GENEVE (20 November 2018) - The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Guatemala on the efforts made by the State party to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture.
Introducing the report, Jorge Luis Borrayo Reyes, President of the Presidential Commission for the Coordination of Executive Policy on Human Rights of Guatemala, informed the Committee that in an effort to harmonize the crime of torture stipulated in the country’s Criminal Code, in December 2018, the Congress would present a bill containing wording in line with articles 1 and 2 of the Convention. The Congressional Human Rights Commission had established a working group with the national mechanism for the prevention of torture to elaborate those changes to the Criminal Code. The national mechanism for the prevention of torture had set up an online system for the submission of anonymous complaints in order to avoid retaliation. The new administration of the mechanism was in dialogue with the National Institute of Forensic Sciences and the General Directorate of the Penitentiary System in order to strengthen efforts to fight torture and ill-treatment. The prison overcrowding stood at 269.66 per cent, but the authorities nevertheless made efforts to guarantee the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, namely through the provision of food rations, heath services, and work and social programmes. In January 2017, the National Plan of Action for the Strengthening of the National Civil Police had entered into force with the aim of improving citizens’ security by recruiting 2,978 new police officers.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts regretted that the criminalization of the crime of torture still had not been brought in line with the Convention provisions, and that the crimes committed by State agents in the exercise of official duty were not considered as crimes of torture. The Experts further inquired about fundamental legal safeguards, complaints against the national police, investigation of complaints of torture and ill-treatment, setup of the national mechanism for the prevention of torture, the strategy to prevent reprisals against persons that the mechanism interviewed, efforts to fight organized crime in Guatemala and to regularize private security companies, protection of refugees and asylum seekers, extradition treaties with other States, training on torture for public servants, compensation for the victims of the internal armed conflict (1960-1996), prison overcrowding, excessive use of pre-trial detention, prison violence, violence against women, trafficking in persons, protection of human rights defenders and journalists, juvenile justice, and children living in substandard conditions in care institutions.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Borrayo Reyes stressed that Guatemala remained determined to meet its obligations stemming from the Convention against Torture. The country had gone through a lot, not only during the internal armed conflict, but also afterwards. Only economic growth and development would ensure respect for human rights.
Jens Modvig, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the diligent replies and reminded it of the possibility to submit additional replies in writing within 48 hours. The Chairperson also reminded the delegation that the Committee would select several recommendations for immediate follow-up.
The delegation of Guatemala consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Presidential Commission for the Coordination of Executive Policy on Human Rights, the Penitentiary System, the National Civil Police, and the Permanent Mission of Guatemala to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 20 November, at 10 a.m. to consider the seventh periodic report of the Netherlands (CAT/C/NLD/7).
The seventh periodic report of Guatemala can be read here: CAT/C/GTM/7.
Presentation of the Report
JORGE LUIS BORRAYO REYES, President of the Presidential Commission on Coordination of Executive Policy on Human Rights of Guatemala, said the delegation would present important advances of the State party in the implementation of the Convention against Torture. In an effort to harmonize the crime of torture stipulated in the country’s Criminal Code, in December 2018, Congress would present a bill containing wording in line with articles 1 and 2 of the Convention. The Congressional Human Rights Commission had established a working group with the national mechanism for the prevention of torture to elaborate those changes to the Criminal Code. Turning to the prison population in Guatemala, Mr. Borrayo Reyes informed that it stood at 24,320 detainees on 30 September 2018, out of which 51.71 per cent were in pre-trial detention, while 48.29 per cent were convicted persons. Men comprised 88.43 per cent, whereas women made up 11.57 per cent of the prison population. Ladinos or mixed-race persons made up 79.55 per cent of the prison population, Mayas made up 13.46 per cent, 1.41 per cent were Xinkas, and 0.11 per cent belonged to Garifuna. The remaining 5.47 per cent did not self-identify. The head of the delegation also informed that as of October 2018, 42 deaths in custody for reasons of violence had been reported, whereas 52 deaths in custody were due to natural causes. The Ministry of Health provided adequate medical treatment for prisoners with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
The prison overcrowding stood at 269.66 per cent, but the authorities nevertheless made efforts to guarantee the rights of persons deprived of their liberty, namely through the provision of food rations, heath services, and work and social programmes. The penitentiary system had 3,157 penitentiary officers, out of which 105 worked in the administration. The Government planned to construct, refurbish and extend detention centres in 2019. In order to reduce prison overcrowding, the authorities were reviewing 1,511 judicial decisions. In terms of the register of complaints against agents of the national police investigated for crimes of torture and ill-treatment, in the period between March 2012 and March 2018, 188 disciplinary measures had been pronounced. The penitentiary system had installed 190 video cameras in 18 detention centres to ensure monitoring. The national mechanism for the prevention of torture had set up an online system for the submission of anonymous complaints in order to avoid retaliation. The new administration of the mechanism was in dialogue with the National Institute of Forensic Sciences and the General Directorate of the Penitentiary System in order to strengthen efforts to fight torture and ill-treatment. The mechanism was also working on ways to analyse and improve the system of visits to detention facilities.
