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2009. Students in Guatemala City protesting against impunity during the Huelga de Dolores en Guatemala City. Photo: adels/Wikipedia

Guatemala: While the public clamors for democracy, the Congress is promoting impunity

07 October, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

As we begin October 2023, Guatemala’s post-electoral political landscape remains unresolved and increasingly complex, casting uncertainty over the immediate future.

While the Public Prosecutor’s Office and certain judges persist with opaque and intimidating actions targeting not only political parties but the entire electoral institution, numerous social organizations have taken to the streets demanding the preservation of the rule of law. Simultaneously, the primary business organization successfully petitioned the Constitutional Court for a resolution to prevent the interruption of public circulation (potentially setting the stage for widespread repression). Amidst these events, the current deputies, who remain in office until January, are not idle.

Towards the end of September 2023, it came to light that the Guatemalan Congress had reintroduced initiative number 6099, known as the “Strengthening for Peace Law,” which had been debated by the full Congress on November 22, 2022.

The initiative explicitly seeks to grant total impunity to all members of the State security forces for any potential crimes committed during the internal armed conflict, including those who have previously faced prosecution and trial for such actions.

This initiative, supported by numerous deputies associated with the so-called “pact of the corrupt,” reveals the dominant narrative and interests of the most reactionary and anti-democratic sectors in Guatemalan society.

It includes a lengthy section titled “Historical Background,” which presents a skewed perspective on events, omitting critical references to multiple historical studies, including reports by the United Nations Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) and the Inter-Diocesan Project for the Recovery of Historical Memory (REMHI) published between 1998 and 1999. These reports provide comprehensive information and analysis, supported by credible testimonies, shedding light on Guatemala’s history.

The initiative fails to acknowledge the atrocities committed by the army, such as the rapes and sexual slavery of women and girls, torture, extrajudicial executions, and the abduction of children for trafficking. Some of these grave human rights violations have been recognized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has condemned Guatemala for its actions in multiple cases.

To substantiate the initiative, the National Reconciliation Law contained in Decree 145-96 is criticized for alleged “legal loopholes” and questioned in its execution.

The initiative argues that the law has allowed judges to interpret it based on ideological tendencies, resulting in harm to members of the Guatemalan Army and other State security forces currently facing trial for actions regulated by law.

In light of this background, the initiative proposes total amnesty, employing the concept of “extinction of criminal responsibility and the extinction of the sentence,” even for those who have already been tried and are serving sentences.

Article 1 of the proposal states: Article 1. Absolute and comprehensive amnesty is granted for all individuals who, through action or omission while serving in the Guatemalan Army, other State security forces, or subversive groups, were involved in alleged political or common crimes during the entire duration of the internal armed confrontation from November 13, 1960, until its conclusion with the signing of a Firm and Lasting Peace Agreement on December 29, 1996.

Article 4 establishes: For individuals convicted and serving final sentences for crimes committed within the context of the internal armed confrontation, the Enforcement Judge, acting ex officio or upon the request of the interested party through their defense lawyer, must conduct a hearing to order the immediate release of the sentenced person and the cessation of any other coercive measures imposed.

Numerous legal, national, and international arguments, as well as clear social reasons, stand against this initiative. Passing and implementing such laws necessitate not only control over the legislative branch but also over the judicial system, disregarding fundamental democratic and institutional principles.

The talk of a “Corrupt People’s Pact” in Guatemala is exemplified by such initiatives, shedding light on the motives behind the obsessive opposition to accepting the August electoral results, with certain sectors keen on retaining power in the same hands as before.