IACHR Files Application Before Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Case Concerning Guatemala

May 30, 2023

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Washington, D.C. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed on September 26, 2022, an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights with regard to Guatemala, in a case concerning the forced disappearance of Agapito Pérez Lucas, Nicolás Mateo, Macario Pú Chivalán, and Luis Ruiz and impunity regarding these events.

The victims' forced disappearance happened in the context of the internal armed conflict over the period 1960–1996 in Guatemala. The four men worked to promote and defend human rights and were active members of the Runujel Junam Council of Ethnic Communities (CERJ). Based on their work, the victims and their families received threats and were eventually arrested by officers of Guatemala's Armed Forces and went missing.

It has been established that they were subjected to forced disappearance, because they were deprived of liberty by officers of the State, their families were never notified of their whereabouts, and the State's response never sought to find out where the four men were or to establish what had happened to them.

The Commission found that the State had failed to conduct a diligent, timely investigation, since there were no records of any measures taken by judicial authorities after the relevant complaints for forced disappearance were filed.

An investigation was launched in 2006. Given how long it had been since the events had happened, it faced many challenges and proved ineffective to find out the victims' whereabouts, establish what had happened to them, and identify the people responsible for any crimes. For example, Guatemala's Army and Defense Ministry failed to cooperate with the Office of the Prosecutor for Human Rights to provide basic information about what had happened, including the names of the military units who had been active in the area at the time and of the officers in charge of those units.

Since their forced disappearances were linked to the work the victims did in defense of human rights, the IACHR found that the State of Guatemala was liable for violations of their right to associate in defense of human rights, held in Article 16.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Finally, these events had an impact on the right to humane treatment of the victims' families, who suffered pain, anxiety, and uncertainty when turning to various authorities and taking several search measures that failed for lack of an effective, diligent investigation.

The IACHR therefore concluded that the State of Guatemala was liable for violations of the rights to juridical personality, life, humane treatment, personal liberty, freedom of association to defend human rights, judicial guarantees, and judicial protection held in Articles 3, 4.1, 5.1, 7.1, 8.1, 16.1, and 25.1 of the American Convention on Human Rights, concerning the obligations held in Article 1.1 of that instrument. The IACHR also concluded that the State of Guatemala was liable for failing to comply with the obligations held in Articles I(a) and I(b) of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons from February 25, 2000, the date when the State of Guatemala deposited this instrument.

In its Merits Report, the Commission recommended that the State take the following action:

  1. Provide material and immaterial reparations to the members of the victims' families who are mentioned in the report.
  2. Provide adequate psychological and psychosocial care to the members of the victims' families who request it, in agreement with them.
  3. Take action to establish the whereabouts of the missing victims, with the participation of their families, and if necessary identify the victims' remains and hand them over to their families.
  4. Continue to pursue a diligent, effective investigation, with reasonable deadlines, to establish what happened and to identify and punish all perpetrators and masterminds of any crimes that may have been committed.
  5. Strengthen public policies to manage, declassify, and provide access to archives concerning the internal armed conflict, so they may be used to solve cases concerning serious human rights violations. Allocate resources to identifying the remains of persons who disappeared during the armed conflict.
  6. Develop the investigative capacities of the Office of the Prosecutor for Human Rights, so it may continue to diligently and efficiently investigate forced disappearances, and ensure that this department has the full cooperation of all other authorities in the country.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for and to defend human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 101/23

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