Last Updated: Friday, 22 August 2014, 15:07 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Guatemala

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Guatemala, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa8510.html [accessed 22 August 2014]
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.
 

Guatemala's 1985 Constitution calls for election by universal suffrage of a one-term President, a unicameral Congress, and municipal officers; it mandates an independent judiciary and a human rights ombudsman, who is elected by and reports to Congress. Midway through his 5-year term, after rising street protests, President Jorge Serrano suspended several sections of the Constitution and dissolved Congress and the Supreme and Constitutional Courts on May 25. After extremely negative domestic and international reaction to this extraconstitutional move, Serrano was peacefully and constitutionally dismissed on June 1. Congress and the courts were called back into session, and on June 5, Congress, as prescribed by the Constitution, elected then Human Rights Ombudsman Ramiro de Leon Carpio to finish Serrano's presidential term, which ends in January 1996.

The armed forces operate with considerable institutional and legal autonomy, particularly in security and military matters. President de Leon Carpio, as Commander in Chief, replaced two Defense Ministers with officers of his own choosing. The 43,000-man army, which has responsibility for national security, has fought a leftist insurgency for more than three decades. The National Police (12,000 strong) and Treasury Police (2,000) report to the Interior Minister and share responsibility for internal security with the army. A target of frequent criticism by human rights groups, the "Hunapu" anticrime task force patrols – composed of National Police, Treasury Police, and Mobile Military Police (PMA) – were eliminated during the year. However, in December, as part of a Christmastime anticrime effort, limited joint patrols were reinstituted in some communities. The new President appointed a civilian as National Police chief in August, as well as other civilians to senior positions in the police and Ministry of Interior, and removed all military personnel from the police on August 27. Some 500,000 men serve in voluntary civil self-defense committees, commonly called Civil Defense Patrols (PAC's), some of which conduct counterinsurgency patrols in rural areas. The Human Rights Ombudsman and the Catholic Archbishop's Human Rights Office report that some PAC members were compelled to join the patrols, in violation of the Constitution. Security forces and especially PAC'S committed numerous serious human rights violations in 1993.

The agriculture-based, private sector-oriented economy was projected to grow approximately 4 percent in 1993, which would produce an increase in per capita income of about 1 percent. Inflation was expected to reach 12 percent. Guatemala has negotiated a shadow agreement with the International Monetary Fund, despite fiscal and monetary difficulties. There is a marked disparity in income distribution and poverty is pervasive, particularly in the large indigenous community.

Although there were improvements in the human rights situation in 1993, serious abuses occurred frequently. Statistics prepared by the Archbishop's Human Rights Office showed an increase in extrajudicial killings as of mid-December and a substantial increase in forced disappearances, with no improvement in other categories. Many of these violations occurred in the latter half of the year. The civil patrols, military, and police continued to commit a majority of the major violations, including extrajudicial killings, political kidnapings, and death threats. The seriousness of the continuing violations was underlined by the circulation in March of a "death list" containing 24 names and another in October with 23 names. However, no one on either list was kidnaped or killed.

The election of President de Leon Carpio, the highly respected former human rights ombudsman, raised hopes there would be a rapid improvement in the human rights situation. The new President encouraged human rights groups and showed a willingness to investigate abuses and to make structural changes, such as dismantling the "Archivos" presidential intelligence unit and restructuring the police, including creation of a special police unit to investigate all cases of forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and other violations of a political nature allegedly committed by the police. Nevertheless, these changes failed to reduce the actual number of abuses allegedly committed by government forces. The 33-year-old internal insurgency continued to be a major cause of human rights violations. Both the security forces and the guerrillas committed numerous and serious human rights abuses. Guerrilla abuses included extrajudicial killings, kidnapings, forced labor recruitment, widespread use of mines and explosives in civilian areas, and the use of children in combat. Guerrilla attacks on infrastructure targets continued throughout the year.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Politically motivated killings continued in 1993, and with few exceptions the Government failed to investigate them fully or to detain and prosecute the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. Full-year statistics from the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office listed 14 cases of extrajudicial killings, with 146 other cases under investigation. This compares with 48 confirmed extrajudicial killings in 1992, with 318 under investigation. The Archbishop's Human Rights Office reported 239 extrajudicial killings up to mid-December 1993 as compared to 204 in 1992 but did not break down the figures according to the responsible organization.

The security forces and persons associated with or protected by the army, such as the Civil Defense Patrols or military commissioners, committed a number of these killings, many of which took place in areas of guerrilla conflict. The Ombudsman, the Attorney General, and human rights groups have found evidence of killings by PAC's. PAC leaders are feared in many rural communities. They enjoy army backing and often immunity from prosecution. Likewise, members of the security forces are rarely held accountable for human rights violations.

Civil patrols continued to be especially responsible for human rights violations, including the killing of human rights activists. PAC's threatened and killed members of the Runujel Junam Council of Ethnic Communities (CERJ), a rural-based human rights organization dedicated mainly to opposing involuntary service in PAC's. Tomas Lares Cipriano, a CERJ and United Peasants Committee (CUC) member in Joyabaj, was killed on April 30 by PAC members, according to family members and witnesses.

