In 1996, Guatemala's 36-year civil war finally came to an end with the signing of Peace Accords which laid the ground for democratic governance and respect for human rights. Despite the changes brought about by the Peace Accords, serious human rights violations continue to be committed in Guatemala and, in particular, human rights defenders are assassinated, threatened or otherwise attacked. In the vast majority of such cases, effective investigations have not been carried out and the perpetrators are never brought to justice.
The Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit of the National Movement for Human Rights, a Guatemalan non-governmental organization, reported almost 200 attacks against human rights defenders in 2007. Since 2000 the number of attacks against human rights defenders has increased dramatically, largely due to the failure to effectively prosecute such crimes. Defenders at particular risk are those upholding economic, social and cultural rights and those seeking accountability for past human rights crimes.
Issues Facing Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala and Priority Areas of Work
Illegal Security Organizations and Commission to End Impunity
One of the most serious issues facing Guatemalan human rights defenders is the continued existence of illegal and clandestine security organizations, which are responsible for a large number of threats and attacks against human rights defenders. These organized crime like groups allegedly have extensive links with many public institutions in Guatemala. They were supposed to have been dismantled following the Peace Accords, yet they continue to operate. The Guatemalan government has twice signed an agreement with the United Nations to establish an international commission to investigate and assist in the prosecution of such groups (CICIG). On August 1, 2007, the Guatemalan Congress voted to establish the commission with a mandate until at least the end of 2009. See our separate page for more information.
Protecting human rights defenders seeking justice for past crimes
Human rights defenders are critical in attempts to uncover and redress past human rights violations. The majority of serious human rights violations committed during Guatemala's 36 year civil war, including allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide, remain uninvestigated and the perpetrators remain free. The impunity surrounding such grave crimes encourages violence now. Many brave human rights defenders withstand threats, attacks and assassinations of colleagues to seek justice for these crimes in both Guatemalan and Spanish courts. The alleged perpetrators of these crimes include General Efraín Ríos Montt, who took power by coup before the worst period of human rights violations in the early 1980s. He and others remain powerful public officials. See our separate page for more information