International Criminology World

World : North America : Guatemala

The Mayan civilization flourished throughout much of Guatemala and the surrounding region long before the Spanish arrived, but it was already in decline when the Mayans were defeated by Pedro de Alvarado in 1523-24. During Spanish colonial rule, most of Central America came under the control of the Captaincy General of Guatemala. The first colonial capital, Ciudad Vieja, was ruined by floods and an earthquake in 1542. Survivors founded Antigua, the second capital, in 1543. In the 17th century, Antigua became one of the richest capitals in the New World. Always vulnerable to volcanic eruptions, floods, and earthquakes, Antigua was destroyed by two earthquakes in 1773, but the remnants of its Spanish colonial architecture have been preserved as a national monument. The third capital, Guatemala City, was founded in 1776, after Antigua was abandoned. Guatemala gained independence from Spain on September 15, 1821; it briefly became part of the Mexican Empire and then for a period belonged to a federation called the United Provinces of Central America. From the mid-19th century until the mid-1980s, the country passed through a series of dictatorships, insurgencies (particularly beginning in the 1960s), coups, and stretches of military rule with only occasional periods of representative government.

In 1944, Gen. Jorge Ubico's dictatorship was overthrown by the "October Revolutionaries,"a group of dissident military officers, students, and liberal professionals. A civilian president, Juan Jose Arevalo, was elected in 1945 and held the presidency until 1951. Social reforms initiated by Arevalo were continued by his successor, Col. Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz permitted the communist Guatemalan Labor Party to gain legal status in 1952. By the mid-point of Arbenz's term, communists controlled key peasant organizations, labor unions, and the governing political party, holding some key government positions. Despite most Guatemalans' attachment to the original ideals of the 1944 uprising, some private sector leaders and the military viewed Arbenz's policies as a menace. The army refused to defend the Arbenz government when a U.S.-backed group led by Col. Carlos Castillo Armas invaded the country from Honduras in 1954 and quickly took over the government. In response to the increasingly autocratic rule of Gen. Ydigoras Fuentes, who took power in 1958 following the murder of Col. Castillo Armas, a group of junior military officers revolted in 1960. When they failed, several went into hiding and established close ties with Cuba. This group became the nucleus of the forces that were in armed insurrection against the government for the next 36 years.

Four principal left-wing guerrilla groups--the Guerrilla Army of the Poor (EGP), the Revolutionary Organization of Armed People (ORPA), the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR), and the Guatemalan Labor Party (PGT)--conducted economic sabotage and targeted government installations and members of government security forces in armed attacks. These organizations combined to form the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) in (1982. At the same time, extreme right-wing groups of self-appointed vigilantes, including the Secret Anti-Communist Army (ESA) and the White Hand, tortured and murdered students, professionals, and peasants suspected of involvement in leftist activities. Shortly after President Julio Cesar Mendez Montenegro took office in 1966, the army launched a major counterinsurgency campaign that largely broke up the guerrilla movement in the countryside. The guerrillas then concentrated their attacks in Guatemala City, where they assassinated many leading figures, including U.S. Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968. Between 1966 and 1982, there were a series of military or military-dominated governments. On March 23, 1982, army troops commanded by junior officers staged a coup to prevent the assumption of power by Gen. Angel Anibal Guevara, the hand-picked candidate of outgoing President and Gen. Romeo Lucas Garcia. They denounced Guevara's electoral victory as fraudulent. The coup leaders asked retired Gen. Efrain Rios Montt to negotiate the departure of Lucas and Guevara.

Rios Montt had been the candidate of the Christian Democracy Party in the 1974 presidential elections and was widely regarded as having been denied his own victory through fraud. Rios Montt was by this time a lay pastor in the evangelical protestant "Church of the Word." In his inaugural address, he stated that his presidency resulted from the will of God. He formed a three-member military junta that annulled the 1965 constitution, dissolved Congress, suspended political parties and cancelled the electoral law. After a few months, Rios Montt dismissed his junta colleagues and assumed the de facto title of "President of the Republic." Guerrilla forces and their leftist allies denounced Rios Montt. Rios Montt sought to defeat the guerrillas with military actions and economic reforms; in his words, "rifles and beans." In May 1982, the Conference of Catholic Bishops accused Rios Montt of responsibility for growing militarization of the country and for continuing military massacres of civilians. General Rios Montt was quoted in the New York Times of July 18, 1982 as telling an audience of indigenous Guatemalans, "If you are with us, we'll feed you; if not, we'll kill you." The government began to form local civilian defense patrols (PACs). Participation was in theory voluntary, but in practice, many Guatemalans, especially in the heavily indigenous northwest, had no choice but to join either the PACs or the guerrillas. Rios Montt's conscript army and PACs recaptured essentially all guerrilla territory--guerrilla activity lessened and was largely limited to hit-and-run operations. However, Rios Montt won this partial victory at an enormous cost in civilian deaths. Rios Montt's brief presidency was probably the most violent period of the 36-year internal conflict, which resulted in about 200,000 deaths of mostly unarmed indigenous civilians. Although leftist guerrillas and right-wing death squads also engaged in summary executions, forced disappearances, and torture of noncombatants, the vast majority of human rights violations were carried out by the Guatemalan military and the PACs they controlled. The internal conflict is described in great detail in the reports of the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) and the Archbishop's Office for Human Rights (ODHAG). The CEH estimates that government forces were responsible for 93% of the violations; ODHAG earlier estimated that government forces were responsible for 80%. On August 8, 1983, Rios Montt was deposed by his own Minister of Defense, Gen. Oscar Humberto Mejia Victores, who succeeded him as de facto president of Guatemala. Mejia justified his coup, saying that "religious fanatics" were abusing their positions in the government and also because of "official corruption." Seven people were killed in the coup, although Rios Montt survived to found a political party--the Guatemalan Republic Front--and to be elected President of Congress in 1995 and 2000.

Awareness in the United States of the conflict in Guatemala, and its ethnic dimension, increased with the 1983 publication of I, Rigoberta Menchu, An Indian Woman in Guatemala. General Mejia allowed a managed return to democracy in Guatemala, starting with a July 1, 1984 election for a Constituent Assembly to draft a democratic constitution. On May 30, 1985, after 9 months of debate, the Constituent Assembly finished drafting a new constitution, which took effect immediately. Vinicio Cerezo, a civilian politician and the presidential candidate of the Christian Democracy Party, won the first election held under the new constitution with almost 70% of the vote, and took office on January 14, 1986.

Upon its inauguration in January 1986, President Cerezo's civilian government announced that its top priorities would be to end the political violence and establish the rule of law. Reforms included new laws of habeas corpus and amparo (court-ordered protection), the creation of a legislative human rights committee, and the establishment in 1987 of the Office of Human Rights Ombudsman. The Supreme Court also embarked on a series of reforms to fight corruption and improve legal system efficiency. With Cerezo's election, the military moved away from governing and returned to the more traditional role of providing internal security, specifically by fighting armed insurgents. The first 2 years of Cerezo's administration were characterized by a stable economy and a marked decrease in political violence. Dissatisfied military personnel made two coup attempts in May 1988 and May 1989, but military leadership supported the constitutional order. The government was heavily criticized for its unwillingness to investigate or prosecute cases of human rights violations. The final 2 years of Cerezo's government also were marked by a failing economy, strikes, protest marches, and allegations of widespread corruption. The government's inability to deal with many of the nation's problems--such as infant mortality, illiteracy, deficient health and social services, and rising levels of violence--contributed to popular discontent. Presidential and congressional elections were held on November 11, 1990. After a runoff ballot, Jorge Serrano was inaugurated on January 14, 1991, thus completing the first transition from one democratically elected civilian government to another. Because his Movement of Solidarity Action (MAS) Party gained only 18 of 116 seats in Congress, Serrano entered into a tenuous alliance with the Christian Democrats and the National Union of the Center (UCN).