Ten persons, from two separate families, took refuge in the Santa Cruz del Quiche CERJ office on June 10 after being threatened with death for not participating in PAC's and for being CERJ members. On October 14, 3 of the 10 left the CERJ offices under police protection and resettled in a town without a PAC. The other seven returned to their original community in early January. Charges against CERJ leader Amilcar Mendez for allegedly providing explosives to guerrillas in October 1992 were dropped in March. Captain Anibal Roberto Landaveri, Commander of the Chiul, Quiche, stockade, was arrested in May for having three CERJ members beaten on his base. He was dismissed from the army and tried for illegal detention, abuse of authority, coercion, and causing injuries. In addition to being dismissed, he was found guilty and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison and payment of damages to those harmed. However, the sentence was suspended by the military court, which has the discretion to do so when a light sentence is imposed.

On August 3, Huehuetenango PAC members fired on marchers demanding the dissolution of the civil patrols, killing Juan Chonay Pablo and wounding two others. Five PAC members have been questioned by the authorities for Chonay's murder, with one still remaining in jail. Ten arrest warrants for other PAC members remain outstanding. Witnesses subsequently reported receiving threats from PAC members. PAC leader Efrain Domingo Morales, from the town of Xemal in the same area, was murdered by unknown persons in mid-September. A surviving family member reported that PAC members killed two peasants from Xemal, Colotenango, on September 26.

Former Corporal Nicolas Gutierrez Cruz, convicted in the January 17, 1992, killing of four persons in Ciudad Peronia, exhausted his legal appeals on July 23 when the Constitutional Court denied his request to void his death sentence. In early October, President de Leon Carpio commuted his sentence to 30 years, the maximum legally possible. A fellow ex-soldier convicted in the killings escaped on May 9, 1992; in May 1993, an appellate court sentenced an army enlisted man to 2 years in prison for negligence in allowing the escape. On March 19, the then Human Rights Ombudsman de Leon Carpio accused army troops of responsibility for the August 31, 1992, kidnaping, torture, and murder of Huehuetenango peasant Lucas Perez Tadeo. Although the army promised a full investigation, no results were reported by year's end.

On May 1, civil patrol members in Jocopilas surrounded a house and killed 11 inhabitants (as well as an unborn child). Many of the 11 were known as criminals in the community and, the day of their deaths, are said to have robbed one family and raped three women. Police arrived prior to the killings but left after being intimidated by the local PAC.

On the Government's appeal of an earlier acquittal, Quiche PAC chiefs Manuel Perebal Ajtzalam and Manuel Leon Lares were sentenced to 30 years in prison for the February 17, 1991, killing of Juan Perebal Xirum and his son and the injuring of another son. Those attacked had testified against Perebal in the case of Sebastian Velasquez Mejia, a community leader opposed to the PAC's who was kidnaped and later found dead.

Persons associated with the security forces were responsible for vigilante killings. According to the Casa Alianza, an organization that fosters protection of the human rights of street children, street children Henry Yubani Alvarez and Francisco Tziac were shot in downtown Guatemala City on April 17 and 22. Casa Alianza believes that a private security guard killed Alvarez and off-duty military commissioners wounded Tziac, both shot possibly due to petty thievery. On May 11, a congressional bodyguard shot a student protesting at the Congress. He died a day later; the bodyguard who allegedly killed him remains a fugitive.

There was some progress in certain past high-profile cases. Former government security agent Noel de Jesus Beteta Alvarez was sentenced in February to 30 years in prison for the 1990 murder of Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Mack Chang and the unrelated beating of a minor. The conviction is now being appealed, with plaintiff Helen Mack also seeking prosecution of the alleged military "intellectual authors" of the crime. On September 1, Myrna Mack's former workplace was broken into and death threats left against Helen Mack. On September 23, Beteta briefly escaped from jail but was recaptured 5 hours later and charged in the escape.

On May 11, an appellate court sentenced Captain Hugo Contreras to 20 years for planning the 1990 kidnaping that led to the death of U.S. citizen Michael Devine and confirmed the 30-year sentences for six enlisted men. After hearing the verdict, however, Contreras escaped from military custody and remains at large. While the circumstances of his escape suggested complicity by the military, the only punishment was a 2-year suspended sentence given to an enlisted man for not being at his post when Contreras escaped. Senior officers accused of covering up the case have not been brought to trial.

On August 18, an appeals court sentenced 22 former police officers, who formed part of a "Hunapu" patrol, to 30 years in prison for the April 10, 1992, death of university student Julio Rigoberto Cu Quim and for injuring six other students. Earlier, on July 22, seven PMA members of the same patrol were given sentences of 14 years (4 commutable) for the crime.

There was no progress in resolving numerous other cases of past extrajudicial killings, including the 1988 "white van" case, the 1989 disappearances and murders of university students, the 1990 Hector Oqueli Colindres and Gilda Flores killings, the 1990 disappearance of Maria Tiu Tojin and her daughter, the 1991 murder of police detective Jose Luis Merida Escobar, the 1991 disappearance of Diego Domingo Martin, or past kidnapings and murders of various CERJ members. On May 5, an appeals court upheld a lower court decision to dismiss charges against six military defendants for the 1991 "Traileros" killings in Taxisco. The decision was appealed. The Government's frequent inability to control or sanction those responsible for human rights offenses is a major impediment to human rights progress.

b. Disappearance

The Archbishop's Human Rights Office reported 46 forced disappearances during 1993, as compared with 11 in 1992. Seventeen were either labeled or presumed to be political in nature. Reports linked many political disappearances to persons connected with the armed forces. The Ombudsman's Office listed 2 cases of forced disappearances, with 29 others under investigation at year's end. This compares with the Ombudman's 1992 statistics of 10 confirmed forced disappearances and 62 cases still under investigation. The Government did not identify or prosecute the perpetrators of any of these disappearances.

