Human rights defenders continued to face threats, harassment and attacks. The government failed to fulfil its commitment to release previously classified military documents that could assist the prosecution of those responsible for committing grave human rights violations during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996). Little improvement was seen in public security.
In September, hidden listening devices were found in the President’s office and private residence. The heads of the two agencies responsible for providing the President with security and intelligence resigned. Arrest warrants were subsequently issued. At the end of the year, one was under house arrest; the other was being sought by the police.
The UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala completed its first year of operations, reporting that it was assisting in the prosecution of two cases and investigating another 15.
"...687 women were the victims of homicide in 2008; their bodies frequently showed signs of rape and other torture."
Land disputes – forced evictions
In February, the police arrested rural activist Ramiro Choc in the context of land disputes in the area of Izabal, on the Atlantic coast. Communities protesting against his arrest retaliated by holding four Belgian tourists. However, police action connected to the incident resulted in the death of rural worker Mario Caal. An investigation by the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office alleged that Mario Caal had been extrajudicially executed.
Police recorded 22 forced evictions during the year.
Human rights defenders
Local human rights organizations reported scores of attacks against human rights defenders, in which a few human rights defenders were killed.
- In July, Antonio Morales was shot dead. His body was found in the street in his home town of Tixel, Huehuetenango department. He was a member of a local community development committee which had been seeking to reclaim land for the community, and was active in rural workers and Indigenous rights campaigns. He had reported receiving threats one week before his killing.
Several trade unionists were killed during the year.
- In March, two armed men shot Miguel Ángel Ramírez Enríquez, one of the founders of the Union of Banana Workers of the South (Sindicato de Trabajadores Bananeros del Sur, SITRABANSUR), as he was returning home. He died later in hospital. His relatives stated that he had received death threats and been pressured to stop his trade union activities.
Police and security forces
Various initiatives were announced by the new government, but by the end of the year there were no visible results in reducing violent crime including homicide. Members of the security forces, either on or off duty, were believed to be implicated in many killings.
- In January, the bodies of two men aged 17 and 23 were found by a roadside to the south of Guatemala City. They had been strangled with ropes and then shot in the head at close range. Although there was reportedly some evidence that the two were killed by members of the security forces, no significant investigation had taken place by the end of the year.
Violence against women and girls
The police reported that 687 women were the victims of homicide in 2008; their bodies frequently showed signs of rape and other torture. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in January that discriminatory practices by the authorities persisted, resulting in a failure to investigate killings of women and a tendency to blame the victim. In April, Congress passed a new Law Against Femicide. The law received a mixed response from civil society organizations.
In February, the President announced that all military archives relating to human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict would be made public, but the army refused to comply. In March, in a case brought against former high ranking army officers for alleged crimes against humanity, the Constitutional Court ruled that classified military documents be made public. At year end, the documents had still not been released.
- Six members of the former civil defence patrols, paramilitary groups set up to support the army in counterinsurgency operations during the internal armed conflict, were found guilty of killing 26 people in a massacre in Río Negro, Baja Verapaz department, in March 1982; 177 people were killed in this massacre, 70 women and 107 children.
- In July, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights again referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights the case of a massacre committed in Dos Erres, Petén department in December 1982, on the grounds that the government had not complied with the first ruling. At least 251 people were killed in the massacre.
A draft law to establish a commission to find victims of the estimated 45,000 enforced disappearances carried out during the internal armed conflict was still awaiting approval by Congress.
During the year four people had their death sentences commuted and none were sentenced to death. Fifteen people remained on death row at the end of the year. There were no executions.
In February, Congress passed a decree that could have led to the resumption of executions. The President vetoed the decree in March. In December, Guatemala abstained on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium on executions.
Amnesty International reportsGuatemala: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review: Second session of the UPR Working Group, 5-16 May 2008 (25 January 2008)
Guatemala: The refusal to grant the extraditions requested by Spain for crimes under international law (16 May 2008)