Universal Periodic Review
Second session meeting highlights
6 May 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Guatemala this afternoon, during which 44 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.
Presenting the national report of Guatemala was LARS HENRIK PIRA, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala, who noted that the implementation and fulfilment of Guatemala’ human rights commitments had been complicated by the former internal conflict; nevertheless progress in the field of human rights had been progressing in the country slowly but surely. The State gave priority to human rights evidenced through its public policies and determined political will. Ever since the signing of the peace agreement in 1996, the State been committed to building a just, equitable and participatory nation. The Government had been mindful of the need to continue strengthening its justice system so as to ensure that human rights violations committed by any person could be justly punished and concerted efforts had been made to combat all forms of impunity. The State had also enhanced its efforts to increase human rights training for judges. Moreover, the Ministry of the Interior was continuing to train the national police on human rights and efforts had been made to eliminate corruption within the police force. There was a system of mobile judges to extend coverage to apply prompt and effective justice essentially to people living in rural areas.
Among the specific measures taken were those to combat organized crime and drug trafficking and to enhance the State’s witness protection programme, the Vice Minister added. It was noted that an international commission against impunity was set up, under United Nations auspices, which aimed to investigate the actions, structures and operations of illegal bodies and clandestine units operating outside the law and to break up such networks. The commission cooperated with other governmental offices. Other notable measures included the enactment of a law in 2006 aimed to assist persons deprived of legal assistance and the law on femicide and violence against women. It was also recalled that the State had ratified the Convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances and that a law was recently elaborated to facilitate the search for missing or disappeared persons. An institutional commission was established to fight corruption to be chaired by the Vice President of Guatemala. In 2005 a framework law on the peace agreement was enacted which meant the agreement became a part of the national laws of Guatemala. Through the national compensation programmes, economic reparation had been extended to human rights victims during the internal conflict. A national compensation law was also being drafted.
The Vice-Minister noted that a Directorate for Human Rights and Indigenous Rights was established within the National Human Rights Commission aimed to strengthen the national policy on human rights. In the field of economic, social and cultural rights, there was a presidential commission on discrimination against indigenous persons. Moreover, a Presidential Secretariat for Indigenous Persons was in place, as were a series national policies and programmes aimed to protect the rights of indigenous persons. The socio economic situation in the country had become more acute largely due to a shortage of basic grains and the increasing price of oil. This situation had affected the most vulnerable part of the population and the State deemed this situation a matter of national emergency. Some 195 million dollars was earmarked to address the special needs as a result of this situation. Guatemala had supported the call for a special session of the Human Rights Council to address the current food crisis. Food security schemes for children were also in place.
Responding to questions posed in advance, a member of the delegation stated that, with regard to the issue of human rights defenders, there had been a strengthening of the national commission of human rights to enhance protection measures for human rights defenders. Concerning sexual abuse and domestic violence, Guatemala was developing a policy of training for national police on domestic violence and sexual violence in particular. Victims’ protection programmes were being introduced and programmes for violence against women were in place. As to the protection of children and child pornography and prostitution, Guatemala ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child addressing these issues which led to a the adoption of a law on adoption; a specific unit had also been created to address issues of human trafficking aimed to prevent such crimes. In order to protect the rights of indigenous persons a series of polices and programmes had been adopted in this regard. Concerning the death penalty, an initiative had been made by the President to allow for clemency and a number of prison sentences had been commuted.
During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the signing of the peace agreement of 1996 and the efforts taken by the State since to improve the situation of human rights in the country; the various efforts of the State to combat impunity in Guatemala and the creation of the International Commission Against Impunity; national witness protection programmes; enhancing access to justice; the establishment of the national commission for domestic violence; the adoption on the law on femicide and violence against women; the focus of the State on the right to health; the State’s broad engagement with international mechanisms for the protection of human rights, including its support to the Human Rights Council; the Government’s efforts to support the advancement of the rights of indigenous peoples; and efforts to enhance human rights training for law enforcements official and police officers.
Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related the functioning of the Office of the Ombudsman, the Presidential Secretariat for Women and the Office of the Indigenous Women’s Rights; efforts to improve the protection of the rights of indigenous people and indigenous women, in particular; the steps taken to ensure the application of the law on femicide and violence against women; efforts to ensure more participation by women in political life; how the Government was addressing the persistence and pervasive patriarchal attitudes deeply rooted in the stereotyping of women’s and men’s roles in society and the success of policies relating to this issue; the main steps taken in the promotion and fulfilment of the rights of the child; the State’s policy on corporal punishment; measures being take to improve the situation on undernourished children; measures taken to address the low school attendance in rural regions and among indigenous communities; efforts to combat trafficking in children; how the Government was addressing the issue of street children and the underlying issues of poverty eradication and the absence of education and steps to realize the promotion of the rights of the child, especially the improvement of the right to education and the right to life; and measures taken to combat the phenomenon of street gangs, such as the "Maras".