In August the wife of guerrilla Efrain Bamaca claimed he was being held in a clandestine prison after results of an exhumation of his supposed grave proved negative. The army denied this, though it has admitted in the past to housing former guerrillas who cooperate with the armed forces on military bases. One of these ex-guerrillas, Angel Osorio, was killed on August 19 by members of the Guatemala National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) guerrilla coalition when he was stopped at a guerrilla roadblock after leaving a Quiche military base to visit his family.

Guerrilla forces kidnaped San Marcos PAC members Margarito Lopez and Obdulio Zapeta on August 7 and Diego Chel Matom, an army enlisted man riding a bus in Quiche 3 days later. In early December, the press reported that 10 persons dressed in the manner of URNG guerrillas approached Ramona Munoz and Maritza Gil as they were working on their Santa Rose farm and took them to nearby mountains under threat of death. The whereabouts of all these persons were unknown as of year's end.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution protects the integrity and security of the person. However, as in past years, many bodies were found throughout Guatemala bearing signs of severe disfigurement or postmortem mutilation. The Human Rights Ombudsman's Office listed seven cases of torture in 1993. The Archbishop's Human Rights Office listed nine cases of torture through mid-December. In one case, a male student was picked up by three unidentified men on March 27, beaten unconscious, held for 3 days, and asked about student leaders. In April a female victim was also beaten unconscious but apparently was not asked any questions.

There were other credible reports of mistreatment by security forces, including use of excessive force by police at the time of arrest and of abusive treatment of persons in rural areas by the army, Civil Defense Patrols, military commissioners, and police. The Government often failed to investigate or take any other action in response to such reports. Although action was rarely taken, cases of rape traced to individual soldiers were reported.

Casa Alianza, the organization dedicated to street children, reported in March that street child Julio Cesar Reyes was picked up by two persons he recognized as policemen and burned on his arm 29 times with a cigarette. On May 23, a street child reported having acid thrown at him by the police. There were numerous other reports of policemen beating or illegally detaining street children; the authorities rarely took action in any of these instances.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Despite legal safeguards, there were frequent credible reports of arbitrary arrest by the security forces, incommunicado detention, and failure to adhere to the prescribed time limits for legal procedures. A court-issued arrest warrant is required unless a person is caught in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for over 6 hours without bringing him before a judge. The law provides for bail, access to lawyers, and limits to 20 days the time anyone may be held. After that period, a detainee must be charged or freed, and the authorities must produce detainees on court request.

Some persons detained illegally reported having been held at safe houses allegedly operated by security forces. Those responsible for illegal detentions routinely ignore writs of habeas corpus. The Archbishop's Human Rights Office charged that prisoners are sometimes not released in a timely fashion after completing their sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order.

Investigations during the Serrano presidency into the activities of former Izabal department governor Lilian Vasquez de Guzman and alleged corruption by former Health Minister Miguel Montepeque appeared politically motivated. Montepeque was subsequently cleared of charges; Vasquez de Guzman went into self-imposed temporary exile in mid-February. The problem of politically motivated investigations lessened after the accession of de Leon Carpio to the presidency.

Exile is prohibited under the Constitution and is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system is ineffective and often unable to ensure a fair trial (see below). The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary composed of a Constitutional Court, a Supreme Court, appeals courts, and several courts of special jurisdiction, such as labor courts. However, military courts have jurisdiction over military personnel, including military commissioners who commit crimes while on official business, thus limiting the ability of civil courts to prosecute persons under military control in human rights abuse cases. PAC members are civilians and not under military jurisdiction.

Civilian trials are public after the first 15 days, which are dedicated to an initial investigative phase that is closed. Defendants have the right to be present at trials and to legal representation. An appeals court automatically reviews convictions. The Criminal Procedure Code is being changed to introduce oral proceedings (in both Spanish and indigenous languages) open to the public and to establish a viable public defender program. To allow more time for training and compliance, however, in December the effective date of the new Criminal Procedure Code was postponed until July 1994.

Most human rights violations are not investigated; security force personnel are reluctant to investigate cases involving colleagues. Police are also relatively few in number and lack resources and training. Judges are susceptible to intimidation and corruption and suffer from low pay, bad working conditions, and low morale. The Supreme Court and some lower court judges came under public pressure to resign for corruption and politicization of the legal system.

Some judges succeeded in being excused from hearing prominent cases by alleging they had received death threats. A total of 12 different judges were excused from the Myrna Mack Chang case, for example. The appeals court judges who heard the Mack, Devine, and "Traileros" cases reported having received threats in 1993. In addition, officials from the Attorney General's and Human Rights Ombudsman's offices, including the Ombudsman himself, have received threats.

Charges continue to be made publicly that the Supreme Court pressures lower court judges to decide cases in line with its wishes. In January the Constitutional Court ruled that the Supreme Court practice of arbitrarily transferring justices was unconstitutional, limiting one means of interfering in lower court cases.

There are no known political prisoners.

f.Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of home, correspondence, and private documents, but these provisions are not always respected. Elements of the security forces continue to monitor private communications. Many human rights monitors reported receiving threats in the form of surveillance, telephone calls, and anonymous letters.

On March 26, the Guatemalan postal workers union and the Human Rights Ombudsman exposed a secret government mail interception unit located at the central post office. The Ombudsman attributed responsibility for the letter-opening operation to the presidential intelligence unit known as "Archivos," which was later disbanded.

