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.
Guatemala Hands Over Key File In Army Genocide Case
Guatemalan government publishes analysis of a critical military archive that demonstrates responsibility of top military commanders for mass atrocities in the 1980s.
Read HRF Analysis
Guatemalan Genocide Survivor Wins Roger Baldwin Award
Guatemalan indigenous rights activist and genocide survivor Jesus Tecu Osorio has been selected to receive the prestigious 2010 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award for international human rights defenders. Tecu will be honored for his work seeking justice for victims of genocide and empowering indigenous Guatemalans.
Press Release in English | En Español
Voice of America article on Tecú’s 2010 Baldwin Award
More information about the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty
Clinton Visit to Guatemala Should Bolster Human Rights and Combat Impunity
The visit to Guatemala by US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, on March 5 is an opportunity to show strong US support for human rights in Guatemala and the need to aggressively combat impunity and corruption.
Senior Associate Andrew Hudson’s comments in the Washington Post
The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala: A New Model for International Criminal Justice?
A new Human Rights First report published in the Journal of International Criminal Justice analyses the groundbreaking but little understood International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to develop an improved rule of law model for the UN in reforming weak legal systems. It engages in an in-depth study of CICIG’s activities and a comparative analysis of CICIG against similar international criminal justice mechanisms. Human Rights First argues that CICIG’s level of integration into the local judicial system and its dual focus on powers to promote prosecutions and institutional reform tools make it a unique model worth replicating. This report also makes recommendations to further improve CICIG’s model for future application to new contexts and countries.
Read the report
Christian Scientist Monitor article
Groundbreaking Investigation by UN Commission in Guatemala
The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has delivered a comprehensive investigation into the murder of a Guatemalan lawyer that has averted a political crisis. The findings by CICIG demonstrate its incredible value and have shown that even the most politically sensitive crimes can be successfully investigated.
Read HRF analysis of case in The New York Times
Read more about CICIG
Groundbreaking Changes in US Aid to Colombia and Guatemala
New appropriations law has unprecedented funding to protect human rights sctivists in Colombia and Guatemala.
Read statement in English | in Spanish
Read article in El Tiempo (in Spanish)
Read article in Emisoras Unidas (in Spanish)
NGOs Urge Guatemalan President to Release Military Files
President Álvaro Colom should release all military archives related to Guatemala’s internal armed conflict before the mandate of the Presidential Commission for the Declassification of Military Archives expires in January 2010. Publishing these files would allow the perpetrators of the mass atrocities committed during this conflict to be brought to justice.
Read letter (in Spanish)
Read article in IPS News
Read article in IPS News (in Spanish)
Read article in El Periodico (in Spanish)
Demand Investigation into Killing of Indigenous Guatemalan Lawyer Fausto Otzín
Take action now to urge Guatemalan authorities to investigate and prosecute those responsible for killing Fausto Otzín, a celebrated indigenous rights activist.
Read HRF Petition in English | in Spanish
HRF addresses Forum on Criminalization of Defenders in Guatemala
Human Rights Defenders Program Manager, Andrew Hudson, gave the keynote address to an international forum on criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala – drawing on HRF’s successes in combating this problem in Colombia.
Charges Against Guatemalan LGBT Activist Dismissed
On September 29, 2009, a Guatemalan judge dismissed all charges against LGBT activist Jorge Lopez. Lopez had been charged with involvement in the assault of a sex worker; a person who he had actively worked to protect. Prosecutors may still appeal, but we are confident that their petition will be denied and recognized as an attempt to discourage López?s human rights advocacy on behalf of the LGBT community.
Letter of thanks to Guatemalan Authorities
Read about Lopez’s case
Petition regarding Lopez’s Case