There were continued high levels of crime, affecting all sectors of society.
Various groups protested against different government economic policies. February saw protests against the Central America Free Trade Agreement. In June, doctors protested against under-investment in health services and infrastructure. Some rural Indigenous communities continued to oppose mining activities in their areas.
In February, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala issued its first report. Among other recommendations it called for more investment to prevent human rights violations and protect human rights.
Constitutional guarantees were suspended twice during the year in certain rural areas as combined army and police forces searched for alleged weapons caches and crops producing illegal drugs. Civil society groups protested against the manner of the searches and accused them of being politically motivated, as communities in the targeted areas had protested against government policies.
In October, a Mexican court authorized the extradition of former President Alfonso Portillo, who left the presidency in January 2004, to face charges of corruption. An appeal was lodged.
In December the government signed an agreement with the UN to establish the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. The Commission would support the Public Prosecutor's Office in prosecuting the activities of illegal security forces and clandestine security organizations. The agreement was not submitted to Congress for ratification by the end of the year.
Violence against women
At least 580 women were killed, according to police records. According to the Public Prosecutor's Office, during 2006, six people were sentenced for such killings, which often involved sexual violence.
In June, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women expressed concern at the disappearances, rape, torture and murders of women and the engrained culture of impunity for such crimes. In September, Congress approved the creation of a new National Institute of Forensic Sciences which would unify the forensic services of different government bodies. A law which considered sexual relations with a female minor a crime only if the girl was "honest" remained in force.
• In February, the body of Silvia Patricia Madrid, a 25-year-old sex-worker, was found semi-naked on a road on the outskirts of Guatemala City. She had been strangled and her body showed signs of sexual violence. The authorities did not collect evidence from the alleged murder scene.
Economic, social and cultural rights
According to the UN, over 30 per cent of the population lived on less than US$2 a day. Inequality persisted in the country. A disproportionately high number of those with low incomes and limited access to healthcare and education were women, Indigenous people and rural dwellers.
Evictions in rural areas continued, with 29 reported to have been carried out. In July the UN Committee against Torture called for the government to prevent the use of excessive force, provide specific training for police officers, and ensure that complaints concerning forced evictions were thoroughly investigated.
• In April, approximately 400 people of the San José La Mocá farm, Department of Alta Verapaz, were forcibly evicted. The community had been in dispute with the farm's owner over alleged unpaid wages. They were forced onto a nearby road, with no access to clean water, food or shelter. In July, one member of the community was killed and 38 wounded in further violence related to the eviction.
Threats, intimidation and impunity
During a visit in May, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights stated that there had been no significant progress in combating impunity or eliminating clandestine groups. More than half of the reported 278 attacks on human rights activists and organizations were against those focusing on economic, social and cultural rights, including labour rights, the rights of Indigenous peoples and housing rights.
In June a Spanish judge and prosecutor, investigating a case of alleged genocide, visited the country to interview witnesses and suspects. The two officials were prevented from pursuing the case, but in July the judge issued international arrest warrants for the five accused, including former President General Efraín Ríos Montt.
• In July, Erwin Orrego, a member of the Emergency Front of Market Sellers of Guatemala, was kidnapped and threatened with execution, allegedly by police officers. He was released after human rights organizations alerted the media and authorities.
A proposal to abolish the death penalty was rejected after the relevant commission in Congress returned an unfavourable verdict. Two new proposals to establish a system for allowing pardons of those sentenced to death progressed through Congress. In 2005 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) had ruled that the lack of possibility of a pardon meant that the death sentences could not be carried out.
Nine prisoners had their death sentences commuted to 50-year prison terms after judgments by the IACHR relating to the definition of crimes for which the death penalty could be applied. Twenty-one prisoners remained under sentence of death. No death sentences were passed during the year and no executions took place.
AI country reports/visits
• Guatemala: Land of injustice? (AI Index: AMR 34/003/2006)
• Guatemala: A summary of Amnesty International's concerns with regard to the Guatemalan Government's implementation of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (AI Index: AMR 34/013/2006)
• Guatemala: Human rights defenders at risk (AI Index: AMR 34/016/2006)
• Guatemala: No protection, no justice - killings of women (an update) (AI Index: AMR 34/019/2006)AMR
An AI delegation visited in March to conduct research.