MEMORY OF SILENCE
REPORT OF THE COMMISSION FOR HISTORICAL CLARIFICATION,
CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
II. Human rights violations, acts of violence and assignment of responsibility
Human rights violations committed by the State
81. The State must also respond for breaches in the legal obligation to investigate, try and punish human right violations, even when these were not committed directly by state agents or when the State may not have had initial knowledge of them.
82. Human rights violations and acts of violence attributable to actions by the State represent 93% of those registered by the CEH; they demonstrate that human rights violations caused by state repression were repeated, and that, although varying in intensity, were prolonged and continuous, being especially severe from 1978 to 1984, a period during which 91% of the violations documented by the CEH were committed. Eighty-five percent of all cases of human rights violations and acts of violence registered by the CEH are attributable to the Army, acting either alone or in collaboration with another force, and 18%, to the Civil Patrols, which were organised by the armed forces.
Anti-communism and the National Security Doctrine
84. During most of the internal armed confrontation, attempts to form organisations for the defence of human rights resulted in the elimination of their leaders. In the 1980s, the appearance of new groups of human rights defenders in various areas was received by the State with intensive repression which resulted in the murder or disappearance of many of their members. Campaigns directed towards discrediting this type of organisation, presenting them as “subversive”, were one of the constants of the repression.
Massacres and the devastation of the Mayan
86. These massacres and the so-called scorched earth operations, as planned by the State, resulted in the complete extermination of many Mayan communities, along with their homes, cattle, crops and other elements essential to survival. The CEH registered 626 massacres attributable to these forces.
87. The CEH has noted particularly serious cruelty in many acts committed by agents of the State, especially members of the Army, in their operations against Mayan communities. The counterinsurgency strategy not only led to violations of basic human rights, but also to the fact that these crimes were committed with particular cruelty, with massacres representing their archetypal form. In the majority of massacres there is evidence of multiple acts of savagery, which preceded, accompanied or occurred after the deaths of the victims. Acts such as the killing of defenceless children, often by beating them against walls or throwing them alive into pits where the corpses of adults were later thrown; the amputation of limbs; the impaling of victims; the killing of persons by covering them in petrol and burning them alive; the extraction, in the presence of others, of the viscera of victims who were still alive; the confinement of people who had been mortally tortured, in agony for days; the opening of the wombs of pregnant women, and other similarly atrocious acts, were not only actions of extreme cruelty against the victims, but also morally degraded the perpetrators and those who inspired, ordered or tolerated these actions.
88. During the armed confrontation the cultural rights of the Mayan people were also violated. The Army destroyed ceremonial centres, sacred places and cultural symbols. Language and dress, as well as other elements of cultural identification, were targets of repression. Through the militarization of the communities, the establishment of the PAC and the military commissioners, the legitimate authority structure of the communities was broken; the use of their own norms and procedures to regulate social life and resolve conflicts was prevented; the exercise of Mayan spirituality and the Catholic religion was obstructed, prevented or repressed; the maintenance and development of the indigenous peoples’ way of life and their system of social organisation was upset. Displacement and refuge exacerbated the difficulties of practising their own culture.
The rape of women
The death squads
93. “Death squads” were also used; these were initially criminal groups made up of private individuals who enjoyed the tolerance and complicity of state authorities. The CEH has arrived at the well-founded presumption that, later, various actions committed by these groups were a consequence of decisions by the Army command, and that the composition of the death squads varied over time as members of the military were incorporated, until they became, in some cases, authentic clandestine military units. Their objective was to eliminate alleged members, allies or collaborators of the “subversives” using the help of civilians and lists prepared by military intelligence. The various names of the better known “death squads”, such as, MANO (National Organised Action Movement), also known as Mano Blanca (White Hand) because of its logo, NOA (New Anti-Communist Organisation), CADEG (Anti-Communist Council of Guatemala), Ojo por Ojo (Eye for an Eye) and Jaguar Justiciero (Jaguar of Justice) and ESA (Secret Anti-Communist Army), were simply the transient names of the clandestine military units whose purpose was to eliminate the alleged members, allies or collaborators of “subversion”.
The denial of justice
95. Acts and omissions by the judicial branch, such as the systematic denial of habeas corpus, continuous interpretation of the law favourable to the authorities, indifference to the torture of detainees and limitations on the right to defence demonstrated the judges’ lack of independence. These constituted grave violations of the right to due process and serious breaches of the State’s duty to investigate, try and punish human rights violations. The few judges that kept their independence and did not relinquish the exercise of their tutelary functions, were victims of repressive acts, including murder and threats, especially during the 1980s.
96. The CEH concludes that the rights to life and due process of those citizens that the Government of Guatemala put on trial in the Courts of Special Jurisdiction, were also seriously violated, particularly in the numerous cases in which the death penalty was imposed.
Forced and discriminatory military recruitment
The legal order affected
99. The gravity of this conclusion is accentuated by the fact that some of these violations, especially arbitrary executions, forced disappearances and torture, were repeated throughout the entire internal armed confrontation, at some stages becoming systematic. This obliges the authorities of the Guatemalan State to accept historical responsibility for these violations before the Guatemalan people and the international community.
100. As regards international humanitarian law, which contains the obligatory rules for all armed conflicts (including non-international armed conflicts), the CEH concludes that Guatemalan State agents, the majority of whom were members of the Army, flagrantly committed acts prohibited by Common Article III of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, particularly with respect to attacks against life and bodily integrity, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture and torment, the taking of hostages, attacks on personal dignity, and particularly humiliating and degrading treatment, including the rape of women. Therefore, the State of Guatemala, which was legally obliged to comply with these precepts and prohibitions throughout the confrontation, is responsible for these infractions.
101. The CEH concludes that the State of Guatemala, especially its Army, failed to make the distinction that applies in all types of armed conflicts, between combatants and non-combatants, that is, between those who participate directly in hostilities resorting to arms for self-defence or for neutralising the enemy, and the civilian population that does not take part in hostilities, including those who previously participated, but no longer do so because they were wounded, became sick or laid down their arms.
102. Neither did the State of Guatemala respect the distinction between military targets and civilian property, proceeding to destroy, at great harm to the people, private and community property which, due to their nature, location, objective or use, were not military targets. Evidence of violations of these principles can be found in the multiple scorched earth operations and in registered cases of property destruction, as well as in the destruction of the collectively worked fields and harvests, which was a specific objective of the military plan, Firmness 83-1.
103. Moreover, the CEH concludes that the events presented in this report are grave violations of common principles that unite international human rights law and international humanitarian law. These principles were an historical demand of peoples who have faced unacceptable acts of barbarity during the twentieth century, events which never should be forgotten or repeated.
104. Finally, the CEH concludes that all these actions openly violate the rights guaranteed by the different constitutions of Guatemala in existence during the internal armed confrontation.
106. The responsibility for a large part of these violations, with respect to the chain of military command as well as the political and administrative responsibility, reaches the highest levels of the Army and successive governments.
107. The excuse that lower ranking Army commanders were acting with a wide margin of autonomy and decentralisation without orders from superiors, as a way of explaining that “excesses” and “errors” were committed, is an unsubstantiated argument according to the CEH’s investigation. The notorious fact that no high-commander, officer or person in the mid-level command of the Army or state security forces was tried or convicted for violation of human rights during all these years reinforces the evidence that the majority of these violations were the result of an institutional policy, thereby ensuring impenetrable impunity, which persisted during the whole period investigated by the CEH.
Acts of genocide
109. Article II of this instrument defines the crime of genocide and its requirements in the following terms: “... genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a) Killing members of the group;On this basis, the two fundamental elements of the crime are: intentionality and that the acts committed include at least one of the five previously cited in the above article.
110. After studying four selected geographical regions, (Maya-Q’anjob’al and Maya-Chuj, in Barillas, Nentón and San Mateo Ixtatán in North Huehuetenango; Maya-Ixil, in Nebaj, Cotzal and Chajul, Quiché; Maya-K’iche’ in Joyabaj, Zacualpa and Chiché, Quiché; and Maya-Achi in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz) the CEH is able to confirm that between 1981 and 1983 the Army identified groups of the Mayan population as the internal enemy, considering them to be an actual or potential support base for the guerrillas, with respect to material sustenance, a source of recruits and a place to hide their members. In this way, the Army, inspired by the National Security Doctrine, defined a concept of internal enemy that went beyond guerrilla sympathisers, combatants or militants to include civilians from specific ethnic groups.