Several delegations posed questions concerning the situation of human rights defenders. In particular additional information was sought on the measures to safeguard and improvement the protection of human rights defenders; and steps taken to implement the recommendations of the Special Representative on the situation of human rights defenders. Other issues raised related to the achievements of the International Commission Against Impunity; the effects of measures to reduce police brutality; the reform of the police force; the present stage of the State’s commitment to the Convention Against Torture; and the explanation as to why only one per cent of murders were solved in Guatemala, according to NGO reports.
Other issues pertained to access to justice by indigenous peoples; steps being taken to ensure that indigenous peoples had access to their land and that their right be heard before exploiting traditional indigenous land; steps taken to better implement the Agreement on Identity and Rights of Indigenous People; the human rights situation of migrants; specific measures adopted to ensure the protection of people persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity; steps taken to operationalize and implement the National Action Plan on Human Rights; information on the practical implementation of the National Reparation Programme for the victims of war; programmes in place to ensure that the Government dealt with the challenges of improving the illiteracy rate; and measures to combat human trafficking.
A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To develop a national policy for the protection of human rights defenders and to adopt ensure that human rights defenders operated in an enabling environment; to take all necessary steps to provide for and ensure the personal security of human rights defenders; witnesses, court officials, prosecutors, and others who were subjected to threats and other abuses connected with their efforts to support human rights and democracy; to end impunity for attacks against human rights defenders and against persons because of their sexual orientation which included specific education and awareness raising programmes for law enforcement, judicial and other authorities, which focused on protection of enjoyment of human rights by persons of minority sexual orientation and gender identity; to put an end to impunity for reported attacks against member of marginalized groups; to investigate and prosecute cases of disappearances and torture; to continue its efforts in respect of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; and to ensure effective and independent investigations into all reports of torture and extrajudicial executions by members of the security forces.
Other recommendations included: To ensure the effective participation of indigenous peoples in public and political life; to follow up to the recommendations of CERD towards enhancing the equal protection of indigenous peoples; to accelerate the poverty alleviation programme with a view to addressing the uneven distribution of wealth, access to health and the high level of social exclusion of indigenous people ad peoples of African descent; to ensure that the right of indigenous peoples be heard before traditional indigenous land was being exploited; to strengthen efforts to fully implement the observations adopted by the Committee o the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in March 2006; to follow up to the recommendations of CEDAW [Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women] to allow women to fully participate in decision making process; to fully implement the new law on femicide and to ensure that the physical security of women was protected by implementing CEDAW’s recommendations; to elaborate and enact discriminatory provisions and strengthen the protection of the rights of women; to prohibit corporal punishment; and to take efforts to increase the levels of illiteracy in the country.
Additional recommendations included: To support and strengthen national human rights institutions and create new ones if the need arose; to ratify the Statute for the International Criminal Court; to ratify the Convention on Disabled Persons; to increase the coordination between the police and the Office of the Attorney General; to abolish the death penalty in its entirety; that civil society be fully involved in the follow up to the Universal Periodic Review session; to increase the number of police officers in conjunction with capacity development of the Public Prosecutor’s Office; the reform of the law on Radio Communication to guarantee the proper and free functioning of local radios; and that the Human Rights Council establish a subsidiary mechanism to review the most appropriate human rights responses in terms of sparing losses of lives of exit strategies from crises in situation whose circumstances may vary widely from one to another.
Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Mexico, India, Slovenia, Canada, Malaysia, Cuba, Brazil, the Russian Federation, China, the Netherlands, France, Azerbaijan, Germany, Peru, South Africa, Ukraine, Switzerland, Nicaragua, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Italy, Bangladesh, Uruguay and Jordan.
Observer States participating in the discussion were Algeria, Colombia, Chile, Portugal, Luxembourg, Venezuela, Austria, El Salvador, Ireland, the Czech Republic, the United States, Denmark, Finland, Australia, Tunisia, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and Norway.
The 18-person delegation of Guatemala consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Human Rights Commission of the National Congress, the National Congress Commission for Women, the Presidential Commission on the Executive Policy for Human Rights, the Secretariat for Peace, the Office of the National Attorney General the Secretariat of the Pubic Ministry and the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Guatemala are Gabon, Slovenia and Brazil.
In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Guatemala can be found here.
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Guatemala on Thursday, 8 May.
When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Benin after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of the Working Group on Gabon.
Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.
To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp