March 2014 Inter-American Commission Hearings on Human Rights in Guatemala

By Lindsay Pollack

Lindsay Pollack is a master’s candidate in the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University, and is a GHRC Spring 2014 Intern.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held its 150th session of hearings in March. The hearings on Guatemala took place on March 25, 2014, and dealt with transparency and honesty in the justice system and providing reparations for victims of the country’s internal conflict.

About the Commission

At 55 years old, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is the oldest human rights body in the Americas. The themes of human rights issues have expanded greatly in the last 55 years and in response, the agenda of the Commission has changed rapidly to include topics such as gender-based violence and LGBTQ issues. The Commission’s staff is comprised of 65 people, 32 of whom are lawyers. The Commission itself 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. According to an IACHR official, human rights issues have gained more attention in recent years, but the Commission’s funding has not increased in response, leaving the Commission with a shortage of funding. According to its website, the Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. [1]

Photo courtesy of Daniel Cima of the IACHR

The panel of petitioners at the first hearing on appointing justice operators in Guatemala. Photo courtesy of Daniel Cima, IACHR

The First Hearing: The Process of Appointing Justice Operators in Guatemala

Currently, the Guatemalan judicial system is undergoing significant changes. With the announcement that Dr. Claudia Paz y Paz, the country’s attorney general, will end her term in May instead of December of this year, there is widespread concern about the process of choosing a replacement. After much deliberation, Paz y Paz did decide to run for a second term, but there is no guarantee that she will be selected.

There were various complaints about the process thus far. For example, without advance notice, the nominating committee shortened the period of public comment on candidates for the attorney general position to only five days. This made it difficult for organizations to prepare their comments in time.In addition to the attorney general, all of the Supreme Court Justices and appellate justices will be appointed this year. The recent suicide of Supreme Court Justice César Barrientos has heightened concerns about corruption within the Supreme Court, and has cast a shadow on the future of human rights defenders in the justice system. Since Guatemala’s judicial system is infamous for lacking transparency, it is crucial for the process of appointing a new attorney general and other justice operators to be clear, especially in this critical election year. The Inter-American Commission just recently urged transparency and independence in the Guatemalan justice system. GHRC and other human rights organizations have called for transparency and respect for the rule of law as well.

In this case, the petitioners [2] requested active participation of civil society in the selection of justice operators in the country, specifically for judges and the attorney general. In addition, they cited the shortened time for civil society to give feedback on nominees as a symptom of corruption by the nominating commission, highlighted a recent growth in assassinations of human rights defenders and questioned how the constitution permits the shortening of the term of the attorney general, and cited corruption as an explanation.

The representatives from the Guatemalan government responded by saying that the decision to end the Attorney General’s term in May had already been decided by the Constitutional Court. They also outlined the nominating committee process and the necessary qualifications for those appointed to the judicial system. The State insisted that the nominating committees are formed in an objective way and that government officials remain committed to supporting the Guatemalan State.

The Second Hearing – Guatemala’s National Reparations Program

The Guatemalan National Reparations Program (PNR) was designed to provide reparations to Guatemalans the aftermath of the internal armed conflict. [3] The PNR seeks to provide cultural, social, and material compensation for victims of human rights violations committed by Guatemala’s armed forces. [4] However, the entity has faced certain obstacles in turning these objectives into reality, due to corruption, bureaucracy, and financial constraints.

The petitioners in this case [5] requested cultural reparations, including gender equity and recognition of indigenous rights. Regarding government compliance, especially since it has been almost 20 years since the conflict ended, a representative from Communities of Victims of Cotzal, El Quiché asked rhetorically, “Why haven’t these plans been completed? Because the Guatemalan government does not have the will to follow through with them. In policy, we have an agreement, but in practice we have nothing.”

In response, the President of Guatemala’s National Reparations Program Jorge Herrera outlined the Government’s plans to provide reparations, despite financial obstacles. IACHR Commissioner James L. Cavallaro noted that the Commission would work on ways to turn policy into practice in the area of reparations. The Guatemalan government’s press release about the hearing is available here.

The Future of the Hearings

The IACHR Commissioners responded in each of the hearings, noting that they would work in collaboration with the Guatemalan government to ensure a fair and transparent process of electing judicial officials. If the Guatemalan government does not follow recommendations issued by the Inter American Commission, the Commission has the option to send the case to the Inter American Court.

For example, the IACHR recently filed an application with the Court for the case of Claudina Isabel Velásquez Paiz v. Guatemala. The case is about the Guatemalan state’s failure to handle the investigation of Claudina Isabel’s disappearance, and her subsequent murder in 2005. The Commission claims this lack of investigation and prosecution was a result of the government’s underlying discrimination and violence against women and that the government of Guatemala didn’t comply with the Commission’s recommendations to investigate and prosecute Claudina Isabel’s murder and to create protocols to be used for all disappearances, sexual violence and murder of women amongst others.



[2] Asociación Refugio de la Niñez, Centro Internacional de Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos (CIIDH), Centro para el Análisis Forense y Ciencias Aplicadas (CAFCA), Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH), Centro de Acción Legal-Ambiental y Social de Guatemala (CALAS), Equipo Comunitario de Apoyo Psicosocial (ECAP), Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales en Guatemala (ICCPG), Oficina de Derechos Humanos del Arzobispado de Guatemala (ODHAG), Asociación Seguridad en Democracia (SEDEM), Unidad de Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos en Guatemala (UDEFEGUA), Unión Nacional de Mujeres de Guatemala (UNAMG), Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)

[3] Regarding reparations, this year, the US Congress approved special conditions for reinstatement of aid contingent upon the Guatemalan government taking credible steps toward implementing the 2010 reparations plan for the communities affected by the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam. As such steps have not yet been taken, GHRC is calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to maintain restrictions on military aid to Guatemala.


[5] Coordinadora de Víctimas de Alta Verapaz (CODEVI), Coordinadora de Víctimas de El Petén (COVIP), Asociación Campesina para el Desarrollo Nebajense (ASOCDENEB), Comunidades de Población en Resistencia CPR-Sierra, Comunidades de Víctimas de Cotzal El Quiché, Centro de Análisis Forense y Ciencias Aplicadas (CAFCA)



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