111. Considering the series of criminal acts and human rights violations which occurred in the regions and periods indicated and which were analysed for the purpose of determining whether they constituted the crime of genocide, the CEH concludes that the reiteration of destructive acts, directed systematically against groups of the Mayan population, within which can be mentioned the elimination of leaders and criminal acts against minors who could not possibly have been military targets, demonstrates that the only common denominator for all the victims was the fact that they belonged to a specific ethnic group and makes it evident that these acts were committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part” these groups (Article II, first paragraph of the Convention).
112. Among acts aimed at the destruction of Mayan groups, identified by the Army as the enemy, “killings” deserve special mention (Article II.a of the Convention), the most significant of which were the massacres. The CEH has verified that in the four regions studied, between 1981 and 1983, agents of the State committed killings which were the most serious acts in a series of military operations directed against the non-combatant civilian population. In accordance with the testimonies and other elements of evidence collected, the CEH has established that, both regular and special Army forces, as well as Civil Patrols and military commissioners, participated in those killings characterised as massacres. In many cases, the survivors identified those responsible for directing these operations as being the commanders of the nearest municipal military outposts.
113. The analysis of the different elements used by the CEH, proves that in the above-mentioned cases, the aim of the perpetrators was to kill the largest number of group members possible. Prior to practically all these killings, the Army carried out at least one of the following preparatory actions: carefully gathering the whole community together; surrounding the community; or utilising situations in which the people were gathered together for celebrations or market days.
114. In the analysis of these events in the four regions, the CEH has established that along with the killings, which in themselves were sufficient to eliminate the groups defined as the enemy, members of the Army or of Civil Patrols systematically committed acts of extreme cruelty, including torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading actions, the effect of which was to terrorise the population and destroy the foundations of social cohesion, particularly when people were forced to witness or execute these acts themselves.
115. The CEH concludes that, among those acts perpetrated with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, numerous Mayan groups, are included many actions committed which constituted “serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” (Article II.b of the Convention). The resulting destruction of social cohesion of the group, typical of these acts, corresponds to the intent to annihilate the group, physically and spiritually.
116. The investigation has also proved that the killings, especially those that were indiscriminate massacres, were accompanied by the razing of villages. This was most significant in the Ixil region, where between 70% and 90% of villages were razed. Also, in the north of Huehuetenango, in Rabinal and in Zacualpa, whole villages were burnt, properties were destroyed and the collectively worked fields and harvests were also burnt, leaving the communities without food.
117. Furthermore, in the four regions which were the object of this special investigation, people were also persecuted during their displacement. The CEH has established that in the Ixil area, displaced persons were bombed. Similarly, those who were captured or gave themselves up voluntarily continued to be the object of violations, in spite of being under the Army’s absolute control.
118. The CEH concludes that some of the acts mentioned in the two previous paragraphs constitute the “deliberate infliction on the group of conditions of life” that could bring about, and in several cases did bring about, “its physical destruction in whole or in part” (Article II. c. of the Convention).
119. The CEH’s analysis demonstrates that in the execution of these acts, the national military structures were co-ordinated to allow for the “effective” action of soldiers and members of Civil Patrols in the four regions studied. Military plan Victory 82, for example, established that “the mission is to annihilate the guerrillas and parallel organisations”; the military plan Firmness 83-1 determined that the Army should support “their operations with a maximum of PAC members, in order to raze all collective works...”
120. The above has convinced the CEH that acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, numerous groups of Mayans were not isolated acts or excesses committed by soldiers who were out of control, nor were they the result of possible improvisation by mid-level Army command. With great consternation, the CEH concludes that many massacres and other human rights violations committed against these groups obeyed a higher, strategically planned policy, manifested in actions which had a logical and coherent sequence.
121. Faced with several options to combat the insurgency, the State chose the one that caused the greatest loss of human life among non-combatant civilians. Rejecting other options, such as a political effort to reach agreements with disaffected non-combatant civilians, moving of people away from the conflict areas, or the arrest of insurgents, the State opted for the annihilation of those they identified as their enemy.
122. In consequence, the CEH concludes that agents of the State of Guatemala, within the framework of counterinsurgency operations carried out between 1981 and 1983, committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people which lived in the four regions analysed. This conclusion is based on the evidence that, in light of Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the killing of members of Mayan groups occurred (Article II.a), serious bodily or mental harm was inflicted (Article II.b) and the group was deliberately subjected to living conditions calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part (Article II.c). The conclusion is also based on the evidence that all these acts were committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part” groups identified by their common ethnicity, by reason thereof, whatever the cause, motive or final objective of these acts may have been (Article II, first paragraph).
