WITH a cease-fire taking hold in El Salvador, Guatemala has
become Central America's last bastion of armed strife.
The country's persistent human rights abuses and failure to end
a 31-year-old civil war will put it under intense scrutiny at the
annual meeting this month of the United Nations Commission on Human
Representatives of the Guatemalan government will tell the
commission that President Jorge Serrano Elias, who has been in
power only one year, needs more time to prove his willingness to
investigate and prosecute abuses.
"Only a blind person cannot see this country's progress in the
defense of human rights and in the organization of the justice
system," President Serrano said Jan. 30.
Human rights activists will present critical reports from the
United States government and the human rights group Americas Watch
as evidence that little has changed since Serrano took office on
Jan. 14, 1991. According to the US State Department's annual report
on Guatemala, released Jan. 31, protection of human rights improved
in 1991, but security forces were still almost never held
responsible for human rights violations, despite overwhelming
These words will weigh heavily on the UN commission's 53 members
during the meeting in Geneva, which lasts through the beginning of
March. The European Community (EC) will be especially concerned
with the recent killings of several Europeans in Guatemala.
"I may say we are rather preoccupied by the number of violations
in Guatemala, but still consider that the government itself is
doing its best to fight these violations," says Serge Abou, chief
of the Central America/Mexico/Cuba section of the European
Parliament. "But the armed conflict still continues, and that is a
fertile field for human rights violations by both sides."
Foreign Minister Gonzalo Menendez Park and other presidential
advisers traveled to Europe, Mexico, and the US in January to
describe the government's progress to skeptical members of the UN
commission. They explained that the government has ordered the
recapture of Army Capt. Hugo Contreras, who was accused in the June
1990 murder of US citizen Michael Devine but released last year by
a military court for lack of evidence.
At their next meeting later this month, government and rebel
leaders are expected to sign a human rights agreement, the first
step toward a cease-fire.
Since a civilian government took office six years ago, Guatemala
has been reviewed in Geneva within a category reserved for
countries that recognize they have problems with human rights and
are working to solve them. …