In January 2017, the National Plan of Action for the Strengthening of the National Civil Police had entered into force with the aim of improving citizens’ security by recruiting 2,978 new police officers. As for private security companies, there were 182 registered companies, out of which 128 had fulfilled the necessary conditions. In 2017 and 2018, the judiciary had recorded 27,686 cases of violence against women, out of which 5,944 cases had ended up with sentences for the perpetrators. As of October 2018, there were 307 femicide cases recorded. The Supreme Court had created 29 judicial bodies specialized in the investigation of femicide. To address sexual violence, the authorities had set up a working group for the access of women to justice. The Ministry of Public Health operated 42 clinics to provide specialized care to victims of sexual violence, whereas in 2018 the Ministry of Governance had adopted a protocol for the national police on dealing with victims of sexual violence.
With respect to trafficking in persons, Mr. Borrayo Reyes informed that the Government had conducted various public awareness campaigns and that Guatemala was part of the regional strategy to fight trafficking in persons. In 2018, the authorities had registered 229 complaints of trafficking, resulting in four sentences. As for the issue of disappearances, the Congressional Human Rights Commission had elaborated a bill on the creation of the National Commission for the Search for Disappeared Persons. The bill had been presented on 30 August 2018 and it would be discussed with civil society on 29 November 2018. In terms of compensation to victims of human rights violations, until 9 November 2018, the Government had paid 95.14 per cent of reparations in the case of the Chixoy hydroelectric plant, and it was committed to fulfil its obligations regarding the ruling of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case the Office of the Ombudsperson et al. v. Guatemala regarding the adoption of a comprehensive public policy for the protection of human rights defenders.
Questions by the Country Co-Rapporteurs
DIEGO RODRÍGUEZ-PINZÓN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Guatemala, inquired about the criminalization of the crime of torture, which still had not been brought in line with the Convention provisions. It was also regrettable that crimes committed by State agents in the exercise of official duty were not considered as crimes of torture. What would the State party do to promote the bill on the implementation of the Rome Statute? Could the delegation provide specific legal effects that the bill would have?
What measures had been taken to guarantee that all arrested persons could enjoy fundamental legal safeguards, namely to receive information about the reasons for their detention, access to a lawyer, contact with their family, access to medical examination, and to be immediately brought in front of a judge?
Turning to complaints against the national police, Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón asked how many complaints had been lodged for cases of torture. In many circumstances police officers were not abiding by the guarantees outlined in the law and the Convention. Minors were not immediately presented to a judge and were mistreated, for example their heads were placed in a bag with pepper spray, called “bolsa magica,” and they were given electric shocks. What was the State party doing to stop those practices? Would the State party consider introducing video surveillance in places of detention?
What was the setup of the national mechanism for the prevention of torture? What was being done to ensure that its members were not guilty of conflict of interest, and to ensure that it had sufficient resources to operate independently and efficiently? The Committee had received information about a number of difficulties in the work of the mechanism, notably the lack of public dissemination of its decisions. What had the State party done to rectify the structural flaws in the mechanism’s functioning? Did applicants for its membership have to have training in human rights? How were rapporteurs shortlisted and how was civil society involved in that process? How many reports had the mechanism drafted since it had been created?
Did the national mechanism for the prevention of torture have a strategy to prevent reprisals against persons that it interviewed? Civil society did not seem to have any legal capacity to visit prisons and places of detention. What steps needed to be taken in the short-term to involve civil society in the functioning of the national mechanism for the prevention of torture?