The Serrano administration's record was mixed. It had some success in consolidating civilian control over the army, replacing a number of senior officers and persuading the military to participate in peace talks with the URNG. He took the politically unpopular step of recognizing the sovereignty of Belize. The Serrano government reversed the economic slide it inherited, reducing inflation and boosting real growth. On May 25, 1993, Serrano illegally dissolved Congress and the Supreme Court and tried to restrict civil freedoms, allegedly to fight corruption. The "autogolpe" (or self-initiated coup) failed due to unified, strong protests by most elements of Guatemalan society, international pressure, and the army's enforcement of the decisions of the Court of Constitutionality, which ruled against the attempted takeover. In the face of this resistance, Serrano fled the country. On June 5, 1993, the Congress, pursuant to the 1985 constitution, elected the Human Rights Ombudsman, Ramiro De Leon Carpio, to complete Serrano's presidential term. De Leon, not a member of any political party and lacking a political base, but with strong popular support, launched an ambitious anticorruption campaign to "purify" Congress and the Supreme Court, demanding the resignations of all members of the two bodies. Despite considerable congressional resistance, presidential and popular pressure led to a November 1993 agreement brokered by the Catholic Church between the administration and Congress. This package of constitutional reforms was approved by popular referendum on January 30, 1994.

In August 1994, a new Congress was elected to complete the unexpired term. Controlled by the anti-corruption parties--the populist Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) headed by ex-Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, and the center-right National Advancement Party (PAN)--the new Congress began to move away from the corruption that characterized its predecessors. Under De Leon, the peace process, now brokered by the United Nations, took on new life. The government and the URNG signed agreements on human rights (March 1994), resettlement of displaced persons (June 1994), historical clarification (June 1994), and indigenous rights (March 1995). They also made significant progress on a socioeconomic and agrarian agreement. National elections for president, the Congress, and municipal offices were held in November 1995. With almost 20 parties competing in the first round, the presidential election came down to a January 7, 1996 runoff in which PAN candidate Alvaro Arzu defeated Alfonso Portillo of the FRG by just over 2% of the vote. Arzu won because of his strength in Guatemala City, where he had previously served as mayor, and in the surrounding urban area. Portillo won all of the rural departments except Peten. Under the Arzu administration, peace negotiations were concluded, and the government signed peace accords ending the 36-year internal conflict in December 1996. The human rights situation also improved during Arzu's tenure, and steps were taken to reduce the influence of the military in national affairs. Guatemala held presidential, legislative, and municipal elections on November 7, 1999, and a runoff presidential election December 26. In the first round the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) won 63 of 113 legislative seats, while the National Advancement Party (PAN) won 37. The New Nation Alliance (ANN) won 9 legislative seats, and three minority parties won the remaining four. In the runoff on December 26, Alfonso Portillo (FRG) won 68% of the vote to 32% for Oscar Berger (PAN). Portillo carried all 22 departments and Guatemala City, which was considered the PAN's stronghold. Portillo was criticized during the campaign for his relationship with the FRG's chairman, former Gen. Efrain Rios Montt, the de facto president of Guatemala in 1982-83. Many charge that some of the worst human rights violations of the internal conflict were committed under Rios Montt's rule. Nevertheless, Portillo's impressive electoral triumph, with two-thirds of the vote in the second round, gave him a claim to a mandate from the people to carry out his reform program.

President Portillo pledged to maintain strong ties to the United States, further enhance Guatemala's growing cooperation with Mexico, and participate actively in the integration process in Central America and the Western Hemisphere. Domestically, he vowed to support continued liberalization of the economy, increase investment in human capital and infrastructure, establish an independent central bank, and increase revenue by stricter enforcement of tax collections rather than increasing taxation. Portillo also promised to continue the peace process, appoint a civilian defense minister, reform the armed forces, replace the military presidential security service with a civilian one, and strengthen protection of human rights. He appointed a pluralist cabinet, including indigenous members and others not affiliated with the FRG ruling party. Progress in carrying out Portillo's reform agenda during his first two years in office was slow. As a result, public support for the government sank to record lows by early 2001. Although the administration made progress on such issues as taking state responsibility for past human rights cases, supporting human rights in international fora, and pressing labor rights reforms, it failed to show significant advances on combating impunity in past human rights cases, military reforms, a fiscal pact to help finance peace implementation, and legislation to increase political participation. Faced with a high crime rate, a serious and worsening public corruption problem, often violent harassment and intimidation by unknown assailants of human rights activists, judicial workers, journalists, and witnesses in human rights trials, the government began serious attempts in 2001 to open a national dialogue to discuss the considerable challenges facing the country. As of early 2002, no such dialogue has taken place, despite the creation of the Guatemalan Forum, a coalition of civil society and private sector interests calling for political reforms.

Today, Guatemala is a democratic republic with separation of powers and a centralized national administration. The 1985 Constitution provides for election by universal suffrage of a one-term president and a unicameral congress. President Alfonso Portillo of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) took office in January 2000 following a generally free and fair December 1999 runoff election. The FRG maintains its majority (63 seats) in the 113-member Congress. Despite significant pledges, the Portillo administration and Congress took only limited steps to implement the 1996 Peace Accords concluded with the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) guerrillas in 1996. The judiciary is independent; however, it suffers from inefficiency, corruption, and intimidation.



Guatemala's GDP for 2001 was estimated at $ 20.0 billion, with real growth slowing to approximately 2.3%. After the signing of the final peace accord in December 1996, Guatemala was well-positioned for rapid economic growth over the next several years, though a financial crisis in 1998 limited its ability to achieve its potential growth rates.

Guatemala's economy is dominated by the private sector, which generates about 85% of GDP. Agriculture contributes 23% of GDP and accounts for 75% of exports. Most manufacturing is light assembly and food processing, geared to the domestic, U.S., and Central American markets. Over the past several years, tourism and exports of textiles, apparel, and nontraditional agricultural products such as winter vegetables, fruit, and cut flowers have boomed, while more traditional exports such as sugar, bananas, and coffee continue to represent a large share of the export market. Because of Guatemala's continued reliance on coffee exports, the recent downturn in world prices has contributed to Guatemala's relatively slow growth over the past 2 years.

The United States is the country's largest trading partner, providing 35% of Guatemala's imports and receiving 27% of its exports. The government sector is small and shrinking, with its business activities limited to public utilities--some of which have been privatized--ports and airports and several development-oriented financial institutions.

Guatemala was certified to receive export trade benefits under the United States' Caribbean Basic Trade and Partnership Act (CBTPA) in October 2000, and enjoys access to U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) benefits. Due to concerns over serious worker rights protection issues Guatemala's benefits under both the CBTPA and GSP were reviewed in 2001. After passage of labor code reforms in May 2001, and the successful prosecution of labor rights violations against banana union workers dating to 1999, the review was lifted.

