Guatemala: UN rights chief underlines need to address rule of law challenges

16 March 2012

Guatemala has made progress in the fight against impunity and human rights abuses, but the country must tackle the tremendous challenges that remain to become a State based on democracy and the rule of law, says the United Nations human right chief.

“I have seen many encouraging signs concerning the direction Guatemala is taking forward to address staggering impunity,” Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, told a news conference in Guatemala City yesterday at the end of a five-day visit to the country.

She commended the country for ratifying the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court (ICC), saying the decision had sent a clear message that impunity for serious crimes – past, present or future – will not be tolerated.

“It is also heartening that in the past two years, for the first time, cases of past human rights violations have been brought to justice, such as the convictions for the Dos Erres massacre, and ongoing prosecutions on genocide charges in the Ixil region, including the indictment of a former de facto president,” she said.

Ms. Pillay deplored high levels of insecurity, crime and violence in Guatemala and condemned the brutality of organized criminal syndicates, but stressed that their heinous actions do not give the State the excuse to operate outside the rule of law.

“To fight insecurity, violence and crime, we must first look at their root causes, and then adopt a comprehensive strategy, encompassing prevention of violence, control and sanction, rehabilitation and protection of groups at risk, firmly based on the human rights of everyone,” she said.

On the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Pillay said Guatemala continues to face the challenge of overcoming racism and structural discrimination.

“Everywhere I went, I was made aware of increased divisions, and I see possibilities for dialogue and rapprochement growing fainter and fainter as time goes by. Although indigenous peoples constitute the majority of the population, they continue to be subject to exclusion and denial of their human rights,” she said.

She said she was particularly concerned over the impact of economic investment projects on the rights of indigenous peoples, recalling that Guatemala was a key promoter of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and one of its first signatories.

The Declaration underscores that indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, Ms. Pillay stressed. She said she had also heard reports of legal proceedings against individuals protesting legitimately in defence of their rights.

She voiced concern that 15 years after the signing of peace accords to end violence in Guatemala, their provisions had not been complied with. “I want to emphasize that these accords are still valid, and contain the agenda which Guatemala needs to follow to achieve lasting peace, development and reconciliation within a framework of the rule of law and respect for the rights of all Guatemalans,” she said.

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