Two rounds of presidential elections were held in September and November. The Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office reported an estimated
26 killings of political activists in the context of the elections, which were won by Álvaro Colom Caballeros. He was due to assume the Presidency in January 2008.
In February, three El Salvadorian members of the Central American Parliament (based in Guatemala) and their driver were killed, allegedly by four Guatemalan police officers. Six days after the killings, the four police officers were themselves killed while in custody. The deaths resulted in the resignation of the National Director of Police and the Minister of the Interior in March.
In August, Congress approved the creation of an International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. The Commission, organized under the auspices of the UN, will aid national authorities in the investigation and prosecution of members of illegal and armed clandestine groups.
According to police records, 5,781 people were killed during the year. The Vice-President reported that approximately one per cent of all killings resulted in a conviction. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions issued a report criticizing Guatemala for fostering impunity for killings and noted the involvement of the police and other citizens in killings of those deemed to be socially undesirable. The new National Director of Police resigned in September after it was alleged that police officers, including his bodyguards, had extrajudicially executed five youths, the youngest of whom was 17.
Violence against women
According to police records, 590 women were killed in 2007. The independent National Institute of Forensic Sciences, created in 2006 to improve the quality of forensic investigations, was inaugurated in December.
Land disputes – forced evictions
The Ministry of the Interior reported that there were 49 forced evictions in rural areas. The government failed to implement measures to ensure impartiality in the justice system when dealing with land disputes or to provide adequate shelter for evicted communities. As a result rural and Indigenous communities continued to be displaced and denied access to justice.
There were many protests by rural and Indigenous communities about the environmental impact of mining activities. Various popular referendums were held which sought to formalize opposition to mining activities, using as a framework the International Labour Organization’s Convention 169 concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries, which establishes the duty to consult before mining operations are commenced.
Human rights defenders
There were 195 reported attacks against human rights defenders. Those defending economic, social and cultural rights or campaigning on environmental issues continued to face increased risks. Those working on investigating and documenting human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict were also threatened and intimidated.
- Environmental activists Carlos Albacete Rosales and Piedad Espinosa Albacete were shot at by three unidentified men as they were in a taxi on their way to Guatemala City in January. They escaped with minor injuries. Both work for the organization Green Tropic (Trópico Verde) which campaigns to protect Mayan nature reserves and they had been active in reporting attempts by cattle ranchers and alleged drug traffickers to take over land inside reserves. No one had been brought to justice for the attack by the end of the year.
In December the Constitutional Court ruled that international arrest warrants and extradition requests issued by a Spanish judge in 2006 against former high-ranking military officials, for war crimes and crimes against humanity, would not be implemented. In a widely criticized judgment, the Court failed to recognize the principle of universal jurisdiction for international crimes and seemed to suggest that the crimes concerned were of a political nature. In September General Ríos Montt, former President and part of the group of former high-ranking military officials charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity, was elected to Congress and so gained parliamentary immunity.
A case presented in 2000 against the group in the Guatemalan judicial system made no progress throughout the year. In addition, the government refused to release 25-year-old military documents that allegedly contain evidence that the widespread human rights violations were part of an intentional military strategy during the conflict. The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances criticized the government for failing to make any significant progress in determining the fate of approximately 45,000 people who remained “disappeared”.
There were no new death sentences passed in 2007; no one was executed. Three people had their death sentences commuted and 19 remained on death row at the end of the year.
Amnesty International reports
- Guatemala: Human rights defenders at risk (AMR 34/007/2007)
- Persecution and resistance: The experience of human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras (AMR 02/001/2007)
- Guatemala: Open Letter from Amnesty International to presidential candidates for the September 2007 elections (AMR 34/020/2007)