The country has a population of slightly over 11.5 million. The mostly agrarian, private sector-dominated economy grew by approximately 2.5 percent during the year 2001. Coffee, sugar, and bananas are the leading exports, but tourism and apparel assembly are key nontraditional industries. Significant declines in world prices for coffee adversely affected the economy. Problems hindering economic growth include high crime rates, illiteracy and low levels of education, and an inadequate and underdeveloped capital market. The distribution of income and wealth remains highly skewed. The wealthiest 10% of the population receives almost one-half of all income; the top 20% receives two-thirds of all income. About 40 percent of the work force is engaged in some form of agriculture. According to the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), between 50 and 60 percent of the population depended on subsistence farming. Inflation rose to 8.9 percent during the year 2001, driven by high fiscal deficits and tax increases. According to a study by the Ministry of Agriculture, 4 percent of producers controlled 80 percent of the land. There is a marked disparity in income distribution, and poverty is pervasive, particularly in the large indigenous community. Approximately 83 percent of the population lives in poverty; this figure rises to 90 percent among the indigenous. According to the UNDP, 59 percent of the population live in extreme poverty. Combined unemployment and underemployment were estimated at 46 percent. Per capita gross domestic product was approximately $1,763 for the year. Foreign aid is an important part of national income. Remittances from citizens living abroad have continued to grow as a major source of foreign currency. In September, 2001, when the eastern part of the country suffered the effects of drought and 80 percent of the year's harvest was lost, the Government declared a national disaster. In November the PDH censured both the President and the Vice President for failing to promote policies of economic development to prevent such a disaster. Guatemala's social indicators, such as infant mortality and illiteracy, are among the worst in the hemisphere. A rural economic crisis caused by drought and low coffee prices hit in 2001, and continued into 2002, causing severe malnutrition among the rural poor. U.S. disaster assistance and food aid was provided to address the crisis, which continues.


Guatemala has provided data neither for United Nations nor INTERPOL surveys of crime; however, an estimate of crime is given in the United States State Department's Consular Information Sheet according to which violent criminal activity has been a problem in Guatemala for years. There has been a substantial increase in criminal violence in 2001, including numerous murders, rapes, and armed assaults against foreigners. The police force is young, inexperienced, and under-funded, and the judicial system is weak, overcrowded, and inefficient. Criminals, armed with an impressive array of weapons, know that there is little chance they will be caught and punished for their crimes. Guatemalan citizen frustration with crime and a lack of appropriate judicial remedies has led to violent incidents of vigilantism, including lynchings, especially in more isolated, rural areas. Attempting to intervene puts one at risk of attacks from mobs. Foreign tourists have been attacked and killed by mobs, including a Japanese tourist in the village of Todos Santos in 2000. Large demonstrations occasionally occur throughout Guatemala, where they can cause serious traffic disruptions. Fortunately, they are usually announced in advance. While most demonstrations are peaceful, some have turned violent, and travelers should avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place.

In recent years, the number of violent crimes reported by U.S. citizens has increased. Since 2001, there has also been a shift in patterns of crime. Well-armed gangs that use massive force routinely shoot up banks and armored cars, with concomitant casualties. Relatively secure areas, such as the main road to Lake Atitlan and the Mayan ruins at Tikal, that in the past were relatively secure are now less safe. Since late 2000, there have been several armed assaults, robberies and rapes of foreigners at the Cerro Cahui and Tikal Parks. Emboldened armed robbers have attacked vehicles on main roads in broad daylight. Travel on rural roads always presents the risk of a criminal roadblock or ambush around the next bend. Widespread narcotics and alien smuggling activities can make remote areas especially dangerous.

In mid-June, former members of the Guatemalan civil defense patrol blocked a number of roads in the Petén, including all the roads to the airport in Flores and Tikal Park. The Flores airport was closed by the blockades. Many people in Tikal Park and the Flores area were prevented from moving freely in and out of the area. Some tourists were stopped and forcibly detained by the protesters at the blockade near the entrance to Tikal National Park. There were no reports of any injuries, but no tourists were allowed to leave the blockaded areas for about 36 hours.


The Minister of Interior oversees the National Civilian Police (PNC), created in 1997 under the terms of the Peace Accords. The PNC has sole responsibility for internal security. There are no active members of the military in the police command structure, but the Government frequently ordered the army to support the police, who are ill equipped and lack resources. Under existing law, military personnel were subordinated to police control during joint patrols or operations. The Constitution requires the Minister of Defense to be either a colonel or a general in the military. The Government abandoned efforts to appoint a civilian as Minister of Defense after the Constitutional Court ruled in 2000 that it would be unconstitutional for the President, as Commander in Chief, to name a civilian as the Minister of Defense, with the rank of assimilated general. In December in violation of the spirit of the Peace Accords, the President named the former Minister of Defense, General Eduardo Arevalo Lacs, who had retired only the previous day, to be the new Minister of Interior. The President has not yet carried out his commitment to dissolve the Presidential Military Staff (EMP), and the Government increased its budget in the year. In addition, the Finance Ministry increased the overall military budget. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens; however, serious problems remain in some areas. During the year 2001 the Government removed two directors of the Presidential Commission on Human Rights (COPREDEH) in as many months. Some security forces committed extrajudicial killings. Some high-level officials covered up or obstructed efforts to investigate human rights abuses. The U. N. Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) reported increased signs of the participation of clandestine armed groups in illegal activities linked to employees of the Prosecutor's Office, justice system, and police. MINUGUA reported increases in violent deaths, killings in prisons, and "social cleansing" operations in which persons deemed socially undesirable (e.g., gang members, local delinquents, and released or escaped convicts) were murdered. Security forces tortured, abused, and mistreated suspects and detainees. Allegations have persisted that the EMP infringed on citizens' privacy rights by monitoring private communications. There have been allegations of politically motivated killings by government agents, and security forces committed some extrajudicial killings. The Government has demonstrated some willingness to arrest and prosecute those responsible and achieved some convictions in high-profile cases; however, in many cases, the scarcity of law enforcement resources and a weak prosecutorial system prevented the Government from adequately investigating killings and other crimes or arresting and successfully prosecuting perpetrators. There is credible evidence of military involvement in two and police involvement in seven extrajudicial executions. There have been no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year 2001; however, MINUGUA verified two cases of the disappearance of persons during detention by security forces.

The Constitution provides for the integrity and security of the person and prohibits physical or psychological torture of prisoners; however, there have been credible reports of torture, abuse, and other mistreatment by members of the PNC during the year 2001. These complaints typically involved the use of excessive force during arrests, interrogations, or other police operations. Criminal Investigative Service (SIC) detectives have continued to torture and beat detainees during interrogation to obtain forced confessions. The Government and the PNC have shown decreased willingness to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise punish officers who committed abuses. The PNC transferred some cases of alleged torture to the Prosecutor's Office. There have been a significant number of murder victims whose bodies demonstrated signs of torture or cruel treatment.

Corruption is a problem, and there have been credible allegations of involvement by individual police officers in criminal activity, including credible allegations of police involvement in kidnappings.

All PNC members are required to meet minimum education requirements and pass an entrance examination. Staff of the former National Police (PN) who wish to integrate into the new police structure must complete successfully a 3-month retraining course. In practice, however, many of the 9,376 former PN who are now serving in the PNC have not taken the course. The Director of Personnel attributes the problem to budget cuts and the constant turnover in PNC leadership that affects the personnel system. There also are screening procedures to detect suspected human rights violators and officers involved in criminal activities. New recruits have to complete a 6-month training course before entering on duty. The training course, developed with the assistance of MINUGUA, foreign governments, and international organizations, includes extensive human rights components. However, some observers have claimed that the retraining course was not sufficiently rigorous, and that relatively few members of the PN have been screened out during retraining, allowing the incorporation of some poorly qualified PN members into the ranks of the PNC.

