GENEVA (11 March 2019) – UN human rights experts* are urging the Congress of Guatemala not to pass a new bill which would set up a general amnesty for serious human rights violations committed during the armed internal conflict.
The bill seeks to amend Guatemala’s National Reconciliation Law which has been the basis of trials involving human rights violations in the country since the peace accords of 1996, and would establish an automatic mechanism for extinguishing the criminal responsibility of all those responsible for serious violations of human rights committed during that period.
“The approval of these reforms would seriously affect victims’ rights to justice, truth, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition. It could also lead to reprisals and attacks against victims, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, plaintiffs, witnesses, experts and others involved in human rights trials, putting their own safety and that of their families at risk,” the experts said.
“Impunity in relation to such violations can contribute to the repetition of violations and the creation of vicious cycles of violence.
“Amnesties, statutes of limitations and mechanisms that exclude responsibility are incompatible with crimes that represent serious violations of human rights, such as torture, summary executions, forced disappearances and genocide, among others. Failure to investigate and prosecute such violations constitutes a serious breach of international human rights law,” the experts said.
Under the proposed bill, anyone found guilty of committing a crime in the internal armed conflict, including serious human rights violations, would go unpunished. Similarly, anyone previously tried for or involved in criminal proceedings for such acts should be released within 24 hours.
The bill was presented to Congress on 6 November 2017, and discussed in second debate on 6 March 2019. To be approved, it must go through a third debate. Congress could move forward with its approval in the next few days.
The experts expressed deep concern that the measure, known as Bill 5377, would be part of a broader strategy to prevent or reverse the progress made in the fight against impunity for serious human rights violations in Guatemala, which mostly affected indigenous peoples, undermining efforts by the country’s justice system.
The experts have already given a warning in a communication on 6 April 2018, in which they said the adoption of such a bill would constitute a serious setback for the justice system, the rule of law and the fight against impunity for serious human rights violations in Guatemala.
(*) The UN experts: Mr. Fabián Salvioli (Argentina), Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition; The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Ms Agnès Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ms Victoria Tauli Corpuz (The Philippines), Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Mr. Nils Melzer (Switzerland), Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Ms Dubravka Šimonović (Croatia), Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and Ms Cecilia Jiménez-Damary (The Philippines), Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Guatemala
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