123. The CEH has information that similar acts occurred and were repeated in other regions inhabited by Mayan people.
125. In relation to crimes of genocide, the CEH concludes that the State of Guatemala failed to comply with the obligation to investigate and punish acts of genocide committed in its territory, thus contravening the content of Articles IV and VI of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which specifies that those who have committed genocide, whether they be heads of state, public officials or private individuals be judged by the competent courts of the State where the act was committed.
126. In general, the State of Guatemala holds undeniable responsibility for human rights violations and infringements of international humanitarian law. The Chiefs of Staff for National Defence (Estado Mayor de la Defensa Nacional) was, within the Army, the highest authority responsible for these violations. Nevertheless, regardless of who occupied positions within this body, political responsibility rests with the successive governments. For this reason, the President of the Republic, as Commander in Chief of the Army and Minister of Defence, should be subject to the same criteria of responsibility, given that national objectives were prepared at the highest level of Government in accordance with the National Security Doctrine. Furthermore, it should also be taken into account that until 1986, nearly all the presidents were high level members of the military, with specific knowledge of military structures and their procedures.
Acts of violence committed by the guerrillas
128. Acts of violence attributable to the guerrillas represent 3% of the violations registered by the CEH. This contrasts with 93% committed by agents of the State, especially the Army. This quantitative difference provides new evidence of the magnitude of the State’s repressive response. However, in the opinion of the CEH, this disparity does not lessen the gravity of the unjustifiable offences committed by the guerrillas against human rights.
130. The arbitrary executions were decided upon at different levels in the organic structure of the guerrilla organisations, very often with the participation of their highest military commanders, and at other times through decisions adopted locally in the presence of delegates from superior levels. Some of the cases documented by the CEH refer to public executions; on other occasions there were no witnesses, the victim’s corpse being abandoned with some reference to the reason for the action.
131. The majority of cases documented by the CEH refer to executions perpetrated as part of the tactics of armed propaganda. Some of these arbitrary executions, particularly of PAC members, military commissioners and other related persons, were the result of what was called “revolutionary terror,” consisting in acts of reprisal for collaboration with the Army, outside all regular combat. Executions were even carried out in the presence of the community, to generate terror and thus force individuals to join the guerrillas.
132. Members of the so-called dominant social class were also victims of arbitrary execution. These were primarily large landowners and businesspeople who the guerrillas included in their broad definition of the enemy.
Forced disappearance and kidnapping
136. Defenceless people were repeatedly kidnapped by the guerrillas for political objectives or for the purpose of obtaining economic support in exchange for the person’s freedom. Those kidnapped were well-known Guatemalan political figures, diplomats or business people. In some cases, including in the case of a foreign ambassador, the persons kidnapped were executed.
The legal framework affected
139. The CEH concludes that the guerrilla groups did not always distinguish, as should be done in all armed conflicts, between combatants and non-combatants, that is, between those who participate directly in hostilities and the civilian population.
140. Neither did the guerrillas observe the customs and rules of warfare that oblige them to distinguish between military targets and civilian property. Offences were committed against private or community property, which because of their nature, location, objective or use did not contribute towards obtaining military advantage, and thus caused unjustified damage to the civilian population.
141. The CEH concludes that the guerrillas, having committed the acts of violence referred to in this section, and infringed the standards of international humanitarian law, violated the principles common to both this law and to international human rights law.
The responsibility of the guerrillas
143. In consequence, the CEH concludes that the superior levels of the organic structure of the guerrillas hold undeniable responsibility for offences against the lives of individuals and other violations of international humanitarian law.
Acts of violence committed by private individuals
145. Many human rights violations were committed in rural areas with the participation of large landowners. Some of these violations were committed jointly with agents of the State, in order to resolve conflicts with peasants by force. On other occasions, although they were committed directly by agents or hired assassins of the State, the motive was to protect the interests of these landowners.
146. In urban areas, diverse human rights violations were committed against trade union members and labour advisors. These were directly perpetrated by agents of the State or persons acting with its protection, tolerance or acquiescence and were based on close co-operation between powerful business people and security forces. These acts were committed in order to protect business interests, in accordance with openly anti-trade union government policies.