Pursuant to the Peace Accords, former members of the military are eligible to apply for positions in the police but are required to apply like other civilians and complete the 6-month training course required of all civilian applicants. However, the Government has incorporated some former members of the military and the former Ambulatory Military Police (PMA) into the ranks of the PNC upon the completion of only the shorter course intended for current members of the PN. A total of 10,144 officers from prior security forces have taken the retraining course since its inception. The former PMA members have not been subjected to a competitive selection process but have been screened carefully before they have been allowed to enter the program. In May 2001, 150 former PMA agents protested in front of the Congress, demanding $6,410 (50,000 quetzals) each as part of a severance package that they claimed was due them. In November the Government reached the 1999 goal established by the Peace Accords of putting 20,000 police on active duty and at the year's end PNC officers numbered 20,452. Police representation outside of the capital is improving, but approximately two-thirds of those police districts remain 60 to 75 percent staffed. Approximately 10 percent of the force is female and 14 percent indigenous.

In 1998 the PNC accepted some 60 police candidates from indigenous communities in the Ixil region--approximately 30 of whom graduated on their first attempt--to ensure that PNC personnel in those communities would be proficient in the local language and able to operate effectively in those communities. According to MINUGUA, approximately 7 percent of PNC officers speak an indigenous language. Efforts have improved to assign officers that speak an indigenous language to a town where their skills can be put to use. Approximately 75 percent now work in the geographic area of their particular linguistic competency.

According to the Interior Ministry, there are more than 25,000 private security agents. In September, MINUGUA reported the existence of 81 legally functioning private security companies and another 73 that had not completed the required procedures. There are reportedly no investigations underway by authorities, despite awareness of the problem. In January, 2001, the Association of Private Security Firms acknowledged that their industry fell under control of the Interior Ministry according to Congressional Decree 73-70 and Decree 11-97 of the Law on National Civilian Police.

The ORP performs internal investigations of misconduct by police officers. Despite greater numbers of police officers on duty throughout the country, and less public apprehension about filing complaints against the police, the total number of such complaints remained roughly the same as the previous year. The ORP has a strong corps of investigators and has shown a considerable degree of improvement in professionalism; however, their independence and effectiveness has been hampered to some degree by the lack of support from the PNC leadership and there have been isolated cases in which ORP investigators appeared to participate in cover ups of police misconduct. The ORP reported that in 2001, it received 1,693 complaints, including 29 cases of homicide, 131 cases of abuse of authority, 136 cases of threats, 201 cases of robbery, 7 cases of kidnaping, 63 cases of unlawful detention, and 150 cases of corruption. The ORP received 1,581 complaints in 2000, including 43 of homicide, 222 complaints of abuse of authority, 104 of robbery, 141 of corruption, 108 of improper conduct, 107 of threats, and 72 of illegal detention. In cases in which sufficient evidence suggested that criminal acts have been committed, ORP investigators forwarded them to the Public Ministry for further investigation and prosecution. In 2001 the PNC fired 467 officers. By year's end, the ORP had closed 878 cases, compared with 870 cases in 2000; the investigators found 35 percent of officers culpable and exonerated 65 percent. Most observers still considered the PNC to be a significant improvement over the PN.

A study by the human rights NGO, Mutual Support Group, found that in the month of February, 75 persons have been killed and 100 wounded by gun shots compared to 45 killed and 46 wounded in February of 2000. A compilation from the same source of figures for the first 6 months of the year revealed: 14 cases of extrajudicial executions, 479 murders, 255 gunshot wounds, 25 rapes, 23 kidnapings, and 22 disappearances. A police study of crime over the 9 months from August 1, 2000, through April 30 revealed homicides numbering 2,328 or the equivalent of 1 homicide for every 5,000 persons. The report found that nearly 70 percent of all crime took place in the capital and the primarily ladino southern and eastern parts of the country.

No active members of the military serve in the police command structure, but in March 2000, Congress enacted a law enabling the Government to employ the army to continue to support the police temporarily in response to an ongoing nationwide wave of violent crime. In 1998 and 1999, President Arzu had ordered the army to support the police temporarily. While these measures have been popular politically, given the public's preoccupation with crime and security, they left open the possibility of renewed military involvement in internal security functions, a role prohibited by the Peace Accords. Under the existing law, military personnel are not subordinated clearly to police control during joint patrols or operations.

The Constitution provides for the inviolability of home, correspondence, and private documents; however, allegations persist that the authorities sometimes disregard these provisions. Elements of the security forces, specifically the EMP, reportedly have continued to monitor private communications.



The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention; however, there have been frequent credible reports of arrests without judicial warrants, illegal detentions, and failure to adhere to prescribed time limits in legal proceedings. In practice, arresting officers frequently fail to satisfy legal requisites. The Constitution requires that a court-issued arrest warrant be presented to a suspect prior to arrest unless he is caught in the act of committing a crime. Police may not detain a suspect for over 6 hours without bringing the case before a judge. Once a suspect has been arraigned, the prosecutor generally has 3 months to complete his investigation and file the case in court, or seek a formal extension of the detention period. The law also provides for access to lawyers and bail. During June and August, 2001, the State of Alarm suspended these constitutionally established freedoms.

There is no comprehensive, reliable data on the number of arbitrary detentions, although most accounts agree that security forces routinely have ignored writs of habeas corpus in cases of illegal detention. The PDH recorded 53 cases of illegal or arbitrary detention by the PNC. In its 12th report, MINUGUA investigated 110 cases of illegal or arbitrary detention, and confirmed 88 of them. These figures again reflected an increase over the previous reporting cycle. From October 1999 through June 2000, MINUGUA investigated some 31 cases of illegal or arbitrary detention, and confirmed 23 cases.

A study of the due process of minors in detention found that 95 percent of arrests of minors are without a warrant. Of these cases, 87 percent never go to trial. When the court system analyzed arrest warrants for juveniles it found such reasons as having tattoos or scandalous behavior in public.

According to a registry maintained by the prison system, during the year 2001, there are a total of 8,608 prisoners throughout the country; 7,303 had been accused of committing common crimes, and of those, 3,014 had been sentenced, leaving 4,289 awaiting trial. The law sets a limit of 3 months for pretrial detention; however, longer detentions still occurred routinely. Prisoners often have been detained past their legal trial or release dates, sometimes for years. Prisoners are not released in a timely fashion after completing their full sentences due to the failure of judges to issue the necessary court order or other bureaucratic problems.


The legal system of Guatemala is civil law system; however, there is judicial review of legislative acts. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; however, the judicial system often fails to provide fair trials due to inefficiency, corruption, insufficient personnel and funds, and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, and witnesses. The courts' response to human rights violations, as well as to general criminal activity, has been inadequate, although during the year 2001 the Government achieved convictions in a few important human rights cases from previous years. However, many high-profile human rights cases remained pending in the courts for long periods as defense attorneys employed numerous dilatory appeals and motions. Courts sometimes takes months to resolve even patently frivolous appeals. There have been numerous credible allegations of corruption, manipulation, and intimidation in the judiciary. There also have been credible allegations of parallel investigations by military intelligence--in the Bishop Gerardi and Ordonez Porta murder cases--that interfered with the justice system's efforts to investigate or prosecute those responsible. Intimidation of witnesses have continued to be a problem; there have been credible reports of the killing and threatening of witnesses.

