The Interamerican Commission on Human Rights recently concluded a visit to Guatemala. As one of the American bodies charged with oversight of the respect for human rights it periodically visits member states. These visits are part of its monitoring role, and form part of the input into its reports. The delegation’s primary points of interest were the progress of cases against former high command in the civil war for human rights abuses, indigenous people and the safety of human rights defenders.
Their conclusions will not be much of a surprise to anyone who keeps up with the general human rights panorama in Guatemala, and are coincident with the reports from other organisations, such as that recently published by Amnesty International in its annual report for 2008. They particularly
commented on the generalised impunity, high rates of violent crime and the fact that the crimes of the past are still unpunished.
Apart from the more well known problems they commented on the lack of resources granted to the Human Rights Prosecutor’s office, which currently has two prosecutors but a case load of more than 8000, a reducing budget and expansion plans.
The leader of the delegation is the Rapporteur for the Rights of Indigenous People so took a special interest in this. He was particularly exercised about the lack of consultation of indigenous peoples when their lands are to be used in some way. He mentioned in particular dams, where the government has granted 88 concessions with no consultation, and the lack of recognition for community consultations, of which there have been several, most in relation to mineral extraction projects.
There were some positive things to report: a law is being developed to reform the use of the amparo or injunction, which is often used to completely hamstring a case’s progress. While this isn’t yet the Commission encouraged its progress. The law on Freedom of Information took a long time coming, but did finally become law in April, following the agreed 180 day delay to allow public bodies to prepare for it. The Commission welcomed this and especially that exemptions for human rights cases were to be disallowed.