On fighting organized crime in Guatemala, the Country Co-Rapporteur inquired about the involvement of the armed forces in that effort. Had the involvement of the armed forces really come to an end? What concrete measures had been taken to improve the regulation of private security services? A number of private security companies had taken over the responsibilities of the national police, which intimidated citizens. What was the content of training provided to private security guards? How did the State party assess the suitability of private security guards?
As for asylum and the protection of refugees, the new Code of Migration did not embody the principle of non-refoulement. How did the State party ensure that persons risking torture in third countries would not be deported to those countries? What procedures were followed when a person invoked the right to non-refoulement? Could they challenge the deportation decision? Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón also asked for disaggregated data on the number of deported persons. The State party had not provided information about the age and country of origin of asylum seekers and on asylum requests based on the risk of torture.
The Committee had received information about collective expulsions, the return of unaccompanied child migrants without due process, and diplomatic guarantees. What measures had Guatemala adopted to ensure the supervision of the implementation of those diplomatic guarantees? The Committee was also concerned about the situation of migrants from various Latin American countries moving to Mexico and the United States in the so-called “caravan.” It was particularly worried about the situation of young persons, women, children, indigenous peoples, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.
On extradition treaties with other States, Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón asked whether the Convention served as the basis for extradition. Had the State party established a unified register of humanitarian aid?
As for training on torture for public servants, the Country Co-Rapporteur noted that the coverage of courses was extremely low. There was no sustained follow-up to training and capacity-building activities. Could the delegation provide disaggregated statistics on such training during the reporting period? Was provided training specifically geared towards the needs of women, indigenous peoples, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in the context of migration, prisons and juvenile centres? Had the State party elaborated a methodology to assess the efficiency of such training in reducing cases of torture and ill-treatment? Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón also asked about the training provided to judges, prosecutors, medical and forensic personnel.
Turning to compensation, Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón inquired whether the amount of compensation ruled corresponded to the amount paid in cases ruled by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. What was the current status of adoption of the law on enforced disappearances, which had been presented to Congress in 2006? The State party had not provided information about reparations granted to victims of torture and their families by national courts.
As for the victims of the internal armed conflict (1960-1996), the Country Co-Rapporteur asked about the specific measures that had been adopted and had incorporated a cultural and gender aspect. It was important to find out about the type of reparations provided to victims of sexual violence. Many victims could not obtain compensation because of the language barriers, security concerns, or because of the destruction of victim registers during the conflict. Those problems particularly affected indigenous women.
Finally, Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón expressed concern about the recent initiatives in Guatemala that tried to create obstacles to the transitional justice process, namely amendments to the Law on National Reconciliation, which could prevent the trial of persons responsible for the crimes of torture and ill-treatment during the armed conflict.
ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Guatemala, commended the State party’s initiative to adopt the National Prison Reform Policy 2014-2024. What were the budgetary allocations for the prison reform? How many prisons had been constructed or were planned to be constructed according to that document? Did the policy include any changes to the criminal legislation and sanctions?
Moving on to prison conditions, Ms. Racu said that the Committee remained concerned about chronic overcrowding, deteriorating health conditions and prison violence, which included extortion, assaults and sexual harassment. Although designed for 6,800 persons, the prison system currently held 24,386 persons. As in other countries of the region, the high rate of prison overpopulation was due to the State’s “tough on crime” policies, recourse to preventive detention and delays in the justice system.
The average time spent in pre-trial detention was 10 months. Those detainees were not separated from convicted offenders, and there were no appropriate tools to assess the prisoners before admitting them. Police stations served as remand centres and they were not equipped for that purpose. Prison officials reported safety and control problems, including escape attempts, gang fights, and inability to control the flow of contraband goods and fabrication of weapons.
What was the average time that a prisoner could spend in isolation? Was solitary confinement applied to all categories of prisoners? Could the decision on solitary confinement be appealed? As for medical care, Ms. Racu pointed out the high number of drug and alcohol addicted prisoners without access to treatment. Due to prison overcrowding, there was limited access to medication. In addition, there was a lack of medical staff (only 17), whereas the absence of inter-institutional protocols for hospital treatment made the transfer of patients from prisons to hospitals complicated or absent. What was the current ratio of medical doctors to the prison population?