Judges and prosecutors have continued to receive threats whose purpose was to influence pending decisions or to seek reprisal for past decisions. Death threats and intimidation of the judiciary are common in cases involving human rights violations, particularly when the defendants have been active or former members of the military, military commissioners, or former members of Civil Defense Patrols. Witnesses are often too intimidated to testify. With relatively few exceptions, plaintiffs, witnesses, prosecutors, and jurists involved in high-profile cases against members of the military reported threats, intimidation, and surveillance. For example, the lead prosecutor and his staff in the Bishop Gerardi murder investigation reported wiretapping, surveillance, and frequent death threats. In addition, at least three judges and one judicial staff member in the Gerardi case reported threats and intimidation, including surveillance. A March 2000 report at the U.N. Human Rights Commission noted that many judges and prosecutors are denied health insurance because the threats and intimidation that they receive make their jobs too dangerous. The Government has allocated more resources to the judiciary's physical security, including providing protective details for the judge and at least some members of the prosecution team in the Gerardi case and witnesses in the SITRABI and Dos Erres cases. The Supreme Court has hired a team of bodyguards. The Government also has devoted more resources to providing for witness protection abroad for key witnesses in the Gerardi and Dos Erres cases. During the year 2001, the Public Ministry spent approximately $275,000 (2.5 million quetzals) on its witness protection program. In May, 2001, the Prosecutor's Office appointed a special prosecutor, Leopoldo Liu, to investigate killings of and threats against lawyers, judges, and prosecutors. By mid-year, Liu had 55 cases in his caseload. However, the unit, lacks the personnel and resources necessary to carry out its mission.

There have been several unsuccessful attempts to lynch local judicial officials.

The judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court, appellate courts, trial courts, and Probable Cause Judges (which function like grand juries). There also are courts of special jurisdiction such as labor courts and family courts; these also are under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. The Constitutional Court is independent of the rest of the judiciary. There are several community courts in indigenous rural areas.

The Constitution requires that Congress elect all Supreme Court and appellate court magistrates every 5 years from lists prepared by panels composed of active magistrates, representatives of the bar association, law school deans, and university rectors. In April, 2001, a new Constitutional Court was selected in a highly transparent process closely scrutinized by the press and judicial watchdog groups. Some groups criticized individual judges elected to the Constitutional Court; however, most saw the selection process itself as transparent. During the year 2001, 18 judges whose 5-year contracts were not renewed collectively filed a petition before the Constitutional Court. In May the Constitutional Court determined that the Supreme Court had acted improperly in not renewing the judges' contracts. Instead, the Constitutional Court argued, the Supreme Court must convene the Judicial Careers Council to determine whether there was cause to not renew their contracts.

The 1994 Criminal Procedures Code provides for the presumption of innocence, the right to be present at trial, the right to counsel, plea bargaining, and the possibility of release on bail. Trials are public, allowing victims, family members, and human rights groups to observe the process. Verdicts are rendered by three-judge panels. The Criminal Procedures Code introduced oral trials; however, only those attorneys who have graduated since that time have had real training in oral trials. During the year 2001, an innovative pilot project was initiated in the municipalities of Zacapa and Quetzaltenango to present pretrial motions orally, rather than in writing. The code also provides for language interpretation for those who require it; however, in practice this provision rarely is honored due to budgetary and other constraints. During the year 2001, 20 new interpreters have been hired, bringing the total to 67, and the Public Defender's Office began hiring attorneys who speak indigenous languages and assigning them to areas where they can use their language skills to defend non-Spanish-speaking defendants. The Prosecutor's Office, which is independent of the executive branch, may initiate criminal proceedings on its own or in response to a complaint. Private parties may participate in the prosecution of criminal cases as coplaintiffs. Lengthy investigations and frequent procedural motions by both defense and prosecution often lead to excessively long pretrial detention. Courts showed little willingness to exercise discretion in dismissing frivolous or patently invalid motions. As a consequence, parties have continued to use such motions as delaying tactics, frequently holding up trials for several months or even years.

Inefficiency and corruption in the courts, Public Ministry, and police have continued to impede the proper functioning of the judicial system and undermine the right to due process. The Supreme Court has continued to seek the suspension of judges and to conduct criminal investigations for improprieties or irregularities in cases under its jurisdiction. The Discipline Unit investigated 503 cases of wrongdoing during the year 2001. As a result of those investigations, 14 judges have been sanctioned, 32 have been suspended, and 4 have been sanctioned with the recommendation that they be removed. Of those sanctions against judges, 1,159 have been findings of impropriety, 66 were warnings, 9 judges were fired, and 1 was suspended. Magistrates received 13 findings of impropriety. The Public Ministry has been hampered in its efforts to investigate crimes and prosecute offenders by inadequate training and equipment, excessive caseloads, and insufficient numbers of investigators. In November 2001, the Myrna Mack Foundation reported that 59 percent of the attorneys and law students who participated in a questionnaire regarding corruption in the justice system rated the system very corrupt. The report further details the ease in which payments can be made to justice workers to postpone trials, expedite motions, alter evidence or issue rulings in a predetermined manner. Prosecutors have remained susceptible to intimidation and corruption. In addition, the Government's failure to delineate clearly responsibility for investigating crimes to either the PNC or the Public Ministry led to continued infighting and competition between these organizations, as well as the duplication of investigative resources. It is difficult to attract qualified personnel to the courts because of the low salaries offered, but a raise in the salaries of judges attracted greater numbers of higher caliber candidates.

The 1999 Law on Judicial Careers established a system to regulate the income, terms of office, promotion, training, disciplinary measures, and other activities of judges and magistrates. It has provided for a mandatory 6-month training course for all newly appointed judges. The panel reviewed numerous cases and issued sanctions ranging from letters of reprimand to firing. On May 5, the Constitutional Court overturned the June 12, 2000, decision by the Supreme Court not to renew the contracts of 18 judges. The Constitutional Court found that the judges' due process rights had been violated when the Supreme Court failed to convene the Judicial Career Council as established by the Law on Judicial Careers. The Council is responsible for selecting judges as well as disciplining them in accordance with the law's criteria for sanctions. In September, after the Disciplinary Unit reviewed complaints filed against forensic doctors, the Supreme Court dismissed four of them. The decisions were based on the doctors' failure to maintain professional standards, including the timely submission of autopsy reports. In September the Disciplinary Unit also called for the dismissal of four justices of the Peace.

In cooperation with foreign donors, the Government has continued its efforts to reform the judicial system, and there have been some significant improvements throughout the year. One of the most successful reform efforts has been the creation of justice centers, which bring together judges, public defenders, prosecutors, private law practitioners, police, municipal representatives, military officers, and civil society in a team approach to dispute resolution and problem solving. The centers have installed modernized docket and case filing systems in the courts, thereby increasing efficiency and public service while significantly decreasing corruption in the disappearance of case files. Justice centers operated in 10 locations around the country.

In 1999 the Supreme Court extended the administrative model of the justice centers to include the criminal courts in the capital by creating a new Clerk of Court office, which has streamlined the processing of cases, increased transparency, and improved customer service. Under the old system, courthouses resembled marketplaces in which individuals could bribe a court official to "lose" their case file--a system that resulted in near-complete impunity for those with sufficient money. Individuals also could bribe the court to lose the file of a person in pretrial detention, thus assuring that that person would remain in jail indefinitely. The number of missing cases has dropped from approximately 1,000 per year to 1 case in 2001. An analogous system was inaugurated in Guatemala City in the Prosecutor's Office Case Intake Unit. The intake system reduced the average waiting time for filing a complaint from several hours to approximately 10 minutes. In July a new Prosecutor's Office Victim's Unit also was inaugurated in the capital, with doctors and nurses on call 24 hours a day to assist rape and other crime victims and to gather evidence for their cases. Over the course of the year, these units along with the justice centers have been extended to every department in the country. Since 1994 the Government has expanded the judiciary's presence throughout the country; at year's end, there are judges in all of the 331 municipalities around the country.

