Four Human Rights Defenders Disappeared

The Commission transferred the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights which can issue a binding judgment establishing the state’s international responsibility and duty to comply with reparations for the victims.

Guatemalan State Responsible for Decades-long Impunity in Disappearance of Four Indigenous Human Rights Defenders

In 1989, uniformed military personnel forcibly removed four indigenous human rights defenders—Agapito Pérez Lucas, Nicolás Mateo, Macario Pú Chivalán, and Luis Ruiz Luis— from their homes. To this day, their whereabouts remain unknown.

The enforced disappearances of Agapito, Nicolás, Macario, and Luis occurred during Guatemala’s armed conflict. Despite seeing journalists, trade unionists, and other human rights activists assassinated, the four continued their work for the Consejo de Comunidades Étnicas Runujel Junam (CERJ), a group documenting human rights violations against Guatemala’s indigenous population.

One of the CERJ’s main focuses was freeing hundreds of Guatemalans who had been forced to join Civil Defense Committees without pay as part of the army’s counterinsurgency strategy, despite the Guatemalan constitution mandating that such service duty be voluntary. Because of that work, the four were harassed, threatened, and forced to seek safety in other states and jobs.

Relocation provided insufficient protection, and following their disappearances, Guatemala failed to provide adequate legal recourse or remedy. The families of Agapito, Nicolás, Macario, and Luis brought their case all the way to the Supreme Court of Guatemala, which made the remarkable ruling that a writ of habeas corpus was not justified, as there was no evidence that the men’s liberty had been curtailed or that they had suffered any injury.

Why is This a Key Case?

The CERJ has come under constant attack from the Guatemalan state since its founding in 1998, with members attacked, disappeared, and murdered, with continued state impunity for the perpetrators. An assassination plot against its founder, Amílcar Méndez Urízar, was uncovered and thwarted, but in 2007, his son was murdered in Guatemala City. Without the CERJ’s work, rural Guatemalans could be left wholly unprotected from being forced to join Civil Defense Committees and the violent repercussions that can follow if they do not.

How is RFK Human Rights Supporting The Victims?

RFK Human Rights joined the CERJ and its founder Amilcar Méndez—the recipient of the 1990 RFK Human Rights Award—in the litigation of their case against Guatemala before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

Name of the case (as it appears in the respective legal mechanism)

Agapito Pérez Lucas, Nicolás Mateo, Macario Pú Chivalán, Luis Ruiz Luis y Sus Familiares v. Guatemala

Month/Year of filing

June 2007 (RFKHR joined as a co-counsel in 2014)

Legal mechanism in which the case is being litigated

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

Rights and legal instruments alleged violated (OR found to have been violated)

Articles 1.1 (obligation to respect rights), 3 (right to juridical personality), 4 (right to life), 5 (right to humane treatment), 7 (right to personal liberty), 16 (right to freedom of association), 8 (right to a fair trial), and 25 (right to judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights

Articles I and IX of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons

Procedural stage

Pending before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights


RFKHR and Consejo de Entidades Étnicas Runujel Junam (CERJ)

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