In terms of prison violence and death in custody, Ms. Racu underlined that the fights and violence inside prisons were the main causes of death inside prison facilities. The Human Rights Ombudsman Office had noted that there was no protocol or procedure to deal with deaths in custody. Could the delegation shed more light on the investigation of deaths in custody? How many investigations had been launched and what were their outcomes? What measures had the State party undertaken to prevent incidents among prisoners? Was there any complaint mechanism available to prisoners, including an appeal mechanism for disciplinary sanctions imposed by the prison administration?
Turning to gender-based violence against women, Ms. Racu welcomed the creation of the branch of the Office of the Public Prosecutor with national jurisdiction over femicide, and of the specialized courts on femicide and other forms of violence against women. She pointed out to the high level of femicide, the alarming rates of hate crimes against lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, domestic violence, rape and forced pregnancy, including of girls under 18. There was a low number of prosecutions and sentences imposed were lenient, which resulted in systemic impunity. What was the meaning of “out-of-court resolutions” and how efficient were they? Was there overreliance on conciliation instead of traditional justice mechanisms? Why was the National Coordination Group for the Prevention of Violence against Women paralyzed? What measures had been adopted to strengthen and expand the geographical coverage of specialized courts on femicide?
Turning to trafficking in persons, Ms. Racu highlighted the reduced capacity to identify victims, the inability to address the situation in public shelters, lack of specialist attention, and the absolute lack of support for adult victims. Victims were only given emergency care and very precarious support. What measures had been adopted by the State party to improve the rehabilitation of victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation during the reporting period? The Country Co-Rapporteur further noted that there was no training on the prevention of trafficking provided to various law enforcement bodies, nor nation-wide awareness raising campaigns.
With respect to the investigation of complaints of torture and ill-treatment, Ms. Racu asked about the status of the 71 complaints of torture and related offences received in 2015 and 2016. How many of them had resulted in investigations, prosecutions and punishments? The percentage of complaints that resulted in criminal investigation remained extremely low. Did the national mechanism for the prevention of torture have the power to conduct independent investigations of torture and ill-treatment?
As for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists, there was a problem of continuous threats, stigmatization, intimidation and attacks. The adoption of a comprehensive public policy on the protection of human rights defenders was still pending. The murder of human rights defenders had doubled between 2015 and 2017. Those were mostly murders of defenders belonging to peasant organizations that advocated for access to land and territory. The climate of constant persecution, harassment and criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala, particularly of those belonging to indigenous or rural movements, constituted a level of suffering similar to torture or abuse in both its psychological and physical dimensions.
What were the root causes of such unprecedented violence towards human rights defenders? What happened with the Unit for Analysis of Attacks on Human Rights Defenders? To date, only one known case of torture against human rights defenders had been prosecuted and the perpetrator convicted. What was the number of murders of human rights defenders and journalists that were currently being investigated?
On systemic discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, Ms. Racu reminded of the 2017 cases of killing of transgender women and pointed out that their situation was particularly vulnerable in prisons. What measures had the State party adopted to avoid cruel and inhumane treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.
On juveniles in correctional facilities, the Country Co-Rapporteur inquired about the measures taken by the Government in order to improve their situation and about any developments in the juvenile justice system. The situation of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and violence had led the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to request precautionary measures. There were no comprehensive and effective socio-educational and rehabilitation programmes for adolescents. Juveniles were held together with adults and the vast majority of them joined gangs.
The Committee was also concerned about the large number of children living in substandard conditions in care institutions and it was especially concerned about the fact that the fire at the Virgen de la Asuncion children’s home had resulted in the death of 41 girls who had been locked up in a classroom without any chance to save their lives. Ms. Racu also drew attention to the situation of children with disabilities kept in institutions. Did the Office of the Ombudsperson have access to those institutions and had it made any relevant recommendations?
Guatemala had a high number of enforced disappearances during its internal armed conflict. The Commission for Historical Clarification had recorded 45,000 missing persons and more than 250,000 victims of the conflict. The judgments delivered by the Constitutional Court provided a ray of hope for victims’ families, Ms. Racu noted.
Questions by Other Committee Experts
With respect to the new Migration Code, an Expert asked what the State party intended to do to address the situation of insecurity of migrants traveling in a caravan towards the United States since October 2018.