Officials enforcing the military draft continued to enter homes and places of business without legally required court orders. The army attempted to curb such abuses in Quiche by setting up a draft board consisting of the zone military commander, the local representative of the Human Rights Ombudsman's office, and other civilian leaders. Under recruitment practices also adopted in other departments, potential draftees receive three induction notices, after which they are arrested if they do not report for enlistment. Under Guatemalan law, such arrests must be effected pursuant to a court order.

Credible reports of forced recruitment continued, however, particularly in late January. On July 27, in what was said to be the first case of its kind outside a city, Jalapa peasant Juan Engel Morales Lima filed suit claiming he was a victim of forced recruitment. In September Alvaro Enrique Madrid Matta was released from the army due to his being a minor after the Human Rights Ombudsman filed suit on September 14, asserting he had been forcibly recruited in August.

The Constitution requires that PAC service be voluntary. However, army officers, military commissioners, and PAC leaders often pressure men in areas of conflict to become PAC members. There were credible reports that some who refused to serve were killed or suffered other abuses.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Guatemala's armed internal conflict entered its 33rd year in 1993 and continued to be a major cause of human rights violations by both government and guerrilla forces. After a promising first half of the year, peace talks collapsed in early May. Human rights issues and the timing of a proposed cease-fire were primary areas of disagreement. The de Leon Carpio Government sought to renew the peace talks under a format allowing greater participation by other groups in Guatemalan society. Talks resumed under U.N. auspices in January 1994.

Communities of People in Resistance (CPR) claimed army harassment throughout the year, including late evening helicopter overflights and restriction of commerce. On February 27, Episcopal Conference Secretary Bishop Ramazzini announced that some 500 Guatemalans had fled to Mexico to avoid army operations in Cuarto Pueblo, Quiche. They later returned. On August 23, two former PAC members stated that PAC leaders and a military officer had forced them earlier in the year to harass a CPR. In September President de Leon Carpio met with a CPR delegation to discuss their complaints. CPR leaders announced the intention of their communities to live openly, establishing permanent settlements in 1994.

Bombings conducted by unknown perpetrators continued, with targets including former President Serrano's Solidarity Action Movement party headquarters and the headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party. Four banks were also bombed, and numerous rural electrical towers were blown up in January and February. Further bombings occurred in September, apparently tied to a political struggle involving efforts to remove allegedly corrupt Congressmen and Supreme Court officials from office. Commercial institutions, Christian Democratic Party headquarters, the Guatemalan Jurists Association, and the offices of the Mutual Support Group (GAM – a human rights group active in the removal effort), were targets. Shots also were fired near GAM leader Nineth Montenegro de Garcia's home on September 11; some congressional deputies and the Supreme Court president also reported death threats. No one was apprehended for these attacks and threats.

Guerrilla forces continued to recruit children into their ranks. Government troops found a 10-year-old child guerrilla after an armed engagement near Raxhuja, Alta Verapaz, on March 9. The wounded child was evacuated to a Guatemala City military hospital. In another instance, on June 17, 13-year-old Mario Ixcal was captured near La Libertad, Peten, after being wounded in an army-guerrilla clash. Treated and released to the Ombudsman's office, Ixcal said his URNG unit contained two other young boys. Documented cases of civilians being injured by guerrilla mines also occurred in 1993.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of expression. However, radio and television station owners charge that licensing and renewal procedures have been used to threaten stations critical of the Government, security forces, or powerful individuals. When Serrano was President, newspapers also complained about government interference, especially efforts to silence criticism of the President, his family, and alleged wrongdoing by security forces. On February 4, newspaper columnist Marta Altoaguirre's father's automobile was attacked by a group of heavily armed men. Although neither her father nor driver were injured, Altoaguirre, an outspoken critic of then President Serrano, characterized the attack as an effort to intimidate her.

While journalists assert that they operate more freely under the de Leon administration than they have at any other time in recent history, threats and attacks on journalists continued. On July 3, Jorge Carpio Nicolle, El Grafico publisher and a political party leader, was shot and killed by a group of armed men while traveling along a highway in Quetzaltenango. On December 24, Victor Manuel de la Cruz, a reporter for Radio Sonora, was shot and subsequently died in Guatemala City. Both cases remained unsolved at year's end, although the Government claims motivation for the attacks was criminal, not political.

On August 1, unknown individuals fired on the offices of the daily newspaper Siglo XXI. Despite President de Leon's personal interest, this case also remained unsolved at year's end. Five days later, three police officers threatened two journalists covering a student disturbance. The new police director disciplined the three officers, and one is currently awaiting trial for this threat. In mid-August, a television journalist who interviewed two senior URNG officials received threats.

On October 8, Oscar Masaya, director of a cable television news program, was severely beaten in Guatemala City. On October 28, 10 journalists were beaten by unknown individuals when they attempted to cover a press conference being given by activists occupying the Congress. During November the weekly Cronica reported receiving a threat that it should pay protection money to an alleged URNG representative. On November 25, newspaper editor Carlos Rigalt Cervantes was shot and pursued by persons in a car that moments earlier had struck the auto he was driving. A number of journalists, including the director of Tinamit magazine, also reported receiving death threats throughout the year. Several were included on a 24-person "death list" that appeared in late March or on a separate list that appeared in early October.

Newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations were subjected to censorship when President Serrano announced his May 25 extraconstitutional actions. Radio and television stations also were forced to broadcast standardized government programming for extended periods. Security forces seized several thousand copies of the Cronica magazine issue reporting Serrano's actions, which were found burned by a roadside in late July. A number of journalists refused to cooperate with authorities during the coup; they were not harmed as censorship quickly broke down and a free press returned after Serrano's fall.

Despite harassment, the news media reported all major human rights stories and publicized communiques from the URNG, leftist groups, and others opposed to the Government or its policies. Both major press associations denounced incidents restricting freedom of the press and vowed to continue coverage of sensitive topics. Journalists admit, however, that self-censorship stemming from fear of reprisal continues to impede full investigative reporting on a variety of topics, including alleged government human rights violations, corruption of government officials and influential politicians, aspects of narcotics trafficking, and issues affecting the economic interests of powerful individuals.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution guarantees the right of peaceful assembly and association, but authorities banned rallies and broke up a demonstration following Serrano's May 25 coup. Prior to the coup, there was a plethora of demonstrations, some involving violence between police and marchers. Some demonstrators also claimed later harassment by security forces in retribution for their participation in the marches. Street demonstrations were a factor in focusing public disapproval on Serrano's actions. With his exit from office, constitutional guarantees of peaceful assembly and association were restored.

Freedom of political association is guaranteed under the Constitution, although organizations are nominally required to obtain legal status, a cumbersome and expensive procedure. In mid-December, the Government announced a streamlining of these procedures.

c. Freedom of Religion

No state religion exists. Religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed and is respected in practice. Religious personnel are sometimes threatened for political reasons. About 70 per cent of the population is nominally Catholic, but many other faiths operate freely, especially evangelical Protestantism.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not restrict foreign travel, nor does it revoke citizenship for political reasons. Movement inside the country was unrestricted except where the army and PAC's limited travel in some areas of conflict. Guerrillas continued to establish roadblocks, assault private citizens to demand "war taxes," attack and drain petroleum trucks, and limit travel in certain rural areas.

Repatriation of refugees continued. By the end of 1993, 5,135 refugees had been repatriated to Guatemala. In December a large group of approximately 1,300 refugees returned to a conflict-torn zone that was originally their home.

On August 25, a representative of the Guatemalan refugee community in Mexico, Joaquin Jimenez Bautista, was beaten by a crowd including PAC members in Todos Santos, Huehuetenango. Jimenez had returned to Guatemala on August 17 as part of a refugee group searching for resettlement sites. On the day of the beating, he had left the group, returning for a visit to his former village. Crowd members later formally charged that Jimenez was a known guerrilla, who participated in murders in that town in the 1980's. Jimenez was briefly detained by police after a military patrol prevented the mob from lynching him. Jimenez was released by order of the Minister of Government and returned to Mexico on August 26.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Guatemalans have the right to change their government by peaceful and democratic means. Universal suffrage by secret ballot exists for those 18 years of age and older; there are no property or literacy requirements, but members of the armed forces and police may not vote. The last national elections, which international observers found free and fair, were held in January 1991.

Following the removal of President Serrano and Vice President Espina, Ramiro de Leon Carpio was elected President by a congressional vote and sworn in on June 6, as prescribed by the Constitution. Congress elected Arturo Herbruger, who was head of Guatemala's independent Supreme Electoral Tribunal until retiring in early June, as Vice President on June 18.

Several women hold prominent political positions, including three Cabinet posts. Six of 116 members of Congress are female; 2 women are Supreme Court justices. A few women also hold important positions in political parties. Of the over 300 municipalities in Guatemala, women serve as mayors in only 5 (there had been no female mayors prior to the May elections in 276 small municipalities). There are no legal impediments to women's participation in politics, but females are underrepresented in the political arena. As of March 1990, 60 percent of registered voters were men and 40 percent women, despite women being slightly more numerous than men in the general population.

Indigenous people enjoy equal rights under the Constitution, and some have attained positions as Congressmen, army officers (including one general), government officials, and judges.

Nevertheless, pervasive discrimination (see Section 5) limits opportunities for indigenous people to assume prominent roles in politics.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Local human rights groups are permitted to operate, but members suffered threats and violence from security forces and PAC's. A greater tolerance for their activity exists since the de Leon administration took office. As noted in Section 1.a., members of the human rights organization CERJ were killed and threatened, and CERJ's Guatemala City office was broken into on May 8. CONAVIGUA, an indigenous widows' organization prominent in the advocacy of women's and human rights issues, also received threats. Prior to the midyear change in administrations, President Serrano and members of his Cabinet criticized both local and international human rights groups, accusing them of intentionally distorting Guatemala's human rights record for political purposes. High-ranking government officials working in the fields of human rights and jurisprudence complained publicly and privately of receiving threats stemming from their interest in resolving cases related to human rights violations, official corruption, and drug trafficking.

Relations between the executive branch and the Ombudsman's office were tense at times in the first half of the year, though, after the election of de Leon Carpio as President, matters improved considerably. The Ombudsman's office continued to enjoy widespread public support and respect; Congress elected Jorge Mario Garcia Laguardia as the new Human Rights Ombudsman to replace de Leon Carpio. The new Government made clear its willingness and commitment to receive international and domestic human rights groups. Senior officials met numerous foreign and international officials and activists.

The Peace Brigades, an international human rights monitoring organization, was unable to obtain government recognition despite persistent efforts. The absence of legal status did not, however, prevent Peace Brigades or other human rights organizations from operating openly.

