Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 May 2016, 08:06 GMT

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Guatemala

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Guatemala, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Political context

The year 2007 was marked by the presidential, legislative and municipal elections on September 9, 2007, followed by the second round of the presidential election on November 4, 2007, won by Mr. Álvaro Colom Caballeros, of the National Unity of Hope (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza – UNE). These elections were characterised by a growing climate of insecurity in Guatemala and were notably preceded by a wave of violence against election candidates and political party members.1

More than ten years after the internal conflict that had bloodied Guatemala between 1960 and 1996, which constituted the greatest genocide in Latin America in the 20th century – against indigenous populations, mainly Mayas – the main challenge for the Guatemalan authorities remained that of fighting against impunity for serious violations of human rights committed in the past and more recently. They must also combat violence linked to organised crime, delinquency and to the illegal, clandestine security groups and "social cleansing" gangs, as well as gangs of youths or "maras". In addition, the security forces are often themselves responsible for violence and accused of corruption and drug trafficking. On February 19, 2007, three Salvadorian members of the Central American Parliament (Parlamento Centroamericano – PARLACEN) and their driver were murdered 40 kilometres from Guatemala City. On February 25, four police officers suspected of committing these murders were killed in the El Boquerón high security prison where they had been jailed four days earlier.2

The use of torture is still frequent in Guatemala and conditions of detention remain deplorable, notably due to prison over-population, corruption of prison wardens, abuses by the discipline and order committees, insufficient budget and the increase in the number of conflicts between rival and in "social cleansing" in prisons.

The year 2007 was also marked by the decision of the Guatemala Constitutional Court on December 12, 2007 to refuse to extradite Mr. Angel Anibal Guevara Rodríguez, former Defence Minister, and Mr. Pedro García Arredondo, former police chief, who, together with five other Guatemalan high officials, were wanted in Spain for "genocide", "torture", "enforced disappearances" and "extrajudiciary killings" during the conflict. This decision reinforced the impunity already enjoyed by former generals and officials of this period, including General Efrain Ríos Montt.

In this context, a major event was the ratification by the Guatemalan Congress on August 1, 2007 of the agreement signed in December 2006 by the Government with the United Nations establishing the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG). The CICIG was created to investigate and dismantle criminal organisations that were responsible not just for generalised crime in Guatemala, but also for the paralysis of the judiciary system due to its infiltration by State institutions. Further objectives of the CICIG, which, at the Government's request, has a renewable two-year mandate, are that of strengthening the criminal justice system and recommending policies to fight criminal organisations.3

In 2007, human rights defenders were again victims of reprisals and attempts to intimidate them in order to dissuade them from continuing their activities. In 2007, the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit-Guatemala (Unidad de Protección de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos-Guatemala – UDEFEGUA-Guatemala) recorded 195 cases of threats or attacks against human rights defenders.4

The murder of trade union leaders

The year 2007 saw an increase in violence against trade union leaders, who often lost their life because of their fight for workers' rights. In 2007, UDEFEGUA-Guatemala recorded threats to or attacks against 25 union members. Furthermore, two of the nine defenders murdered in 2007 were union leaders. On January 15, 2007, Mr. Pedro Zamora, the Secretary General of the Trade Union of the Workers of Quetzal Port Enterprise (Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Empresa Portuaria Quetzal – STEPQ), in Puerto Quetzal, was killed. Mr. Zamora had been particularly active in negotiating the collective bargaining agreement on working conditions as well as in the constant battle for the reinstatement of a group of workers who had been abusively dismissed.5 Likewise, on September 23, 2007, Mr. Marco Tulio Ramírez Portela, a member of the Guatemalan Banana Workers Union of Izabal (Sindicato de Trabajadores Bananeros de Izabal – SITRABI), and brother of the SITRABI Secretary General, was murdered in Izabal.

Reprisals against defenders who fight against impunity

In 2007, all those seeking to defend the right to justice for the victims of violence and to fight against impunity continued to be subjected to attacks and threats. Mr. Freddy Peccerely, Mr. José Suasnavar, Mr. Omar Bertoni and Ms. Bianka Peccerely, members of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala – FAFG), an NGO that documents and reports on human rights violations and unsolved murders, received a death threat by e-mail on May 25, 2007. On May 28, 2007, Mr. Peccerely again received an e-mail containing insults and threats. Likewise, on August 13, 2007, Mr. Sergio Fernando Morales, the human rights ombudsman, was travelling in an official vehicle when his security staff informed him that his car was on fire. When he arrived at his home, Mr. Morales received a message on his mobile phone in relation to these events, which occurred during the national debate on the adoption of the CICIG by Congress.

Intimidation of defenders of environmental rights and indigenous peoples

Defenders of environmental rights and indigenous peoples are not safe from threats and harassment, especially when these men and women fight against the consequences of the massive exploitation of energy resources by the country's companies. Furthermore, the authorities have also contributed by encouraging these acts of intimidation. During a press conference on January 10, 2007, Vice President Eduardo Stein indicated that the Government saw organised crime and the environmental movement as the "main sources of ungovernability". He made particular reference to the organisations opposed to the construction of the Xalala and Serchil hydroelectric dams in the Quiché and Alta Verapaz departments.