Speaking of the thousands of Guatemalans who had migrated to the United States to flee inequality and violence, the Experts reminded of the large number of unaccompanied Guatemalan minors seized at the border with the United States. How did the State party ensure that their rights were respected?
Notwithstanding the efforts of the Government to limit the intervention of the armed forces in maintaining public security, it seemed that private security companies were competing with the national police. The problem was that they were connected with organized criminal gangs. The State party needed to do more to safeguard the rule of law.
One Expert noted that persons were admitted to private rehabilitation centres for drug users against their will. How many such centres existed? How did the State oversee the operation of those private centres? The same Expert also called attention to the ill-treatment taking place in psychiatric centres, including shackling, the use of cages, electrocution and solitary confinement.
The emblematic trial of two army officers who had been sentenced to 360 years in prison for abuses against indigenous women during the internal conflict exhibited the State party’s political will to punish torture and ill-treatment, the Experts noted.
What were the reasons behind the high number of reported cases of lynching? Was there any intention to reactivate the Unit for Analysis of Attacks on Human Rights Defenders?
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, asked about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis in prisons, noting that the figures provided by the delegation were rather low considering the general prevalence in the country. Had the prisoners contracted the disease within the prison? Was there a baseline medical examination of all arriving prisoners? The State party had a serious obligation to conduct such screening. Would only 17 medical doctors be able to conduct such screening?
Replies by the Delegation
JORGE LUIS BORRAYO REYES, President of the Presidential Commission for the Coordination of Executive Policy on Human Rights, said that Guatemala had established the National Register of Sexual Offenders in January 2018. Those working with children and adolescents had to present a certificate confirming that they had not been involved in any sex-related offences. As for violence against women, in 2017 the Government had passed the National Strategy for the Prevention of Violence and Crime 2017-2027, which sought to coordinate various institutional and social initiatives in that field. In 2018, the authorities had inaugurated a new centre to provide services to women victims of violence, and they had created 10 bodies in the main national hospitals to prevent revictimization and to ensure 24-hour services. The prosecution had pronounced 12,050 sentences with respect to femicide and violence against women. Mr. Borrayo Reyes clarified that out-of-court resolutions referred to conflict solutions that took place before the intermediate phase of the penal procedure.
As for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, the President of Guatemala had announced at the United Nations General Assembly that he would not extend the mandate of the Commission, which was set to end on 3 September 2019. The mandate of the Commission would be transferred to the Guatemalan authorities. Speaking of training on human rights, Mr. Borrayo Reyes said that the Presidential Commission for Human Rights regularly organized courses on different themes, and in 2017 and 2018 it had organized training on torture for 193 judiciary and penitentiary officials.
In terms of compensation for the human rights violations committed during the internal armed conflict, Mr. Borrayo Reyes informed that between 2015 and 2018, the National Programme of Indemnity had completed 329 exhumations and had offered psychological support to 2,256 persons. As for the payment of compensation, those followed the schedule ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
With respect to the harassment of human rights defenders and journalists, in the period between 2015 and 2018, the authorities had registered 838 complaints, out of which 417 concerned human rights defenders and 421 related to journalists. In 2018, the Presidential Commission for Human Rights had adopted 46 measures ordered by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. On the Unit for Analysis of Attacks on Human Rights Defenders, Mr. Borrayo Reyes clarified that the hotline 1543 remained open for complaints.
The Office of the Prosecutor General had presented two cases of mistreatment in private psychiatric hospitals. Accordingly, relevant authorities had organized several supervisory visits in August and November 2018.
Turning to the so-called “migrant caravan,” the head of the delegation noted that the response of the authorities in Guatemala was immediate. The Presidents of Honduras and Guatemala had met to coordinate a multinational strategy to deal with the regional migratory crisis with their Mexican and El Salvadorian counterparts, as well as with the Vice President of the United States. The Presidents of Guatemala and Honduras had initiated the plan called “safe return” for the nationals of Honduras and Guatemala who wanted to return to their countries of origin voluntarily. As of 20 October 2018, some 2,000 persons had returned, Mr. Borrayo Reyes said.