On June 17, union activist Elizabeth Recinos was kidnaped, along with a companion. Though the companion was quickly released, Recinos was held for 4 days, drugged, and beaten. President de Leon condemned the kidnaping, and the police conducted an investigation, though no arrests were made. The police initially labeled this a "self-kidnaping," although there were more credible claims that the action was meant as a threat to unions and human rights groups. On July 11, union official Walter Manuel Najera Molina was kidnaped and interrogated about union activities for 3 hours by four armed men, during which time he was beaten. During his questioning, Najera was asked about various political and human rights leaders, whom his captives linked to the guerrillas.

On September 1, a member of a group advocating a purge of alleged corrupt congressional and Supreme Court officials, Olga Marina Ruano Cruz, was abducted and beaten before being released a day later.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Women

Despite legal protection, women face job discrimination and on average receive significantly lower pay than men. They are primarily employed in low wage jobs in the textile industry, agriculture, retail business, and the public sector. A mid-1991 U.N. study reported that women, although slightly more than half the total population, make up only 24 percent of the economically active population. More working women than men are employed in the informal sector of the economy, where pay and benefits are generally low. A 1989 survey reported that in Guatemala City women are underrepresented in high-income categories and overrepresented among poorly paid workers.

The Constitution asserts the principle of equality between the sexes. Nonetheless, not all domestic laws have been modified to take into account this constitutional provision or to reflect the numerous treaties bearing on the rights of women to which Guatemala has adhered. (Provisions of such treaties take precedence over domestic law.) In some cases, laws remain discriminatory against women, such as the Penal Code's provisions on adultery. Only women may be charged with adultery, while men fall under a different statute, which is more limited, makes it more difficult to prove, and carries a lesser penalty.

CONAVIGUA reported that violence against women, including domestic violence, remains common but receives little attention. There is no specific law against domestic violence, although it is considered to fall under other statutes. Criminal sexual violence often goes unreported by victims, and relatively few rape cases come to court. The Ombudsman's office has only recently begun collecting statistics on this problem.

Children

When signing the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Government stated its commitment to children's human rights and welfare and pledged to revise its laws in line with the Convention. The Human Rights Ombudsman's office, along with a commission of 25 governmental and nongovernmental organizations (NGO's), was revising the current Code but at year's end had not completed the task.

The abuse of street children (see Section 1.c.) is a serious problem in major cities. Estimates of street children range between 1,500 and 5,000, with the majority of these youths concentrated in Guatemala City. These children are often recruited into thievery or prostitution rings. The Government and a number of NGO's have youth centers, but the funds devoted to them are inadequate for the problem. In August the Government opened a school in San Jose Pinula for the rehabilitation of street children.

An accord between Casa Alianza and the Attorney General's office was not renewed in 1993 due to problems involving the suspension of the then Attorney General. On August 16, the new civilian police director met with Casa Alianza as one of his first public acts and expressed his commitment to the rights of street children and his intention to punish police officers and others who abuse them. Casa Alianza announced after the visit that it and the police will coordinate programs to combat street children's drug addiction and abuse of the children. The police director also assumed personal responsibility for the Department's Minors' Division, and the Ministry of Government established a separate division to handle street children matters.

Indigenous People

Indigenous people comprise one-half of the population but remain largely outside the country's political, economic, social, and cultural mainstream. Indigenous people suffered most of the serious human rights abuses described throughout this report. Rural indigenous men were more likely than urban dwellers to be drafted by the army or forcibly recruited by either the army or guerrilla groups. Although indigenous people are accorded equal rights by the Constitution, in practice they have only minimal participation in decisions affecting their lands, culture, traditions, and allocation of natural resources.

Rural indigenous people have limited educational opportunities and thus have limited employment opportunities. Illiteracy is prevalent in indigenous communities. Many indigenous people do not speak Spanish. Linguistic barriers hinder interaction with the Government and limit access to public services, including the judiciary, because few officials speak indigenous languages. Indigenous persons arrested for crimes are often at a disadvantage due to their lack of Spanish. The Public Defender's Office is charged with providing judicial translating services but is not sufficiently staffed to cope with the problem. Under the new Penal Code, the Government will be required to provide translating services to all in need.

People with Disabilities

The Constitution provides that the State should protect disabled persons. Nonetheless, physically disabled persons are discriminated against in employment practices, and few resources are devoted to combat this problem or otherwise to assist people with disabilities. There is no legislation mandating accessibility for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution and the 1947 Labor Code, as amended, provide workers freedom of association and the right to form and join trade unions. The Labor Code was amended in late 1992 to facilitate freedom of association, to strengthen the rights of working women, to increase penalties for violations of labor laws, and to enhance the role of the Labor Ministry and labor courts in enforcing them. All workers have the right to form or join unions, including public sector employees, with the exception of members of security forces. In February a decree interpreting "essential services" in such a way as to restrict organizing public sector workers was withdrawn, following protests by public sector employees and the Minister of Labor. After national police officers were unsuccessful in their attempts to form a trade union or association during most of the year, the new Director opened a dialog with representatives of this group. Between 5 and 8 percent of the work force is organized. The 890 unions in the country are independent of government and political party domination.

The Labor Code amendments simplified the process for unions to obtain legal status, which had been criticised as excessively cumbersome, by eliminating a number of provisions, including one that required the nation's President to sign the final papers. Complaints by trade union leaders about continuing problems with the recognition process, plus concerns expressed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee of Experts, prompted the new Minister of Labor to seek revisions to this procedure. In November the Labor Ministry issued revised internal regulations covering the approval of new trade unions. This reduced the number of steps needed within the Ministry to grant approval, established strict timetables for consideration of union applications, and made clear that noncompliance with this timetable could lead to dismissal of guilty bureaucrats.

