Commissioner José de Jesús Orozco Henriquez, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders

Petitioners: Asociación de Familiares de Detenidos Desaparecidos de Guatemala (FAMDEGUA) / Centro de Análisis Forense y Ciencias Aplicadas (CAFCA) / Fundación Sobrevivientes / Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos (CIIDH) / Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM) / Centro de Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH) / Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (ODHAG) / Alianza Sector de Mujeres / Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala (ICCPG) / Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos (UDEFEGUA) /

Petitioners in Attendance: David Davila, ICCPG/ Claudia Samayoa, UDEFEGUA/ Alejandra Nuno, CEJIL/ Marvin Ramirez, CAFCA

State: State of Guatemala

Commissioners: Jose de Jesus Orozco Henriquez, Rosa Maria Ortiz, Rosa Maria Antoine

On March 27, 2012, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a thematic hearing regarding the situation of human rights defenders and access to justice in Guatemala. The State of Guatemala participated in the hearing, and Petitioners included representatives from Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala (ICCPG), Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos (UDEFEGUA), Centro de Análisis Forense y Ciencias Aplicadas (CAFCA), and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL). According to Petitioners, human rights defenders in Guatemala have suffered 2,521 acts of aggression in the past year, and 21 attacks. While the State ultimately welcomed future efforts to work together with Petitioners’ organizations to fight impunity, the Commissioners noted much work remains to ensure government coordination and proper resource allocation to protect the country’s human rights defenders.

            David Avila from ICCPG began the hearing by describing obstacles faced by attorneys and victims of human rights violations in active cases currently being investigated by the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Rights. Avila discussed the Prosecutor’s lack of resources, and how complainants oftentimes must pay for necessary forensic tests out of their own pocket. This lack of financial resources is coupled by the judiciary’s lack of capacity to deal with cases involving complex forensic evidence. Avila noted that international pressure has been successful in focusing attention on cases paradigmatic of widespread impunity. However, he warned the State against pursuing only high impact cases, and urged a renewed focus on more recent cases involving multiple complainants.

            Both Avila and Claudia Samayoa from UDEFEGUA expressed concern at President Molina’s insistence that no genocide has taken place in Guatemala. Samayoa additionally expressed concern in her statement about militarization of Guatemala’s police force. Samayoa showed pictures and a video clip of heavily armed military personnel deployed to rural towns. While acknowledging the high rate of violent crime, she argued that the state’s responsibility to provide security cannot be achieved at the expense of greater human rights protections. In order to more effectively deal with violent crime and impunity, Samayoa argued the State should invest more resources into achieving the goals of its justice and security plan. Guatemala’s judiciary currently receives the equivalent of less than 2% of the country’s GDP to adjudicate criminal cases, according to Samayoa.

            Representatives of the State declined to comment on Petitioners’ allegations of increasing militarization of the country’s police force. Instead, the State focused its testimony on progress made to promote and protect human rights in Guatemala. Representatives noted that Guatemala has no policy criminalizing the work of human rights defenders. It insisted that lawyers and their clients enjoy freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Guatemala Constitution and the American Convention on Human Rights. According to the State, the prevalence of organized crime has necessitated army posts in certain coastal areas. However, Guatemala maintained that its protection of human rights defenders and implementation of internal measures is consistent with Article 2 of the American Convention. The State also said it had adopted internal protocols and mechanisms for cases that involve human rights defenders and are deemed “urgent.”

            Commissioner Henriquez, who also serves as the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders, pressed Guatemala to offer concrete measures it has adopted to protect human rights defenders whose safety is threatened by their work on cases related to armed conflict. The State answered that it continues to address difficulties in coordination between government departments. Guatemala offered this lack of coordination and lack of a “systematic approach” as its biggest shortcoming in response to a question on its greatest strengths and weaknesses from Commissioner Ortiz. Its main strength, said the State, was its ability to rely on IACHR recommendations from a 2006 report on human rights defenders in the Americas. “We understand we need policy in place to overcome these difficulties,” said Guatemala. Petitioners responded that “mere creation of a measure doesn’t mean the situation has been resolved.” “Again,” they said, “we are more than happy to work with the State.”