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Guatemala: Bill could grant amnesty for grave crimes

    Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - 11:58

    Guatemala’s Congress could pass a law imminently that would grant an amnesty to those suspected or found guilty of crimes such as genocide, torture, and enforced disappearances during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996). The bill could lead to the release of those found guilty within 24 hours of its approval. It would also lead to the suspension of ongoing investigations into these crimes. Guatemala’s Congress must refrain from passing this bill to respect the rights of victims to justice, truth and reparation.

    On 17 January, Congress approved the first reading of Bill 5377 to reform the National Reconciliation Law. This bill has progressed despite being rejected by the Congress’ own Human Rights Commission. It aims to extend an amnesty to those accused of serious international crimes against humanity. 

    The bill represents a serious setback for the rights of thousands of victims in the country to achieve truth and justice for the atrocities they and their families experienced during the conflict. It also breaches Guatemala’s international obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish grave crimes. 

    On several occasions, Guatemala’s tribunals and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have ruled that amnesties for crimes under international law are incompatible with states’ human rights obligations, and multiple international human rights bodies and organizations, including the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, amongst others, have consequently condemned this bill. 

    Please send an email or tweet to the President of Congress. (The postal system is not reliable.)

    • Urge him to respect the right to justice of victims in Guatemala. 
    • Ask him not to table Bill 5377 for debate and ensure it does not pass into law. 
    • Impress on him the fact that the passage of this bill would represent a severe breach of Guatemala’s international human rights obligations.

    Write to

    Álvaro Enrique Arzú Escobar
    President of Congress 
    9 Avenida 9-44, Zona 1
    Guatemala City, Guatemala
    Twitter:     @AlvaroArzuE or @CongresoGuate 
    Salutation:    Dear Mr Arzú

    Please copy

    His Excellency Carlos Humberto Jiménez Licona 
    Ambassador for the Republic of Guatemala
    130 Albert Street, Suite 1010
    Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5G4
    Fax:         613 233 0135
    Phone:        613 233 7237

    Additional information

    Bill 5377 was originally presented in November 2017 by Congressman Fernando Linares Beltranena, and was co-signed by 12 other members. It aims to repeal articles 2, 4 and 8 of the National Reconciliation Law and amend articles 1, 5 and 11, leading to the establishment of a general amnesty for crime acts relating to the country’s civil war, including for individuals accused of serious crimes under international law. 

    According to the Commission for Historical Clarification, established to clarify human rights violations during the internal armed conflict, approximately 200,000 persons were killed or disappeared during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996). 93% of the violations were attributed to state forces and related paramilitary groups, whereas 3% were attributed to insurgency groups.

    After decades of impunity, from 2008 onwards at least 30 former military officials, military commissioners and former members of civil defence patrols have been convicted of crimes such as torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence and sexual slavery, under international law. If passed, the bill would lead to the immediate release of all the individuals already convicted and the suspension of any ongoing investigations.  

    The proposed reform passed the first reading. To become a law, it needs to pass two more readings and be approved article by article. The second reading could be tabled at any time during the next weeks.

    If you wish to receive updates on this case, email In the subject line, write “Keep me updated on Guatemala UA 12/19”.