In January 2007, Mr. Flaviano Bianchini, a volunteer with the "Madre Selva" Collective and an environmental rights defender, received telephone death threats on several occasions. In addition, following the publication of the Collective's report, the Vice-Minister of Energy and Mines, Mr. Jorge García, stated that "the study [of the Collective] does not comply with the nationally and internationally recognised protocols for the collection and analysis of samples". He added that he would send a copy of the report to the Public Ministry in order to ascertain whether legal proceedings could be brought against Mr. Bianchini for having made an "invalid report". Similarly, on February 2, 2007, Mr. José Roberto Morales, Coordinator of the Indigenous People's Rights department of the Centre for Legal Action on Human Rights (Centro de Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos – CALDH), was kidnapped while he was driving home in a CALDH vehicle. His kidnappers threatened him with death but abandoned him a little while later in an area close by.

Harassment of women defenders

Women who seek to promote and defend the rights of women and the victims of sexual violence were also subjected to multiple acts of harassment and violence, and their aggressors had sometimes no hesitation in attacking their families. In March and April 2007, members of the Institute of Comparative Studies in Criminal Sciences (Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencia Penales – ICCPG) received death threats on several occasions, as was the case with Ms. Paola Barrios, an ICCPG investigator into the conditions of detention of women and gender violence, and Ms. Mónica Teleguario Xitay, a lawyer for the ICCPG, who were both working on the case of the rape of a woman by members of the National Civilian Police. In addition, on June 3, 2007, Mr. José Corrado Gómez, the son of Ms. Edith Corrado Gómez, a member of the Awareness-Raising Team with the Association of Ixqik Women (Asociación de Mujeres Ixqik) in Péten, and the grandson of Ms. María Cristina Gómez, in charge of the Pastoral of Women for the Communities of Santa Ana and of Chal, was murdered by two armed men in Chal (Petén Department). One of the murderers then targeted Ms. Edith Corrado and wounded her arm. Ms. María Cristina Gómez was shot as she was trying to protect her daughter. She died immediately. These events occurred on the eve of a meeting between the Association of Ixqik Women and the Office of the Public Prosecutor in order to denounce, in particular, acts of harassment perpetrated against members of the association.

Increase in searches and burglaries at NGO premises

In 2007, the offices of many NGOs were searched and burgled, apparently in order to hinder and obtain information about their human rights activities. For example, between February 3 and 5, 2007, the offices housing the National Human Rights Movement (Movimiento Nacional de Derechos Humanos – MNDH), the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (Unidad de Protección de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos – UPD-MNDH) and the Communication for Art and Peace association (Comunicación para el Arte y la Paz – COMUNICARTE) were broken into. Their archives were searched and more than ten computers were stolen, together with video equipment and documents on the work of these organisations. Similarly, on April 5, 2007, the headquarters of the Irish organisation TRÓCAIRE, the Spanish Association for Cooperation with the South (Asociación para la Cooperación con el Sur – ACSUR Las Segovias), the Guatemalan Collective for Power and Local Development (Colectivo Poder y Desarrollo Local – CPDL) and CARE International, in Guatemala City, were broken into. Computer and video equipment were stolen, containing important information on the work of these four organisations, which filed complaints. No other objects of value disappeared.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 With regard to this, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHRC) expressed "its deep concern regarding the serious acts of violence that have taken place in the context of the electoral process underway in Guatemala [...] more than 50 politically motivated murders of candidates, political activists and their family members" (See Press Release n° 47/07, August 31, 2007).

2 In relation to these events, the European Parliament noted that "whereas [...] several thousand homicides are committed every year in Guatemala but arrests are made in only 2% of cases; whereas trade unionists (such as Pedro Zamora in Puerto Quetzal), peasant leaders and their families have also been killed earlier in 2007, and threats, break-ins and burglaries are suffered by witnesses of cases of genocide under investigation, as well as by the legal representatives of genocide victims and by different human rights organisations", saying that it "expects the Guatemalan government to guarantee full independence, liberty and security to the Guatemalan judicial authorities in their investigation of these crimes" and called on "the Guatemalan Government to adopt measures to protect the judicial agents, the victims of crimes against humanity who are seeking justice, the human rights activists, and the witnesses who can help the trials progress" (See European Parliament Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0084, March 15, 2007).

3 The Presidency of the European Union welcomed "the decision of the Guatemalan Congress, on August 1st, to establish the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, as a matter of urgency, and would like to congratulate the Parliament, Government and the people of Guatemala for this action. [...] [T]he EU also acknowledges the importance of human rights defenders in combating cultures of impunity on violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms" (See EU Presidency Statement, August 3, 2007).

4 See UDEFEGUA-Guatemala, Vencendio barreras, Informe sobre Situación de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos. Enero a Diciembre del 2007, January 2008. In 2006, the Unit had recorded 277 cases of threats or attacks against defenders.

5 On January 19, 2007, the IACHR condemned "the murder of Mr. Pedro Zamora, Secretary General of the Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Portuaria Quetzal [...]" and urged "the Guatemalan state to investigate this serious incident and to try and punish those responsible" (See IACHR Press Release n° 3/07, January 19, 2007.)

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