There was no unified register of complaints by detainees, the delegation said. Three new custodial facilities were planned to be constructed soon in order to better separate detainees. Isolation was not used to discipline detainees. Solitary confinement was not used as a disciplinary sanction against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. In order to prevent the inflow of drugs into detention units, the penitentiary personnel carried out body searches and body scanning. There were psychological programmes to help detainees deal with their sentence and to prevent suicide.
There had been a considerable reduction in the number of juvenile detainees in 2018 – a decrease of 76 per cent in comparison with 2017. The authorities applied the separation of prisoners by gender, age and type of sentence, and they had revised the social reinsertion programme in order to improve the situation of adolescents in conflict with law.
On 17 October 2016, Save the Children Guatemala and the Ministry of Wellbeing had signed a cooperation agreement to develop activities against corporal punishment. A total of 600 children victims from the Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción safehouse had been reintegrated into their biological families in the period between March 2017 and November 2018.
Turning to healthcare services for detainees, the delegation informed that in 2017, 695 detainees had been referred to hospitals, and 542 in 2018. Upon arrival, detainees did not undergo systematic initial examination for HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and hepatitis B; examinations were carried out in line with the symptoms exhibited by detainees.
As for the patients detained at the mental hospital Federico Mora, they received general medical attention and healthcare according to their needs. Convicted patients were separated from regular ones. The Government had adopted a national plan on mental health and a bill on mental health. In 2017 and 2018, the authorities had increased medical staff in mental health institutions, and the authorities were investigating complaints of alleged sexual abuse; in 2018 three such cases had been registered.
The delegation reminded that the National Institute of Forensic Sciences had been created in 2007 in order to conduct the investigation of probable causes of torture and inhumane or degrading treatment. Guatemala had established two inter-institutional protocols to evaluate the situation of persons deprived of their liberty, and it had adopted various basic instruments for the investigation of torture and ill-treatment.
With respect to complaints against the police, the delegation informed that from 2012 to 2018, only three cases of ill-treatment had been registered and that courts had found the accused personnel to be innocent. The National Police Service was also in charge of protecting unaccompanied minors. It applied relevant protocols to avoid lynching and other manifestations of mob justice.
On the reform of the crime of torture, the delegation informed that the Government had set up a working group to amend the penalty for torture and increase it by one third when it involved public officials. The bill would be presented to Parliament in December 2018.
Parliament had recently decided to increase the budget for the national mechanism for the prevention of torture. The mechanism lacked interdisciplinary teams, and it had only one medical doctor. The criteria for the selection of members of the mechanism included being Guatemalan in origin, older age, and professional experience in human rights, the rights of persons deprived of liberty, prevention of torture and ill-treatment, in the criminal investigation and protection of adolescents and juvenile justice, or in the rehabilitation of victims of torture and ill-treatment. Civil society had been involved in the selection of candidates. In 2018, the mechanism had received 99 complaints, carried out 202 visits to places of detention, and had issued 574 recommendations to penitentiary authorities.
Moving on to the Law for the Search of Missing Persons, Victims of Enforced Disappearance and Other Forms of Disappearance, the delegation stated that it had gone through the second reading in February 2016.
JORGE LUIS BORRAYO REYES, President of the Presidential Commission for the Coordination of Executive Policy on Human Rights, stated that the Government of Guatemala would consider making a contribution to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for the Victims of Torture. The Government would also consider a bill on mental health.
Follow-up Questions by Country Co-Rapporteurs
DIEGO RODRÍGUEZ-PINZÓN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Guatemala, noted that there should be statistical follow-up to the funding for fundamental safeguards. Was there any documentary evidence proving that detainees were quickly brought in front of a judge?
How had the State party dealt with the death of a minor in the caravan? What was the access of civil society to detention places? Referring to the children who had survived the tragedy in the Hogar Seguro Virgen, Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón noted that no payments had been made. What information could be provided on the compensation paid?
Mr. Rodríguez-Pinzón asked for more figures on minors in the caravan. He further inquired about the low number of complaints against the police. What happened when a minor was detained? How did police officers fulfil their obligations? How did the State party monitor the activities of private security guards?
The Country Co-Rapporteur expressed concern about the underfunding of the national mechanism for the prevention of torture, and about the lack of an interdisciplinary team. How many people had been killed in the country during the reporting period and did the Government have an effective arms control policy?