A raise in the salaries of judges attracted greater numbers of high caliber candidates. During the year 2001, the judicial sector initiated an internship program with law students from the national university. The program is designed to provide training to students and much needed practical support to the courts, prosecutors, and public defender's offices.

Despite some progress, much remains to be done to reform the judiciary and establish effective rule of law, as mandated by the Peace Accords. Many of the structural and procedural weaknesses of the judiciary would have been addressed by the proposed constitutional reforms that were defeated in a national referendum in May 1999. The National Commission for the Strengthening of Justice, which was created following the Peace Accords, increasingly is active; in July 2000, it announced its strategic plan, and subsequently created a number of subcommittees to work on implementation. The Commission met weekly during the year 2001 to discuss and define the role of justices of the peace, discuss reforms to the penal code and strategize on how to reduce duplication of work in the criminal labs run by the police, the Public Ministry and the Department of Justice.

The Prosecutor's Office has been hampered in its efforts to investigate crimes and prosecute offenders by inadequate training and equipment, excessive caseloads, and insufficient numbers of investigators. For example, in a sentencing court ordered the release of four homicide suspects--Luis Alberto Sinay Rodas, Miguel Angel Gonzalez Morales, Jose Alfredo Foronda Morales and Joel Gustavo Lopez Huertas--because the prosecutor of their case, Yolanda Gomez Vasquez, failed to submit court documents in a timely fashion in accordance with the Penal Code. Prosecutors have remained susceptible to intimidation and corruption. In addition, the Government's failure to delineate clearly responsibility for investigating crimes to either the police or the Prosecutor's Office led to continued infighting and competition between these organizations, as well as the duplication of investigative resources.



Prison conditions are harsh but generally not life threatening. The prison system has continued to suffer from a serious lack of resources, particularly in the areas of prison security and medical facilities. In November 2000, the Government reported that prison capacity nationwide was 6,170 persons and that there are approximately 6,700 inmates. The majority of the prisoners are not serving prison terms but are held in pretrial detention. Pretrial detainees often are separated from convicted criminals. Many are released either on good behavior or because they never are sentenced. Some institutions are overcrowded; for example, in August 2000, the Preventive Detention Center for Men in Guatemala City was approximately 75 percent over its designed capacity. In February 2000, a project to improve prison infrastructure began, involving improvements to fences and walls to prevent further escapes and installation of better water, electricity, sanitation, and emergency systems. In the spring of 2000, a new maximum security facility opened. Prisoners have continued to complain of inadequate food. Corruption--especially drug-related--was widespread. Prison officials reported frequent escape attempts and other manifestations of prisoner unrest. The frequency of jailbreaks has continued to be a matter of serious public concern, although the number of successful escapes appears to have declined. Several escaped convicts eventually were recaptured. The military has continued to provide perimeter security for various prisons, as it has done since 1998.

On March 8, 2001, the Interior Minister fired the Director of the Preventive Detention Center in Zone 18 of the capital, Arimiro Rivas Urizar due to charges of corruption. According to a police officer, cell phones, pistols, and knives have been found in the cells of prisoners allegedly planning a jailbreak.

Shortly after taking office in March, Yuri Bucaro, the Director General of the Penitentiary System, told reporters that the system had grave problems, and that he was concerned about jailbreaks. Among other problems, he identified a lack of professional training among prison staff, administrative chaos within the bureaucracy, corruption and an inability to fire corrupt employees, a lack of physical control inside of prisons, and a chronic shortage of the resources needed to effect meaningful organizational change. Of 950 guards on the payroll, at any given time only 237 are working in 1 of the 17 facilities around the country. The average ratio is 31 prisoners per guard. On April 24, Bucaro announced the creation of a School for Prison Studies to address the need for professionalization of the prison system's staff.

On June 17, 2001, 78 prisoners escaped from the maximum-security facility in Escuintla without having to break a single lock. The primary organizers of the break reportedly arranged to be moved from one sector of the prison to another with the assistance of corrupt judges. In response to the initial jailbreak, the Government instituted a State of Alarm that lasted from June 18 to August 18, during which rights to legal detention, search and seizure, and freedom of movement were suspended in principle. While the justification for the State of Alarm was to facilitate the arrest of the 78 escapees, by the year's end, authorities had only recaptured 46, 10 were killed, often under questionable circumstances, and 22 others remained at large. On August 14, four escapees were shot and killed in zone seven of the capital. According to investigators, a rival gang was responsible for the attack. Numerous activists raised the question of whether the killings were instead an act of social cleansing by authorities or parastatal elements.

According to press reports, the organizers of the June 17 break paid off prison officials, including then-director of the facility Edwin Nehemias Gonzalez Miranda. Gonzalez's wife, Heydi de Leon Hernandez, worked as a guard in the prison, and also was included in the investigation of the breakout. Ultimately, 20 guards, 2 wardens, the director, and the vice director of the prison were taken into custody for allegedly collaborating with the breakout. In its September report, MINUGUA noted that the prison break had been planned for months and was made possible through extensive collaboration on the part of authorities from the prison system and the Interior Ministry.

The unit from Military Zone 12, charged with providing perimeter security at the prison, was suspiciously not present at the time of the escape on a Sunday afternoon. On June 27, military units took over the maximum-security facility in Escuintla. On July 3, the Interior Minister established a Consultative Commission on the National Penitentiary System to analyze the existing system and come up with recommendations for systematic improvements. On September 6, the Commission issued its preliminary report to the President. It found that prisoners often maintained control inside of prisons because they are better organized than guards. The report identified a high level of corruption and low level of technical training among guards. The Commission also identified three systemic shortcomings: Lack of independence of the prison system from the Interior Ministry; a lack of legislation clearly establishing technical, juridical, and doctrinal criteria; and a serious problem of under-funding.

The police reportedly thwarted a second jailbreak in Escuintla on September 6. When police went into the prison, they found that the drugs, electronic equipment, and weapons that they thought they had removed were once again present in abundance, clearly demonstrating that corruption has continued to allow extensive illicit trafficking into the prison.

On September 23, 2001, another attempted jailbreak left 10 prisoners injured after an exchange of gunfire with prison guards at the Canada Prison Farm in Escuintla. The prisoners appeared to be taking advantage of the chaos of the activities planned to celebrate Prisoner's Day to make an escape. In their investigation, police found fire arms, drugs, and bottles of liquor inside the facilities.

The 433 female prisoners in the penal system generally are held in facilities separate from men; however, the conditions are equal. The Government permitted access to prisons by family members.

On November 10, 2001, inmates of the Orientation Center for Women in Fraijanes rioted after the director restricted the visitation policy to permit family members (and not friends or boyfriends) to enter. The inmates further protested that they had been beaten by the guards for opposing the regulation. One woman was injured by firearm and allegedly the tear gas used by the guards to subdue the rioters intoxicated 12 children who reside at the prison with their mothers. Security did not permit the entry of emergency medical personnel to attend to the injured.

