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IACHR Asks Guatemalan State Not to Amend National Reconciliation Law

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is concerned about a legislative initiative that seeks to amend Guatemala’s National Reconciliation Law. That initiative, which is currently being debated in Congress, fails to comply with the country’s international commitments regarding memory, truth and justice, particularly concerning amnesties.

On January 17, 2019, the Chamber of Deputies passed Bill 5377, which seeks to amend Decree 145-96, the country’s National Reconciliation Law. That 1996 law includes the option of an amnesty for common crimes, but it expressly excludes crimes like genocide, forced disappearance and torture. The proposed amendment that is currently being debated in Congress extends amnesty to such crimes. In particular, it includes the option of an amnesty and dismissal both for former members of the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (UNRG, by its Spanish acronym) and for State authorities who may have been tried for or convicted of serious human rights violations, whether as perpetrators, accomplices or accessories, and it also says beneficiaries must be released within 24 hours. Similarly, the initiative proposes a definitive dismissal of all charges against people who committed crimes held in the country’s Penal Code and other legal texts in force on December 27, 1996, as long as such crimes were perpetrated to anticipate, prevent, persecute or repress actions by the URNG and its member units.

The IACHR and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have repeatedly stated that dispositions of any nature—whether legislative, administrative or any other—that prevent investigation and punishment of anyone responsible for serious human rights violations are incompatible with States’ obligations in the field of human rights. The Commission (in its reports) and the Inter-American Court (in repeated decisions) have both said that amnesty and statute of limitations dispositions and exemptions from responsibility that seek to preclude investigation and punishment for anyone responsible for serious human rights violations—including torture, summary, extrajudicial or arbitrary executions, and forced disappearance—are inadmissible, as violations of inalienable rights recognized by international human rights law.

The Commission stresses that crimes against humanity have a series of features that set them apart from other crimes, based on the ends and goals they seek. Such features include the concept of humanity as the victim and the aim of ensuring non-repetition of attacks against democracy and of unforgettable atrocities.

In this context, Commissioner Antonia Urrejola Noguera, rapporteur in charge of the Unit on Memory, Truth and Justice, noted that “endorsing amnesties in cases of serious human rights violations not only contravenes inter-American standards and jurisprudence, but also, in particular, it entails new, additional suffering for victims and their families.” The IACHR’s rapporteur for Guatemala, Esmeralda Arosemena de Troitiño, said: “The Commission stresses its historical commitment to victims and to anyone fighting impunity.”

Finally, the IACHR encourages and supports all democratic groups in the country in their efforts to fight impunity, and it remains committed to further monitoring the struggle for memory, truth and justice in Guatemala. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights urges the Guatemalan State to refrain from amending the National Reconciliation Law.

[Source: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Press Release 14/19, Washington, D.C., 25Jan19]

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