Press Release

IACHR Brings Guatemala Case before the IA Court

November 22, 2019

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Washington, D.C. - On July 10, 2019, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) over case 12.991, the Los Josefinos Village Massacre, concerning Guatemala.

The case relates to the events that took place on April 29 and 30, 1982, in Los Josefinos village, Guatemala, during the internal armed conflict which included a state policy that sought to carry out a widespread, systematic attack on the civilian population, including massive human rights violations through massacres, scorched-earth operations, and forced disappearances seeking to spread terror and inflict punishment on anyone perceived as having ties with the guerrillas so as to suppress support for the uprising.

On the morning of April 29, 1982, members of the guerrilla forces entered Los Josefinos and murdered two individuals due to their ties with the army. Two hours later, after clashing with the guerrilla, the Guatemalan army surrounded the village and prevented the inhabitants from leaving, then after midnight on April 30, 1982, it invaded. The army began by killing five members of the Civil Defense Patrol before burning down houses and massacring those inside them, including men, women, and children. The survivors were forced to leave the village, some leaving their deceased relatives behind and others not knowing whether or not their families were alive. Some children spend the night alongside the bodies of their families, others were left alone after their relatives were killed or fled, and others were separated from their families in the confusion. Two infants died due to malnutrition following the exodus from the village, and the whereabouts of at least eight people, including two children, remain unknown since the massacre. At least three people who were last seen in the custody of state security agents subsequently disappeared. The bodies of four women, 18 men, and 14 children were buried in a mass grave. Despite being aware of these facts, the state did not investigate an ex officio investigation—instead, it was the victims’ own representatives who initiated legal action by requesting that these remains be disinterred in 1996 to be used as evidence in advance of trial. To date, these events remain entirely unpunished, the disinterred remains have not been properly identified, and no steps have been taken to locate the whereabouts or remains of the other victims.

In its merits reports, the IACHR made the following recommendations to the state of Guatemala:
1. Adequately address all human rights violations that the case involves before the IA Court, both individually and collectively, contemplating both tangible and intangible damages and including fair compensation for consequential damage, lost earnings, and moral damage; establish and communicate the historic truth of events; commemorate the victims; implement a rehabilitation programme, including appropriate psychological and psychosocial care for survivors and victims’ families, which must be agreed upon in full with the victims themselves.

2. Establish a mechanism that will enable, as far as is possible, each and every one of the victims of these human rights violations to be fully identified and which ensures that reparations are granted to all such victims.

3. Identify and return the remains of all those who died during the massacre and investigate the fate or whereabouts of the three people who were forcibly disappeared and that of the eight people whose whereabouts have remained unknown since the massacre. If appropriate, take the necessary measures to identify these people’s mortal remains and return them to their families.

4. Continue to implement internal procedures to ensure that those responsible for these human rights violations are investigated, found, captured, prosecuted, and punished and that investigations proceed impartially, effectively, and within a reasonable period of time in order to completely clarify events, identify all those who may be responsible for masterminding and perpetrating them, and impose the corresponding sanctions in accordance with the applicable international standards. Bearing in mind the fact that the massacre at Los Josefinos took place in a context of systematic human rights violations in Guatemala in which most violations were also international crimes, the state must conduct serious investigations into all those who were allegedly responsible, including masterminding them and the command responsibility of high-ranking officers and state officials.

5. Implement the appropriate administrative, disciplinary, or criminal measures in response to the actions or omissions of those state officials who were instrumental in denying justice and enabling those responsible for the events in this case to go unpunished, or who intervened in measures to obstruct the proceedings being conducted to identify and punish the responsible parties.

6. Take the necessary measures to prevent a similar incident from occurring again in the future. Specifically, by: i) implementing permanent training programs on human rights, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law at training schools for the Armed Forces; and ii) strengthening the judiciary’s capacity to investigate the serious human rights violations committed during the armed conflict appropriately and efficiently, and to punish those responsible for them, including by providing the material and technical resources needed to ensure proceedings are conducted properly.

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. 309/19