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Brussels, November 2007

Background of the nation: Guatemala

Background to Guatemala, where NP had it’s first rapid reaction project.

Guatemala is a postwar country that survived 36 years of protracted civil war and genocide against six Mayan communities between 1981 and 1983. As a result of gross human rights violations, including genocide, 200,000 people where killed, 40,000 are disappeared and more that one million where displaced. Almost all the crimes of the past remain in impunity and as a result those that committed them and planed genocide occupies high ranking levels of government.

The Peace Accords where signed on the December, 29 1996. The accords framed more than 128 commitments of legal reforms and creations of public policies that where aimed to tackle both the economical and social causes of war as well as those consequences of 30 years of lack of development. Most of these commitments continue to be unfulfilled after ten years and the peace accords have been left to the social movement to be upheld while the economical and political powers are concerned by other issues.

After ten years of the end of war, the levels of poverty have risen in Guatemala, malnourishment and hunger has extended its claw within the rural and indigenous population. Levels of common violence has increased in Guatemala at levels very similar to those of the years when genocide was being fought, today 18 Guatemalans are killed daily by gunshot or knife –most of them in Guatemala City. Organized crime has infiltrated the highest levels of government, political parties and institutions.

The institutions of the state have not only weakened to the point that the judiciary system is not functional to respond to the growing rate of criminality (both common as well as organized) but it has turned some of them in actual focus of crime; like is the case of the investigation unit of the Police. Even though Guatemala is a very rich country, the taxation rate is so low (8.5) that the state has not enough income to satisfy the needs for health and education of its own population. Every attempt to raise the taxes to a 12% of the income has gotten the opposition of the very rich.

In this context, the work of the human rights defenders to promote peace and democracy has been crucial to make and maintain changes and constitutes the only hope in this deteriorating reality. But the fact is that since 2000, the human rights defenders have become under attack as a measure to stop them of their work. During the last 7 years and 2 months, the Unit of Protection of Human Rights Defenders has monitored 1,050 attacks against them. The pattern of attacks has increased during the last two years.

Voices representing international bodies are expressing concern about impunity for acts of violence and violations of human rights in Guatemala. The Guatemalan press reported that Anders Kompass, representative of the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, spoke up in the European Parliament saying “It is deceptive and scandalous that the impunity continues happening so calmly in this country.” This body has previously noted that impunity in Guatemala continues to undermine the credibility of the justice system, and that the justice system is still too weak to confront organized crime and its powerful structures.

The Peace Accords of 1994­1996 continue to be a reference point for many groups working in Human Rights, however, there is considerable discussion about whether the government has lived up to its pledges.

The U.S. State Department has noted that police corruption is a serious problem in Guatemala and there are credible allegations of involvement of police officers in criminal activity, including rapes, killings, and kidnappings. The events of February 19 appear to bear out this allegation, with police involvement in the murders of the Salvadoran diplomats.

On December 12, 2006, the Government of Guatemala and the United Nations signed an agreement to establish the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala­­CICIG) to assist local authorities in investigating and dismantling illegal security groups and clandestine organizations that continue to operate in Guatemala. The Congress has yet to ratify this agreement. Nevertheless, human rights groups, ranging from environmentalists to women’s groups to human rights investigators, continue to receive threats through phone calls, surveillance, abductions, break­ins and personal threats and assassinations. Amnesty International has taken up many of these cases.