The Committee had received information that large-calibre guns had been used by non-law enforcement personnel at the borders of Guatemala. Could the delegation comment on that? Why was it necessary to use an elite army or police eviction unit? Did the State party have protocols for the use of force and firearms?
A former head of the military intelligence had been pardoned despite the genocide against indigenous communities. What was the State party doing in that respect?
ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur for Guatemala, inquired about the material conditions in prisons, budgetary coverage, and the possibility of prisoners to complain against prison guards. What was the staffing level in prisons? Ms. Racu further asked about rehabilitation and social programmes for prisoners.
There was a concern about the absence of appropriate feeding of children under the age of four in prisons. The Committee remained concerned about the lack of screening for diseases among admitted prisoners.
What concrete measures had the State party planned to prevent violence and death in custody? Were there any updated statistics on violence and self-harm? Could the delegation comment on the low level of prosecution of torture-related offences?
What was the current number of investigated murders of human rights defenders and journalists? What were the root causes of the high number of such incidents?
Ms. Racu reminded that the draft Law for the Protection of Life and Family would double the penalties for any forms of abortion. Would the State party consider adopting exceptions to the criminalization of abortion, which were recognized internationally?
Turning to the excessive use of pre-trial detention, the Country Co-Rapporteur said that there seemed to be a general perception of an iron-fist policy towards drug-related crimes.
Ms. Racu reiterated her questions about the number of lynching incidents and measures to prevent them, as well as about the separation of patients at the mental hospital Federico Mora.
Follow-up Questions by Other Committee Experts
An Expert inquired about the pressure put on judges by parliamentary deputies. Many judges did not fully understand what their nomination meant. How could a State based on the rule of law be built in such circumstances?
Another Expert reiterated his question about the potential closure of the private rehabilitation centres for drug users, which held patients against their will. He also asked about unjustified internment in psychiatric hospitals.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, asked whether Guatemala would consider introducing disease screening for newly admitted prisoners.
Replies by the Delegation
JORGE LUIS BORRAYO REYES, President of the Presidential Commission for the Coordination of Executive Policy on Human Rights, explained that the President of Guatemala had decided to end the participation of the army in civilian security affairs; instead the army would maintain security at borders to combat transnational organized crime (drugs, weapons and human traffickers). In 2018, Guatemala had held the first conference of Latin American armies and human rights; the discussions had focused on dealing with unaccompanied minors at borders.
Turning to evictions, the head of the delegation clarified that Guatemala was home to several world heritage sites and it was the Government’s responsibility to report communities which had settled in those areas unlawfully. No eviction could take place without a judicial ruling. The authorities ensured that the rights of evicted persons were not violated; evictions were always orderly.
The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala had put pressure on the appointment of certain judges, and the Guatemalan Government had spoken against such interference into the country’s internal affairs. The main commissioner had been a persona non-grata in the country for more than a year, Mr. Borrayo Reyes noted.
On the 15 survivors of the fire at the Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción safehouse, the delegation stated that the Government would pay them maintenance pensions retroactively as of 15 December 2018. Civil society organizations had the right to carry out inspections of detention of minors. Boys and girls who were victims of sexual violence received a range of social and rehabilitation services.
The delegation did not have information about the death of a child who was part of the migrant caravan because the death had occurred on Mexican territory.
As for the care of pregnant women in prisons, the Ministry of Public Health occasionally sent obstetricians. There had been an initiative to provide dignified sexual and reproductive health services to women seeking abortion, but it had not passed.
The new initiative for the search of missing persons covered all types of disappearances (voluntary and involuntary), including disappearances of migrants.
JORGE LUIS BORRAYO REYES, President of the Presidential Commission for the Coordination of Executive Policy on Human Rights of Guatemala, stated that Guatemala continued to be determined to meet its obligations stemming from the Convention against Torture. The country had gone through a lot, not only during the internal armed conflict, but also afterwards. The Government was trying to heal those wounds and it believed that it was on the right path. Only economic growth and development would ensure respect for human rights. The international community should, thus, understand the authorities’ efforts.
JENS MODVIG, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the diligent replies and reminded the delegation of the possibility to submit additional replies in writing within 48 hours. The Chairperson also reminded the delegation that the Committee would select several recommendations for immediate follow-up.
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