In March, 2001, women inmates in the Santa Teresa prison reacted violently to more restrictive security measures. The women complained of being physically and sexually abused by prison authorities. One inmate, Estela Castaneda died as a result of injuries sustained from a tear gas canister fired into the prison. Again in April, the women inmates of Santa Teresa took five guards hostage in protest over the living conditions inside the prison and alleged abuse by security officials. The riot lasted more than six hours and culminated in a shootout between the prisoners and the guards attempting to rescue their colleagues.

Immigration detention facilities do not always keep female detainees separate from the male population.

Minor children are held in separate detention facilities. According to a December 2000 MINUGUA report, there are only five juvenile delinquent facilities in the country; approximately 39 percent of the children housed in these facilities have sought protection and have committed no offense.

Law enforcement authorities and justice sector workers have continued to work without a current Minors' Code. The version of the Minors' Code proposed by the FRG-led Congress has yet to supplant the outdated 1979 Code presently in force. In May, 2001, the Supreme Court presented to the Guatemalan Forum a project to modernize the juvenile justice system. The project is intended to streamline legal cases involving minors and train judges about the human rights of children.

The vast majority of juveniles detained by authorities are between 16 and 18 years old; 84 percent are boys. The Secretariat for Social Welfare runs four Centers for the Treatment and Orientation of Minors: one for girls and three for boys. The Centers do not separate delinquent children from children who are victims. Officials do not separate adequately those who have been convicted and are serving a sentence from pretrial detainees; those who are serving time for minor infractions are often held with those who have committed serious offenses. Adequate sanitation, hygiene, and nutrition are persistent problems within the underfunded system. On January 28, 2001, inmates at the juvenile detention center in the capital's downtown area wounded a guard, burned mattresses, and destroyed doors, windows, and bathrooms. Six adolescents escaped but were recaptured quickly in the confusion. The adolescents complained of mistreatment and insufficient food.

The Government permits prison visits by independent human rights monitors, public defenders, and religious groups.



Violence against women, including domestic violence, remained common among all social classes. The 1996 Law on Domestic Violence provides that the Prosecutor's Office, the national police, family courts, legal clinics, and the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office can receive complaints of domestic violence. Domestic violence is defined as "whatever action or omission by direct or indirect manner causes damage, or physical, sexual, psychological, or patrimonial suffering" to a person within the family group. The law provides for the issuance of restraining orders against alleged aggressors and obligates the PNC to intervene in situations of domestic violence. Statistics vary significantly. The Prosecutor's Office reported receiving 8,060 complaints of domestic violence against women and children during the year 2001, 44 percent more than those received in 2000. Only 56 cases were brought to trial; in 38 cases the attackers were convicted. The PDH reported that between November 2000 and October, they received 5,664 reports of domestic violence. They also estimated that for every 1 reported case, there are 10 more that are not reported.

Complaints of spousal abuse have continued to rise due, at least in part, to increased nationwide educational programs, which have encouraged women to seek assistance. In November 2000, the Government announced the formation of the National Coordinator for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women (CONAPREVI), which is chaired by the Secretary for Women's Affairs, and includes public sector representatives from the Prosecutor's Office, the judiciary, the National Statistics Institute, and three representatives from the private sector Network Against Violence Against Women. On January 5, 2001, CONAPREVI released its National Plan for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. In May CONAPREVI announced that it had developed a uniform and simplified documentary process for victims to file complaints of domestic violence. The new form contained 43 questions that enable authorities to establish the nature of the offense and to accumulate meaningful statistics.

The office of the Ombudsman for Indigenous Women, led by Juana Catinac Xom de Coyoy, provides social services for victims of domestic or social violence, as well as mediation, conflict resolution, and legal services for indigenous women. It formed a coordinating committee and other advisory boards and representative assemblies from each of 24 linguistic groups. It opened its first branch offices and spent much of its first year resolving personnel, equipment, and organizational issues.

Sexual offenses and prostitution have continued to increase. The Prosecutor's Office reported receiving 1,550 cases of rape and sexual assault during the year 2001. A total of 37 cases went to trial, and convictions were attained in 25 cases. The penal code does not include a description of sexual assault as a crime.

Victims rarely have reported criminal sexual violence, although the number of complaints of such offenses continues to increase significantly. Many observers believe that increases did not reflect an increase in the number of rapes committed, but rather an increased willingness on the part of victims to come forward, greater public confidence in the police, and improved record keeping of crime statistics. Despite these advances, relatively few rape cases have gone to court, in large part because police have little training or investigative capacity for such crimes and because many rape victims were reluctant to report and prosecute such crimes. In July 2000, the Public Ministry created a Special Victim's unit, staffed 24 hours a day with doctors and nurses with rape test kits to assist rape victims in gathering evidence to use against their attackers. The law allows a rapist to be exonerated when the victim is at least 12 years old and agrees to marry him, but the Public Ministry must approve the marriage when the victim is below the age of 18.



Most estimates indicated that reports of child abuse continue to increase, although there are few statistics available to measure the problem. The Procuracy General reported 1,126 cases of child abuse as of December 2000, compared to 1,478 cases in 1999. A total of 70 cases reported during 2000 concerned physical abuse; the remainder involved sexual or psychological abuse. Of a total of 4,250 cases of domestic violence, the PDH investigated 126 complaints of child abuse during 2000. The largest percentage of these complaints were for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect. A July press report suggested that of the 7,760 cases of child sexual abuse considered by the Prosecutor's Office, only 50 resulted in convictions. A Permanent Commission for Children and Youth investigates cases of mistreatment of children. The Social Secretariat for the Welfare of Children has oversight for the children's welfare program, treatment and training for children, and special education assistance for children. The Secretariat provides shelter and assistance to children who are victims of abuse; however, due to lack of resources, these children sometimes are placed with other youths who have committed crimes.

In January, 2001, the PDH investigated complaints of physical and sexual abuse in numerous schools, and officially censured both the directors of the schools implicated as well as authorities within the Education Ministry charged with oversight of public schools.

Sexual exploitation of children is a growing problem, including child prostitution and the trafficking of children for purposes of prostitution. In a March report, the Institutional Coordinator for the Promotion of the Rights of the Child found that there are more than 15,000 sexually exploited boys and girls in the country. The Ministry of Labor noted an increase in child prostitution in the towns along the borders with Mexico and El Salvador. Along the border with El Salvador, many child prostitutes were brought into the country from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras by organized rings, who force the children into prostitution. The proposed Minor's Code would have mandated stricter punishments for parents who force their children into prostitution, and for adults who solicit child prostitutes. In November the Social Secretariat for the Welfare of Children, in conjunction with a commission of NGO's and other government ministries, presented the National Plan of Action against Sexual Exploitation of Children in Guatemala. The plan is an initiative to fight child prostitution and pornography, trafficking of children, and sex tourism.

The internal conflict left approximately 200,000 orphans throughout the country. Approximately 10,000 children are in gangs, and 6,500 children lived on the streets; there are an estimated 4,000 street children in Guatemala City. In August 2000, the Archbishop's Human Rights Office issued its report on children missing in the armed conflict. A report by the Archbishop's Human Rights Office issued in September, 2001, found that children accounted for 20 percent of the victims of arbitrary extrajudicial executions during the armed conflict, and that 27 percent of the victims of sexual abuse committed during the armed conflict were children.

