary or extra-judicial executions may be characterized as crimes of particular gravity and punished as such; likewise, the Government shall foster in the international community, recognition of enforced or involuntary disappearances and of summary or extra-judicial executions as crimes against humanity.
3. No special law or exclusive jurisdiction may be invoked to uphold impunity in respect of human rights violations.
IV. Commitment that there are no Illegal Security Forces and Clandestine Machinery; Regulation of the Bearing of Arms
1. In order to maintain unlimited respect for human rights, there must be no illegal security forces nor any clandestine security machinery. The Government of Guatemala recognizes that it has an obligation to combat any manifestation thereof.
2. The Government of the Republic of Guatemala reiterates its commitment to continue with the purification and professionalization of the security forces. It also expresses the need to continue with the adoption and implementation of effective measures so as to provide specific regulations governing the possession, bearing and use of firearms by individuals, in accordance with the law.
V. Guarantees Regarding Freedom of Association and Freedom of Movement
1. Both Parties agree that the freedoms of association and of movement are internationally and constitutionally recognized human rights which must be exercised in accordance with the law and must be fully enjoyed in Guatemala.
2. In the exercise of his functions, the Counsel for Human Rights shall be responsible for establishing whether members of the volunteer civil defence committees have been compelled to join those committees against their will or whether their human rights have been violated.
3. Upon receiving a complaint the Counsel for Human Rights shall immediately conduct the necessary investigations. For that purpose, after publicly announcing that such committees must be made up of persons who have joined of their own free will, and must observe the law .and human rights, he shall conduct consultations in the villages, making sure that, in such case, committee members express their wishes freely and without any pressure.
4. Should it be established that some people have not joined of their own free will or that there have been violations of the legal order, the Counsel shall take whatever decisions he may deem necessary and shall initiate corresponding judicial or administrative action to punish the human rights violations.
5. The Government of Guatemala shall unilaterally declare that it shall not encourage the organization of nor shall it establish further volunteer civil defence committees in any part of the national territory provided that there is no reason for it to do so. For its part, the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca sees the unilateral statement as a positive expression of the Government's will to achieve peace and shall contribute to the aims of such declaration.
6. In the event of a complaint, the residents affected shall go to the town mayor who at the same time shall convene a public meeting and shall call the Counsel for Human Rights to verify, by all means at his disposal,, whether or not the residents acted of their own free will.
7. Both Parties agree that other aspects of the volunteer civil defence committees shall be dealt with later, in connection with other items on the general agenda.
8. The Parties recognize the work done by the Office of the Counsel for Human Rights with regard to education and information, and request that the latter should include in its work information regarding the content and scope of the present agreement.
VI. Military Conscription
1. Conscription for compulsory military service must not be forced, nor should it be cause for a violation of human rights and, therefore, while military service should continue to be a civic duty and right, it must be just and non-discriminatory.
2. To that end, for its part, the Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall continue to adopt and implement the necessary administrative decisions and shall initiate, as soon as possible and in the spirit of this agreement, a new Military Service Act.
VII. Safeguards and Protection of Individuals and Entities Working for the Protection of Human Rights
1. The Parties agree that all acts which may affect the safeguards of those individuals or entities working for the promotion and protection of human rights are to be condemned.
2. Accordingly, the Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall take special measures to protect those persons or entities working in the field of human rights. Furthermore it shall investigate, in a timely and exhaustive manner, any complaint it may receive relating to acts or threats that may be directed at them.
3. The Government of the Republic of Guatemala reiterates the commitment to safeguard and protect effectively the work of individuals and entities engaged in upholding human rights.
VIII. Compensation and/or Assistance to the Victims of Human Rights Violations
1. The Parties recognize that it is a humanitarian duty to compensate and/or assist victims of human rights violations. Said compensation and/or assistance shall be effected by means of government measures and programmes of a civilian and socio-economic nature addressed, as a matter of priority, to those whose need is greatest, given their economic and social position.
IX. Human Rights and Internal Armed Confrontation
1. Until such time as the firm and lasting peace agreement is signed, both Parties recognize the need to put a stop to suffering of the civilian population and to respect the human rights of those wounded, captured and those who have remained out of combat.
2. These statements by the Parties do not constitute a special agreement, in the terms of article 3 (Common), paragraph 2, second subparagraph of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
The Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace (Guatemala City, 29 December 1996) brought a formal end to a horrendous armed conflict, which the Commission for Historical Clarification later determined included acts of genocide perpetrated by the Guatemalan Government against indigenous Mayan populations (See Guatemala: Memory of Silence, 25 February 1999). The mandates of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights (Mexico City, 19 March 1994) notwithstanding, the implementation of the ceasefire, including the demobilization of the URNG combatants and a large portion of the Guatemalan Armed Forces, marked the single greatest improvement the human rights situation in Guatemala. Nevertheless, the imperative throughout the remainder of the peace process was to reform the social and political structures that allowed such violations to occur, as they did not instantly change with the signing of the agreements.
