Events of 2011
World Report Chapter: Guatemala
Guatemala’s weak and corrupt law enforcement institutions have proved incapable of containing the powerful organized crime groups and criminal gangs that contribute to one of the highest violent crime rates in the Americas. Illegal armed groups are believed to be responsible for ongoing threatsand targeted attacks against civil society actors and justice officials.
Although impunity remains the norm for human rights violations, there were significant advances for accountability in 2011, including convictions of four former officers for a notorious massacre in 1982 and the first arrest of a top-ranking official for human rights violations.
Public Security, Police Conduct, and the CriminalJustice System
Illegal armed groups and criminal gangs significantly contribute to violence and intimidation, which they use to further political objectives and illicit economic interests, including drug-trafficking.
Powerful and well-organized youth gangs, including the Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, have also contributed to escalating violence. The gangs use lethal violence against those whodefy their control, including gang rivals, former gang members, individuals who collaborate with police, and those who refuse to pay extortion money. They are believed responsible for the widespread killing of bus drivers targeted for extortion. According to local media, 183 bus drivers or their assistants were murdered in 2010, and 105 in the first eight months of 2011.
Mexican drug cartels, inparticular the Zetas, have added to violence and lawlessness in Guatemala. In December 2010 President Alvaro Colom declared a state of siege and martial law in Alta Verapaz, a department near Guatemala’s northern border with Mexico, claiming the Zetas’s criminal activities had made the region ungovernable. The state of siege, which was renewed for a further month in January, enabled the securityforces to prohibit meetings and carry out arrests and searches without warrants. However, violence by the Zetas continued. In May 2011 the group claimed responsibility for a massacre at a ranch in neighboring Petén department, in which 27 peasants were murdered in cold blood and all but two were beheaded.
Guatemala’s justice system has proved largely incapable of curbing violence and containingcriminal gangs and mafias. According to official figures, there was 95 percent impunity for homicides in 2010. Deficient and corrupt prosecutorial and judicial systems and police, as well as the absence of an effective witness protection system, all contribute to Guatemala’s alarmingly low prosecution rate. In addition, members of the judicial system are routinely subject to attacks and intimidation.Despite these enormous obstacles, there were a number of successful prosecutions in 2011, due partly to the work of Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, and the key role played by the United Nations’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
Police have used repressive measures to curb gang activity, including arbitrary detentions and extrajudicial killings. As part of aninvestigation into police involvement in extrajudicial executions in 2010 and 2011, CICIG assisted in the prosecution of two former members of the National Police’s criminal investigation division, who were sentenced in June 2011 to 25 years in prison for the enforced disappearance of an alleged extortionist in October 2009.
Accountability for Past Abuses
Guatemala continues to suffer the effects ofits 36-year civil war. A UN-sponsored Commission on Historical Clarification (CEH) estimated that as many as 200,000 people were killed during the conflict. The CEH attributed 93 percent of the human rights abuses it documented to state security forces and concluded the military had carried out “acts of genocide.”
Very few of those responsible for the abuses have been prosecuted. However, 2011...