Abuse of street children remains a serious problem in major cities. Most credible estimates put the number of street children at approximately 6,500 nationwide, with about 4,000 of these youths concentrated in Guatemala City. The NGO Casa Alianza increased its estimates of the number of homeless persons to 25,000, of whom 8,000 are children. The majority of street children ran away from home after they were abused. Criminals--reported to include private security guards and corrupt police or military personnel--often recruited these children into thievery or prostitution rings. According to Casa Alianza, drugs, prostitution, and gangs posed the greatest danger to this vulnerable group during the year 2001. Individuals, private security guards, and other street children--not police or other government forces--committed most violence against street children. In May, 2001, Casa Alianza lodged formal complaints against two private security guards for the rape and shooting of street child Sandra Herlinda Ponciano Ichiche. The Government and a number of NGO's operate youth centers, but the funds devoted to them are not sufficient to alleviate the problem. The Government maintains one shelter for girls and one shelter for boys in Guatemala City; these shelters provide housing for the homeless and incarceration for juvenile offenders. A new phenomenon developed as street children began giving birth to a second generation of street children, called "street babies."

In November 2000, the Government, in compliance with a decision by the IACHR, agreed to compensate the families of the street children who were killed between 1990 and 1995. In addition to the modest $11,500 (92,000 quetzals) per victim compensation, the Government also promised to develop programs to prevent the abandonment of and violence against street children. The payment was made in December, but there has been little progress on the additional commitments.

COPREDEH has continued weekly meetings of the Permanent Commission for Children, composed of representatives from Casa Alianza and from the judicial and executive branches, with the aim of addressing the problems of street children. The Government has continued its program to train instructors to educate civil society groups and the public about children's rights. In May, 2001, the Supreme Court presented a project to modernize the juvenile justice system.

In February a study by the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office found anomalies in a high percentage of the adoption cases reviewed. On July 1, police rescued four infants they claimed were being cared for under orders from attorneys who sell children for adoption. A similar press report on July 2 reported that police apprehended "baby stealers" who allegedly tried to buy, and then steal the baby of a mother as she was leaving the hospital.


The law specifically prohibits trafficking and smuggling of persons; however, trafficking in women and children is a problem. The country is a source and transit country for international trafficking of persons. In a few cases, it is also a destination country. Trafficked persons come mainly from other Central American countries including El Salvador and Ecuador. Victims trafficked to Guatemala are usually young women or children who are trafficked for sexual exploitation. Most of the minors brought to the country are trafficked for sexual exploitation and placed in poor surroundings and paid low salaries. A 1999 study by the NGO Pro-niños, Niños Centro Americanos (PRONICE) suggests that fraud and threats are a common form of recruitment. Usually traffickers choose pretty girls that belong to poor families. The most common "contracting places" are along the borders. Those trafficked from Guatemala for sexual exploitation are usually minors, both boys and girls, from poor families. The traffickers often approach these individuals and offer them lucrative jobs, which would allow them to make regular remittances back to their families. The methods of approach include promises of economic rewards, jobs in cafeterias or beauty parlors, or jobs in other countries. The means of promotion include flyers, newspaper advertisements, and verbal or personal recommendations.

The press has alleged that some Immigration Service officers accept bribes in return for allowing traffickers to bring children into the country for purposes of sexual exploitation.

Guatemala is a significant transit country for alien smuggling, both from neighboring Central American countries and Ecuador and from China, Taiwan, and South Asia; aliens often are smuggled to the United States. Traffickers use force, coercion, fraud, and deception. In one instance, Chinese male victims apparently agreed to debt bondage to pay off their transportation costs, while female victims, some of whom were under age 18, apparently were being taken to the United States to work as prostitutes. The victims were told that their families in China would suffer if they broke the debt bondage agreement.

The Ministry of Labor, UNICEF, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution, and Child Pornography, visited the country in 1999, and noted a marked increase in child prostitution over in the towns along the borders with Mexico and El Salvador. Along the border with El Salvador, many child prostitutes were brought into the country from El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras by organized rings, which facilitate children working as prostitutes. In its 1999 annual report on the state of children, the Archbishop's Human Rights Office identified the growing problem of child prostitution as inextricably linked to that of trafficking in persons. The report notes that no child prostitute "got there alone."


Guatemala is a significant transit country for cocaine from South America to Mexico and onward to the United States. Guatemala also cultivated small amounts of opium poppy and marijuana for domestic consumption. Diversion of precursor chemicals is also a problem.

The Government of Guatemala (GOG) is actively working to strengthen its drug enforcement capability. In 1998, the GOG raised police pay and provided extensive training, equipment and infrastructure for the Department of Anti-narcotics Operations (DOAN), a division of the newly formed National Civilian Police (PNC). The Ministry of Government (MOG), the Public Ministry (MP), and the judiciary worked to integrate computerized systems to track cases and enhance information sharing within the GOG and with counterpart Central American institutions. The GOG fully supported interdiction and eradication operations, including the use of aerial spraying against the marijuana and opium poppy crops. At the same time, the executive secretariat for the Commission Against Addictions and Illicit Drug Trafficking (SECCATID) aggressively pursued a demand reduction program for Guatemala, and completed the first comprehensive survey of domestic drug use.

Guatemala is a significant transit country for cocaine from South America to Mexico and onward to the United States. It is estimated that approximately 200 to 300 metric tons of cocaine transit Guatemala annually. In the past three years, Guatemalan law enforcement agencies have intercepted/seized over 17 metric tons of cocaine.

The United States worked to strengthen Guatemala's enforcement capability by providing training, equipment and infrastructure for the Civilian National Police (PNC), the Department of Anti-narcotics Operations (DOAN), and narcotics prosecutors. U.S. programs in Guatemala focused on strengthening the investigative and enforcement capabilities of the DOAN, a branch of the PNC formed in 1998. The DOAN is supported with operational funding, and technical and logistical support for infrastructure projects. The U.S. has also worked to restore some form of air interdiction capability through the implementation of the USG Central Skies Initiative.

Guatemala was a significant producer of opium poppy in the late 80's and early 90's, but steady aerial eradication operations during 1990-1996 significantly reduced the poppy crop. Recent aerial reconnaissance by INL airplanes confirmed there are only negligible amounts of opium poppy and marijuana cultivation in the country.

Diversion of precursor chemicals is also a problem. A recent study revealed that over $900 million in illegal drugs could have been produced from the uncontrolled excess chemical imports.

USG agencies assisted the Ministry of Government, the Public Ministry and the Judiciary in developing integrated computerized systems to track criminal and narcotics trafficking cases and enhance information sharing within the GOG and with counterpart Central American institutions. State DOJ and AID supported programs to develop a responsive judicial system to prosecute and try narcotics crimes. There was also progress in the successful prosecution of narcotics related crimes. Over 90 percent of those accused of narcotics trafficking were convicted, with some receiving sentences of up to twenty years.

The USG worked with the GOG to confront a growing substance abuse problem. As part of its master plan, Guatemala's Drug Coordinator, the Executive Secretariat to the Commission Against the Addiction and Illicit Trafficking of Drugs (SECCATID), conducted detailed surveys of estimated drug abuse, including alcohol. The studies confirmed that drug use rose in most age groups, with cocaine use increasing rapidly. Some of this increase can be attributed to drug traffickers paying their Guatemalan colleagues with cocaine for transportation and protection services, and some of that cocaine is sold on the local market. This, coupled with a growing crack cocaine problem, portends a devastating Guatemalan consumption problem with a concomitant destabilizing increase in common crime.


Internet research assisted by Denise J. Ventura

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