The death penalty was reinstated after being abolished years earlier.1
With the formal end of the armed conflict, the main human rights concerns shifted from issues related to the right to life to issues related to the right to due process. Weak protection for the right to the integrity of person remained an additional matter of concern.2 The responsibility for these shortcomings fell mostly on the National Police.3
The Armed Forces promptly began internal reviews, including the dismissal of personnel implicated in human rights violations.4
The Government generally upheld its commitment to respect and protect the independent judiciary, and the Public Prosecutor's Office in turn grew stronger and more efficient. The Government did not give the Office of the Counsel for Human Rights nearly as much money in the budget as it requested, leading to suspended operations in several departmental auxiliary offices.5
- 1. “Thirteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/57/336), August 22, 2002.
- 2. “Sixth Report of the Director of the United Nations Mission for the Verification of Human Rights and of Compliance with the Commitments of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights on Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/51/790), January 31, 1997.
- 3. “Seventh Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/52/330), September 10, 1997.
- 4. “Sixth Report of the Director of the United Nations Mission for the Verification of Human Rights and of Compliance with the Commitments of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights on Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/51/790), January 31, 1997.
- 5. “Seventh Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/52/330), September 10, 1997.
Since the signing of the agreements, there had been an incremental decline in the number of reports of human rights violations filed with MINUGUA, owing in large part to the demobilization of combatants, especially the paramilitary forces such as the Voluntary Civil Defense Committees. However, the general experience of the civilian population was colored by high incidences of crime and deficiencies with regard to the administration of justice and other human rights protections.6
After much progress during the previous few years, the improvements in the human rights situation slowed and stagnated in mid-1998. The main issues of concern for MINUGUA were lynchings, “social cleansing” actions, clandestine and illegal security forces, threats against judicial officials and human rights activists, and especially the climate of impunity.7
The Office of the Counsel for Human Rights continued to suffer from a lack of funding.8
- 6. “Eighth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/52/946), June 15, 1998.
- 7. “Report of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) for the Consultative Group Meeting for Guatemala," United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala – MINUGUA, January 18, 2002.
- 8. “Eighth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/52/946), June 15, 1998.
The number of confirmed reports of human rights violations rose significantly. The most worrisome increases occurred in the practice of torture, the deprivation of individual liberty, the denial of due process of law, and the restriction of political rights. There was a trend of increasing constraints on the rights of free association and labor union organizing.9 There were also many reports of violations of political rights, mostly connected to shortcomings in electoral reforms before the November and December 1999 elections.10
- 9. “Tenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/54/688), December 21, 1999.
- 10. “Eleventh Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/55/174), July 26, 2000.
MINUGUA found Government agencies were responsible for a disturbing trend of a general failure to protect and some active violations of human rights. The justice system often neglected to investigate reports of violations or enforce human rights standards. Reports of violations of rights of association and assembly increased, along with violations of the right to individual liberty and security of person. Reports of violations of the right to life decreased, but the proportion of reports alleging the involvement of the PNC in violations increased. The Supreme Court of Justice upheld the death sentence, and the Government continued to enact it, despite appeals from the UN Commission on Human Rights to suspend executions and abolish the death penalty. The State also indirectly encouraged lynchings and mob violence by allowing perpetrators to enjoy impunity.11
In February, Guatemala ratified the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons. It became signatory to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in September 2000. A month later, it ratified the Additional Protocol to the American Convention on Human Rights in the Area of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and then in November, it ratified the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The latter reform made it possible for individuals to lodge complaints with the UN Human Rights Committee. Despite these advances, the laws, policies and practices of the Government had not been adequately reformed to uphold all the standards in the international human rights instruments.12
President Portillo signed an agreement with the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, in which he admitted the Government was responsible for 17 out of more than 100 atrocities committed during the civil war.13 A moratorium on executions took effect, but without officially abolishing capital punishment.14
- 11. Ibid.
- 12. “Twelfth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/56/273), August 8, 2001.
- 13. “Guatemala,” Keesing's Record of World Events Volume 46 (August 2000): 43699.
- 14. “Death Penalty Law,” Keesing's Record of World Events Volume 54 (February 2008): 48401.
