Press Release

IACHR welcomes historic decision in the fight against impunity for crimes committed during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala

July 2, 2018

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) welcomes the historic decision of the Highest Risk Court C of the State of Guatemala, adopted on May 23, 2018, which sentenced four high-ranking members of the military for the crimes of duties against humanity and rape, against Emma Molina Theissen, and for the crime of forced disappearance against 14-year-old Marco Antonio Molina Theissen. This decision constitutes a major step forward in the fight against impunity for crimes committed during the country's internal armed conflict, finally allowing the victim and his relatives to obtain justice 37 years after the events that took place between September and October of 1981.

The IACHR stresses that this judgment applies international and inter-American standards developed by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, recognizing the continuing violation of enforced disappearance, the non-applicability of amnesty in cases of serious human rights violations, and the central value of the victim's testimony in cases of rape, among others.

Such a decision, if confirmed, would allow the State to move forward in complying with one of the operative points of the judgment of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of Molina Theissen v. Guatemala, which ordered the State to identify, try and punish the material and intellectual authors of the forced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen in 1981. 

"The IACHR welcomes this step towards memory, truth and justice and urges the State to continue to make every effort to comply with the entire sentence of the Inter-American Court, especially to take the necessary measures to establish the fate and whereabouts of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and thus put an end to his forced disappearance," said the IACHR Rapporteur for Guatemala, Commissioner Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño.

"Society has the inalienable right to know the truth of what happened, as well as the reasons and circumstances in which aberrant crimes such as forced disappearance were committed," said Commissioner Antonia Urrejola, in charge of the IACHR's Unit on Memory, Truth and Justice. "Through this sentence, we advance simultaneously on the road to justice and on the road to the clarification of the truth, to which the victims and their families and society as a whole are entitled," she said. Commissioner Urrejola added: "Inter-American jurisprudence has established that the satisfaction of the collective dimension of the right to the truth requires the procedural determination of the most complete historical truth possible, which includes the judicial determination of patterns of joint action and of all persons who in various ways participated in such violations and their corresponding responsibilities. Compliance with these obligations is necessary to ensure that the construction of the truth and the full investigation of the structures within which human rights violations are perpetrated are comprehensive. In this regard, we welcome the important step that this sentence signifies while urging the State of Guatemala to continue investigating until the whereabouts of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen are established.

Access to justice in Guatemala is a priority issue to which the IACHR has devoted much attention over the years. In its report on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala (2017), the IACHR noted that the lack of access to justice in the country is closely linked to the lack of reparations for human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict and noted the importance of Guatemala addressing this historical debt to the victims of such violations and their families, as enshrined in the Peace Accords.

"The IACHR encourages the State to continue its efforts to put an end to impunity in the country through the investigation, prosecution and punishment of the events that occurred during the internal armed conflict, and reaffirms the importance of comprehensive reparation for the victims," said Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão.

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. 142/18