Americas : Guatemala

Head of state and government: �scar Berger Perdomo
Death penalty: retentionist
International Criminal Court: not signed
UN Women’s Convention and its Optional Protocol: ratified.

Overview - Covering events from January - December 2005
Background : Violence against women : Economic, social and cultural rights : Threats and intimidation : Impunity : Death penalty : AI country visits

Record numbers of women were killed; the government’s response remained ineffective and inadequate and there were few successful prosecutions of those responsible. Human rights defenders faced repeated threats and intimidation, especially at times of nationwide protest against government economic policies. Hundreds of cases of disputes between rural communities and landowners remained unresolved. Those responsible for past human rights violations, including genocide, committed during the internal armed conflict, were not brought to justice.


In March, Congress ratified a free trade agreement (known as CAFTA) with the USA, the Dominican Republic and other Central American states. This and other economic policies, such as the expansion of mining activities by foreign companies and proposed privatization of parts of the public sector, caused significant protest nationwide. At least two demonstrators were killed, allegedly by members of the security forces, and many were injured during demonstrations.

The government issued public apologies in four cases of past human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict. One public apology, for the 1982 Plan de S�nchez massacre of more than 250 indigenous villagers by state forces, had been ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

An Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was established in September.

More than 650 people died in Guatemala in the wake of Hurricane Stan which caused extensive damage and casualties in Central America in October.

Efforts to make progress on a UN-backed proposal to establish a commission to investigate illegal organizations and clandestine groups failed to materialize despite previous government assurances. The proposed commission had been rejected by Congress in 2004.

Violence against women

According to police figures, up to 665 women were murdered in Guatemala, an increase from the 527 killed in 2004. The attacks were often accompanied by sexual violence and extreme brutality. Little progress was made in bringing those responsible to justice. In January cases were transferred to a new investigating agency with more resources, but this did not result in successful prosecutions.

A law which considers sexual relations with a female minor a crime only if the woman is “honest” remained in force. However, a law which allowed rapists, in certain cases, to escape prosecution if they marry their victim, was suspended in December by the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court.
  • Nineteen-year-old Claudina Vel�zquez’s body was found on 13 August. She had died from a gunshot wound to the head. There were bruises on her cheek and knee and traces of semen were found. There were serious concerns about the effectiveness of the investigation. For example, tests on the principal suspects, to ascertain if they had fired a gun, were not carried out and the investigating prosecutor attempted to return her clothes to the family, who insisted that they be kept as a potential source of future evidence.
Economic, social and cultural rights

Twenty-two evictions of rural communities were reported to have been carried out in 2005. The authorities showed undue partiality towards individual, normally wealthy, landowners in issuing eviction orders. The evictions themselves were characterized by destruction of homes and excessive use of force which sometimes resulted in injuries.

Threats and intimidation

During 2005, 224 attacks on human rights activists and organizations were reported. The timing and nature of many of these attacks suggested the involvement of illegal clandestine groups.

The Rapporteur for Guatemala of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights visited in July and noted the difficult situation faced by human rights defenders. While commending the government’s public declaration of support for defenders, the Rapporteur concluded that impunity was a structural problem and little progress was being made in investigating present and past human rights violations against activists.
  • In January, Makrina Gudiel, a campaigner against corruption and the daughter of a prominent human rights defender who was murdered in December 2004, was attacked. Her car was drenched in gasoline in an attempt to burn her alive. She managed to escape and remained in hiding for most of 2005.
  • In May, the office of a national rural workers’ organization was raided. Computers were taken containing important information on the organization’s work and members, while many other objects of value were left behind. The organization had been active in opposing CAFTA and forced evictions of rural communities.

There was no progress in trying past cases of genocide or crimes against humanity in Guatemala.

In February, the Constitutional Court halted a trial in the case of the 1982 massacre in Dos Erres, in which over 200 people were killed by the Guatemalan Army. The Court determined that due process had been violated. The case was pending at the end of the year.
  • In September, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the case for alleged genocide against Guatemalan General Rios Montt, military ruler of Guatemala between 1981-82, and other officers, could proceed in Spain.
Death penalty

In April President Berger announced he would seek to abolish the death penalty. Legislation was presented to Congress in May where it remained pending at the end of the year.

In two separate cases in June and September, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that articles of the Criminal Code relating to the application of the death penalty for murder and kidnapping were unclear and therefore could not be applied. The Court ordered a reprieve for the two prisoners who presented their cases and for a further 18 prisoners condemned to death for kidnapping. If implemented, the judgments could reduce those on death row from the current 29 to nine.

No executions took place in 2005.

AI country visits

AI delegations visited Guatemala in August and in September.

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