Experience with these new regulations during the last 2 months of 1993 seems to indicate they helped accelerate the approval procedure. For example, the application by workers at a bottling company in La Mariposa received final approval in a record 5 weeks. During the last half of 1993, most of the backlog of union applications was eliminated and several previously controversial union applications were approved, such as the union representing Coca-Cola workers in Puerto Barrios, several unions representing "maquila" (drawback, or in-bond export) workers, and the long-pending application by the union representing workers in the Bank of the Army (Banco del Ejercito).

Workers have the right to strike, but Labor Code procedures make legal strikes cumbersome. The ILO Committee of Experts criticized the requirement that two-thirds of the workers vote to approve a strike and the prohibition of strikes by agricultural workers at harvest time, as well as those deemed by the Government to affect the national economy seriously. The few strikes that did occur were generally called without legal authorization, and in practice the Government made no effort to intervene on the basis of illegality. Nonetheless, the lack of legal sanction for a strike can be used as a threat against strikers. Organized labor's structural weaknesses, a reluctance to organize forcefully, the paucity of membership funds, and a poor overall economic situation with high unemployment and underemployment limit the duration of virtually all strikes.

The law protects workers from retribution for forming and participating in trade union activities, but compliance with the law varies. While some employers accept unionization, many employers routinely attempt to circumvent Labor Code provisions in order to resist union activities, which many view as exceedingly confrontational and disruptive. Enforcement of the right to form and participate in trade union activities is further hindered by an incompetent legal system and the inadequate level of penalties provided by law for violations. Fines for violating the Labor Code were increased when the Code was amended in 1992.

Trade union leaders and individual workers reported that workers were threatened with the loss of their jobs or physical harm for their interest in forming a union. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) alleged that a wave of illegal and arbitrary mass firings and intimidation took place at the beginning of the year, including the dismissal of 515 union members at the State Forest and Wildlife Office and the firing of 25 workers from the National Agrarian Reform Institute for joining a union.

One union leader was discharged in late 1992 by a state-owned enterprise for participating in a seminar sponsored by the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations despite clear contract language that would permit such training. Although a lower labor court acted quickly and ordered the company to reinstate this leader, there was no final action on his case during the year. This case was unusual because union leaders and other industrial relations observers agree that labor courts are generally slow to hear complaints, as well as to issue decisions related to complaints by workers and unionists that their rights to form and join trade unions are not protected.

Trade union leaders and members were among those subjected to a variety of abuses, such as threats, assassination attempts, kidnapings, and physical harm (see Section 4). A number of trade union officials or members were kidnaped during the year. They were generally questioned about the activities of well-known union leaders, often physically abused (but not killed), and then released. Since many of these incidents happened during the period just after Ramiro de Leon Carpio became President, these attacks seemed intended as a warning to trade unionists and other leaders about their increased exposure in political affairs.

Public sector union leaders, as well as unionists in the high-profile maquila sector, also reported receiving threats against themselves and their families, usually coinciding with union demands for improved benefits. The ICFTU charged that many trade unionists were forced into or sought exile.

By law, union leaders may serve only one term in a particular union office, but, by rotating union positions, the same persons can stay on union executive boards for extended periods of time. The Constitution and the 1992 Code amendments protect the right of political participation for individuals, including trade union leaders. During 1993 trade union leaders became more involved in national political affairs, particularly during the political turmoil following the resignation of former president Serrano and the move to purge Congress and the Supreme Court.

Unions may and do form federations and confederations and join international organizations. With very few exceptions, trade unions depend on assistance received from international contacts.

An active "solidarity" movement claimed approximately 100,000 members in over 350 companies. Unions may legally continue to operate in workplaces which have solidarity associations, and workers have the right to choose between the two or belong to both. The Government views these associations as civic organizations which need not interfere with the functioning of trade unions, since the amended Labor Code stipulates that trade unions have the exclusive right to bargain collectively over work conditions on behalf of workers. Unionists charge, however, that solidarity associations are promoted by management to avoid the formation of trade unions or to rival existing labor unions. There are credible reports that, at times, democratic principles are not adhered to in the formation and management of some of these associations, and workers are unable to participate fully and freely in decisionmaking. Similar credible charges are made against some trade union organizations.

At the request of trade union leaders, the independent Human Rights Ombudsman, through his Office for Economic and Social Issues, receives complaints related to trade union activities. Union leaders and workers filed a number of complaints with the Ombudsman during the year, but no results were apparent by year's end. In June members of the ILO Committee on the Application of Conventions noted the serious situation of violence and insecurity that exists in Guatemala, including murders and abductions "with the participation of the army and death squads," as well as the "difficult transition towards democracy" under way in the country and asked for "total and unconditional respect" by the new Government to their observations.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively but are often denied this right by antiunion actions of employers. The practice of collective bargaining is limited, moreover, by the weak structure of the union movement, the lack of experience with this practice, and by the preference of management in many cases to avoid formal ties with trade unions. While some well-written collective contracts are honored by both management and the unions, other contracts were openly ignored and violated by both parties. Most workers, even those organized by trade unions, do not have collective contracts to cover their wages and working conditions. Wages received by the bulk of the work force tend to be the minimum wages established by a bipartite commission, which operates under the guidance of the Ministry of Labor.

