U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Guatemala
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Guatemala, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa461c.html [accessed 25 January 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
GUATEMALAGuatemala is a democratic republic with separation of government powers and a centralized national administration. The 1985 Constitution provides for election by universal suffrage of a one-term president and a unicameral congress. It also mandates a Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH), who is elected by and reports to the Congress. In the November 1995 elections for president, vice president, congress, and municipal offices, the National Advancement Party (PAN) won 42 of the 80 congressional seats; however, no presidential candidate received an absolute majority of the votes. Alvaro Arzu Irigoyen of the PAN won the runoff presidential election and took office in January 1996. Reflecting a greater opening for political activity, 24 parties, including a broad front coalition composed of civic, human rights, and labor leaders, campaigned in the free and fair elections. The judiciary is independent, but suffers from inefficiency and corruption. The Arzu administration ended 36 years of internal conflict by signing a comprehensive peace agreement with the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) guerrillas on December 29, 1996. Implementation of the Peace Accords began almost immediately: Demobilization of the URNG guerrillas was completed in May, the Mobile Military Police (PMA) were disbanded ahead of schedule, and the Government reduced the size of the military forces. As called for in the accords, the Government proposed and Congress enacted a wide-ranging series of legal reforms to protect human rights, strengthen civilian control of the military, address discrimination against the indigenous population, and lay the groundwork for further political and socioeconomic reforms. In the wake of the final Peace Accords, the mandate of the U.N. Human Rights Verification Mission (MINUGUA), established in November 1994 to monitor compliance with the Government-URNG human rights accord, was expanded to include peace implementation issues. The December 1996 National Reconciliation Law, which provided amnesty for some acts related to the internal conflict, has been narrowly interpreted by the courts and its constitutionality was upheld on October 8. The Minister of Government oversees the National Civilian Police (PNC) created in January under the terms of the Peace Accords, which has sole responsibility for internal security. There are no active members of the military in the police command structure, but President Arzu ordered the army to support the police in response to public concern about a nationwide wave of violent crime. The Presidential Military Staff (EMP) continued to exercise a law-enforcement role. Some members of the police and security forces committed human rights violations. The agricultural-based, private sector-oriented economy grew by approximately 5.0 percent in real terms. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the leading exports, and more than half the work force is engaged in agriculture. Inflation was about 9 percent in 1996. There is a marked disparity in income distribution, and poverty is pervasive, particularly in the large indigenous community. According to U.N. statistics, approximately 80 percent of the citizens live in poverty, with 59 percent in extreme poverty. Per capita gross national product was approximately $1,450 in 1996. The significant improvement in the overall human rights situation under the Arzu administration continued. In contrast to past years, there was a marked decline in new cases of human rights abuses, but problems remain in some areas. Positive political developments and the reduction of the size of the security forces, stemming from successful implementation of the Peace Accords, were major factors in these changes. Nevertheless, members of the security forces were implicated in some extrajudicial killings and mistreated suspects and detainees. MINUGUA and other human rights monitors accused the EMP of serious human rights abuses, including at least one forced disappearance. Prison conditions remain harsh. Arbitrary arrest and detention, and lengthy pretrial detention, remain problems. Efforts to reform the police and judiciary continued in an attempt to eliminate the climate of impunity, and the Government initiated some prosecutions of human rights abusers. The failure to resolve past serious human rights abuses remains a major problem. With judges and other law enforcement officials subject to intimidation and corruption, the inefficient judicial system is often unable to ensure fair trials and due process. Elements of the security forces infringed on citizens' privacy rights. Discrimination and violence against women persisted, as did societal abuse of children and discrimination against the disabled and indigenous people. Lynchings and mob attacks continued, and the Government was unable to prosecute the perpetrators.