1 March 1999


1 March 1999

Press Briefing



Massacres, human rights violations and other atrocities described by some 9,000 witnesses and survivors clearly illustrated a governmental policy of genocide in Guatemala, correspondents were told by members of the Historical Clarification Commission of Guatemala at a Headquarters' press conference this afternoon.

Introducing two of the three commissioners -- Christian Tomuschat of Germany and Otilia Lux de Cotí of Guatemala -- the Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, Manoel de Almeida e Silva, said they had met with the Secretary-General earlier in the day. On 25 February, the Commission's report, Guatemala: Memory of Silence, had been released in Guatemala.

Professor Tomuschat explained that the Historical Clarification Commission had been formed based on an agreement between the Government and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (UNRG), as part of the peace agreements which had been consolidated and confirmed by the General Peace Agreement of 29 December 1996. He had been appointed by the Secretary-General and charged with appointing the two Guatemalan commissioners, with agreement from the two Guatemalan parties. The agreement had stipulated that the commissioners be citizens of Guatemala of irreproachable conduct. In addition to Ms. Lux de Cotí, he had appointed Edgar Alfredo Balsells Tojo, who had been unable to travel to New York due to health concerns.

The Commission had been formed at the end of February 1997, but it had started its work in the middle of April 1997, since all three commissioners had had prior commitments, he continued. It had taken another three months to get support from the international community. The United Nations had provided generous support, although the Commission was not a United Nations body. Many countries provided funds, particularly the United States and the Scandinavian countries. From 1 September 1997 to the end of April 1998, testimonies had been taken, primarily in the countryside. The months after that had been dedicated to analysing the materials and writing the report, which had been given to Alvaro de Soto, representing Secretary-General Kofi Annan, on 25 February.

The Commission had worked freely and independently, Mr. Tomuschat stressed. Witnesses had free access to the regional offices, although many were afraid to talk. At no time had the Guatemalan Government tried to exert pressure. The Guatemalan authorities had not always cooperated satisfactorily, but there had been no attempt to obstruct the Commission's work.

There was little documentary evidence, and very little had come from the Government and armed forces. The Commission had wanted to see reports of the armed units about operations in the countryside during the worst years, 1981

to 1983. The army had first said those reports were covered by the principle of State secrets; later, it said there were no reports whatsoever in the archives -- that there was a blank hole in the archives as far as those years were concerned. The vacuum left by that lack of documentary evidence had been filled by the testimony of some 9,000 witnesses.

The Government's attitude was ultimately supportive, he continued. The Commission was granted immunity status according to the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, which had been important to secure the confidentiality of sources. Guatemala's President and Minister of Defence had been present at the ceremony when the report had been handed over in the Teatro Nacional in Guatemala, in the presence of some 2,000 persons, with another 3,000 to 4,000 people watching the procedure outside on large screen televisions.

A correspondent asked for comment on complaints that the perpetrators would go unpunished. Mr. Tomuschat said the Commission had ceased to exist as of 25 February, since it had fulfilled its task by handing over the report. It had suggested establishing a follow-up mechanism to monitor the implementation of its recommendations. Also, the Commission had recommended that the Guatemalan authorities act in conformity with the country's law on national reconciliation, which contains an article granting amnesty for acts related to fighting, true acts of war. It was not to be granted for very grave human rights violations such as genocide.

Was there documentary evidence of the genocide? a correspondent asked. The Commission's conclusions on the genocide had been based primarily on witnesses' testimonies and the atrocious nature of some of the massacres. Entire villages had been destroyed and all their inhabitants killed. The policy had been total destruction, not only "scorched earth", but, in some cases, every human being had been killed, including women, children, babies and elderly people. Pregnant women and babies had been victimized with particular brutality, as described in the chapter of the report on atrocities committed against women.

The Commission had concluded that such atrocities could not be explained other than as an attempt to exterminate the ethnic group as such, "since babies could not make war against a well-equipped armed force", he said. The atrocities had not been isolated events, but rather a pattern. In many instances, entire populations had been killed systematically. The Commission had had available some speeches and statements by political leaders of the time, but the main basis for its conclusions were the facts of what had happened in the countryside, he added.

Were the United States Government and companies implicated in the allegations of genocide? the same correspondent asked. The United States did not bear direct responsibility for any act of genocide, Mr. Tomuschat answered. However, its Government had known what was going on in the Guatemalan

Guatemala Press Conference - 3 - 1 March 1999

countryside. It had not raised any objections and had continued to support the Guatemalan army. In that sense, the United States was implicated. As for American businesses, the Guatemalan subsidiary of Coca Cola had mercilessly pursued the trade union movement for years, and a dozen union leaders had been killed. Information on this was contained in the report's annex.

Asked about singling out individuals for prosecution on charges of genocide, Mr. Tomuschat said the Oslo Accord of 1994 did not permit the Commission to put names in the report. Instead, the Commission pointed out institutional responsibilities. While genocide seemed at first to be a criminal offence committed by individuals, it could also be committed within an institutional framework. It was not necessary to put in individual names.

Criminal prosecution was not the Commission's responsibility, he continued. It had made an important finding, and now it was up to other institutions to determine the consequences of that finding. The Oslo Accord specifically stated that the Commission's report had no judicial effects or judicial purposes. If some prosecutorial office in Guatemala or another country wished to initiate criminal proceedings against any individual, they were not prevented from doing so. The possibility of initiating proceedings had existed and would continue to exist, independent of the Commission's report.

Copies of the Oslo Accord were available in the Office of the Spokesman, Mr. Almeida e Silva said. The Commission's report was available on the Internet at:

Ms. Lux de Cotí said that in drawing their conclusions, the Commissioners had looked at a number of elements, including the Doctrine of National Security, which had been created by the United States and implemented in Latin America. The Doctrine's effect in Guatemala had been that the "internal enemy" had been identified as any person perceived to be communist. Later, the internal enemy had no longer been the communist, but the guerrilla, and then, at a later period, the internal enemy had been the indigenous person. In the early 1980s, the national security doctrine had become a doctrine of national racism, with this way of thinking proliferating in the army.

The Commission's identification of about 630 sites of massacres perpetrated by the Government had led it to prepare a legal study, she said. A team of national and international legal experts had examined the matter and had concluded that genocide had deliberately been perpetrated in Guatemala. That was why the army had closed the door of their archives. Also, the Commission had uncovered elements in the 1982-1983 campaign planning documents supplied by the army. On the basis of these, the Commission had reached its conclusion.

The truth had been told in the report, with the purpose of improving the condition of the peoples of Guatemala, she said. The recitation of pain and suffering must help Guatemala see what had happened and find ways to genuinely reconcile its peoples.

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Mr. Tomuschat said an 86-page summary was available with the Commission's main findings and recommendations. Thousands more copies were being printed in Spanish and English and it was available on the Internet. The complete report should be printed by the middle of April. It was about 3,400 pages -- around 2,000 pages devoted to cases, and the remaining 1,400 pages dedicated to a systematic analysis of the conflict. Every case presented to the Commission was described in a few lines, and some 86 "illustrative, or paradigmatic", cases were described in detail.

Asked whether the country's reconciliation would require that those responsible be brought to justice, Ms. Cotí said individuals and groups had the right to know who was responsible. While the Commission was not allowed to name perpetrators or attribute responsibility, the report indicated times and named institutions. People could deduce who was in charge. Everyone knew who had been President and Chief of Staff of the army in 1982 and 1983. If the perpetrators were brought to trial, it would be through the Ministry of Justice. People had every right to bring the accused to justice, she stressed.

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For information media. Not an official record.