Workers cannot be dismissed for participating in the formation of a trade union; complaints in this regard must be filed with the labor inspectors for resolution. The Labor Code provides for the right of employers to fire workers for cause and permits workers to appeal their dismissal to the labor courts but does not require the reinstatement of any worker fired without cause. The revised Code prohibits employers from firing workers for union organizing and protects them for 60 days following the official publication of approval of the union. It also prohibits employers from firing any member of the executive committee of a union and protects them for an additional 12 months after they are no longer on the executive committee. If a member is fired for cause, this can only be made effective after a trial and a court resolution has been issued.

Labor courts responsible for enforcing labor laws continued generally to be ineffective. Efforts to restructure and modernize the labor court system made no headway. A heavy backlog of labor cases continued to clog the courts.

The scarcity of labor inspectors, the lack of adequate training and resources, and structural weaknesses in the labor court system resulted in only minimal enforcement of the Labor Code. The Ministry of Labor hired 37 new labor inspectors in mid-September and provided them with training and resources to carry out their functions. Some were assigned to rural areas to give greater attention to the lack of protection of worker rights for rural workers. In the second half of the year, the Ministry of Labor significantly stepped up its inspections and the number of cases it filed in the courts for failure to comply with the labor law.

Labor laws and regulations apply throughout the country, including in the few export processing zones (EPZ's). The laws governing EPZ's are not discriminatory on the subject of organizing trade unions or collective bargaining. While union leaders often blame employer pressures and unofficial restricted access to the EPZ's for their virtual inability to organize workers in these zones, labor conditions in these zones are no different from those found outside the zones.

Workers and trade union leaders charge that all workers, including those in EPZ's, receive low wages, work long hours without legally required overtime pay, and toil under poor working conditions. While Labor Ministry inspectors filed numerous complaints before the labor courts on these charges, few of these cases were resolved due to inefficiencies within the court system, corruption and political chicanery, and legal maneuvering to prolong the hearing process.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution bars forced or compulsory labor, and the practice does not exist. Human rights and indigenous groups continue to charge that coerced participation, particularly of indigenous peoples, in the PAC's violates prohibitions against forced labor. There were credible reports of isolated instances of unpaid PAC members being used to provide free manual labor, but no systematic pattern of such practice was established.

d. Minimum Age for the Employment of Children

Although the Constitution bars employment of minors under the age of 14, children below this age are regularly employed in the formal and informal sectors of the economy. Laws governing the employment of minors are not effectively enforced, due to the shortage of qualified labor inspectors and structural weaknesses in the labor court system. Only 5,000 minors have legal permission from the Labor Ministry to work. Thousands working without legal permission are open to exploitation, generally receiving no social benefits, no social insurance, no pension or vacations, and no severance pay and are paid below the minimum wage level. The Labor Ministry has a program to educate minors, their parents, and employers on the rights of minors in the labor market. Economic necessity, however, forces most families to have their children seek some type of employment to supplement the family income.

The Constitution provides for compulsory education for all children up to the age of 12 or to the sixth grade. The statistics on illiteracy, however, clearly demonstrate this law is not enforced. The national illiteracy rate is 52 percent, with rural areas showing a rate of 85 percent. The bulk of those who cannot read or write are women, particularly indigenous women. Child labor is largely confined to small or family-type enterprises, to agricultural work, and to the informal sectors of the economy. There are no export industries in which child labor is a significant factor.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Minimum wages are set by law. Due to a variety of factors, most importantly the oversupply of labor and the limited demand for it, the minimum wage for most unskilled and semiskilled workers is the prevailing wage ceiling and not the more commonly accepted wage floor. Widespread, credible reports indicated the minimum wage is commonly, if illegally, not paid to significant numbers of rural and urban workers.

The minimum wage was last increased in late 1991, when it was raised by 78.5 percent. The minimum wage for commercial and industrial workers is $2.42 (14 quetzals) for an 8-hour workday, including a required hourly bonus. The minimum wage for farm workers is $2.00 (11.60 quetzals) per day, including a mandatory bonus. This minimum wage does not provide a decent standard of living; government statistics indicate that it should be at least three times higher than the current level.

An estimated 80 percent of the population lives below the Guatemalan poverty line, including approximately 70 percent of those employed. A bilateral committee representing labor and management is named each year to make recommendations for increases in the minimum wage. In the event that agreement is not possible, the Government may decree such increases.

The legal workday is 8 hours and the workweek is 44 hours, but a tradition of much longer hours remains in place due to economic conditions. The amended Labor Code continues to require a weekly rest period of at least 24 hours. Trade union leaders and human rights groups charge that workers are commonly forced to work overtime, often without premium pay, or given drugs to help them work longer in order to meet work requirements. Labor inspectors report that numerous instances were uncovered of such abuses, but corruption and inefficiencies in the labor court system inhibit adequate enforcement of the law.

Occupational health and safety standards are inadequate. As with other aspects of the labor law, enforcement of standards that do exist is also generally inadequate. Workers have the legal right to remove themselves from dangerous workplace situations, and the law provides them with protection for their continued employment. However, few workers are willing to jeopardize their jobs by complaining about unsafe working conditions. Training courses for labor inspectors in health and safety standards were provided, but this area is not perceived as a high priority for the resource-poor ministry. Legislation requiring companies with more than 50 employees to provide on-site medical facilities for their workers is not effectively enforced, even though many large employers do provide such facilities.

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