Municipal authorities were found to be colluding with former members of the abolished Voluntary Civil Defense Committees (CVDCs) to carry out lynchings, and both the Armed Forces and the PNC were shown to be responsible for extrajudicial executions. The PNC was also responsible for other serious human rights violations, mainly relating to the excessive use of force, cruel or degrading punishment, and conspiracy to cover up their crimes. In violation of the American Convention on Human Rights, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court rendered a decision to expand the use of the death penalty for persons convicted of non-lethal kidnapping. Restrictions on the freedom of association and assembly persisted, for which municipal authorities were solely responsible. Due to the ongoing constraints on union organizers and the rise in reports of threats against journalists, the Public Prosecutor's Office set up the Special Prosecutor's Office for the Protection of Journalists and Trade Unionists on 8 June 2001.15
The budget allocation for the Office of the Counsel for Human Rights increased compared to the previous year, but it was still less than half the amount requested.16
On 1 June 2001, Labor Code reforms took effect and brought Guatemala closer to compliance with International Labor Organization standards for collective bargaining.17
- 15. “Twelfth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/56/273), August 8, 2001.
- 16. Ibid.
- 17. “Thirteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/57/336), August 22, 2002.
The extended timetable for the implementation of the Agreements was yet unfulfilled, and the general situation of compliance with human rights standards worsened. Lynchings, mob violence, and illegal armed group activities went on with few effective responses from legal authorities, making impunity the norm. The PNC was also increasingly involved in human rights violations itself. To make matters worse, PNC agents were frequently involved in the obstruction of justice.18
After many months of assassinations and attacks on human rights workers, the Public Prosecutor commissioned a special prosecutor to investigate these crimes in May 2002.19
In its final human rights report, MINUGUA offered the following general evaluation of the implementation of commitments regarding human rights: “Despite hopeful advances just after the signing of the peace agreements, the country is now moving in the wrong direction with regard to human rights issues. Momentum for the reform of crucial institutions, principally the police, the Public Prosecutor and the courts, has stalled at a time when changes have not fully taken root, and modernization efforts are starved of budgetary resources and political support."20
- 20. “Fourteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/58/566), November 10, 2003, Paragraph 22.
As MINUGUA phased out operations, it remained very critical of the Guatemalan Government about the poor human rights situation.21
The Constitutional Court dismissed a case against sixteen soldiers accused of perpetrating the massacre in Dos Erres in 1982 because the investigating judge began the proceedings before the Appeals Court had formally declared that the amnesty did not apply in this case.22
The Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor reported a 13% increase in violent crime during the first half of 2004. Leaders from the Office of the Human Rights Prosecutor and over 500 other rights groups organized mass demonstrations in August to pressure the Government to restore law and order. President Berger subsequently announced a plan to boost social development.23
- 21. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/59/746), March 18, 2005.
- 22. “Guatemala: Annulment of War Crimes Trial,” Keesing's Record of World Events Volume 51 (February 2005): 46458.
- 23. “Guatemala,” Keesing's Record of World Events Volume 50 (August 2004): 46151.
The Government made an agreement with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on 10 January to establish an office in Guatemala to observe and advise Government institutions. The office opened on 20 September, and its first reported observation was the increase in homicides and other violent crimes in 2005. With regard to the agreements on human rights, impunity was the major underlying problem.24
The government established the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights to improve protections for human rights defenders.25
In spite of efforts to establish the office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights, the human rights situation remained a serious issue in Guatemala. According to Human Rights Report, Guatemala made little progress toward securing the protection of human rights and the rule of law.26
In 2008, Congress passed a bill giving the President the option to commute death sentences to life in prison. President Caballeros stated at first that he would not commute the sentences of 21 prisoners on death row.27 But about a month later, President Caballeros vetoed the bill, reinstating the de facto moratorium on capital punishment.28
In August 2011, four former soldiers from the “Kaibiles” (commandos) were sentenced to over 6,000 years in prison for the massacre of 201 civilians in Dos Erres 1982.29 In October, the Government indicted former President Oscar Mejia for charges of genocide.30 In December, President Caballeros issued a formal apology for the Government's participation in the Dos Erres massacre.31
- 26. "World Report," Human Rights Watch (various years), Washington, DC.
- 27. “Death Penalty Law,” Keesing's Record of World Events Volume 54 (February 2008): 48401.
- 28. “Presidential Veto of Death Penalty Bill," Keesing's Record of World Events Volume 54 (March 2008): 48456.
- 29. “Constitutional Court Rulings,” Keesing's Record of World Events Volume 57 (August 2011): 50595.
- 30. “Guatemala Will Charge Ex-President with Genocide,"The Gazette (Montreal), Final Edition, October 14, 2011, Pg. A15.
- 31. “Government Apology for Dos Erres Massacre,” Keesing's Record of World Events Volume 57 (December 2011): 50811.