Inter-American Court to hold public hearing on disappeared Guatemalan Human Rights Defenders

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA, OCTOBER 10, 2023 – The Inter-American Court of Human Rights will hold a public hearing at 9:30 a.m. CST on October 11 on the case of Pérez Lucas et al. v. Guatemala, the four human rights defenders forcibly disappeared by the Guatemalan Army in 1989 whose whereabouts continue to be unknown.

During the hearing, the Court will receive the testimony of Pedro Mateo, the son of Nicolas Mateo, one of the four defenders who were forcibly disappeared. The court will also hear from expert witness Dr. Jo-Marie Burt, who will talk about the case and the broader context of impunity that persists in Guatemala for cases of serious violations of human rights during the country’s internal armed conflict.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and the Consejo de Comunidades Étnicas “Runujel Junam” (CERJ) represent the victims and their families in litigating the case before the Inter-American human rights system.

Human rights defenders Agapito Perez Lucas, Nicolas Mateo, Macario Pú Chivalán and Luis Ruiz Luis were active members of CERJ who contributed to the liberation of peasants forcibly recruited by the Civil Defense Committees and Patrols during the armed conflict in Guatemala. Due to their work promoting human rights, the four defenders were subjected to threats and persecution, which culminated in their arbitrary detention and forced disappearance by members of the Guatemalan Army. Despite the public denunciations of the CERJ and international organizations, as well as the filing of numerous habeas corpus actions, the Guatemalan authorities never disclosed the defenders’ whereabouts nor held any officer accountable for their actions. To date, the case remains in impunity.

The case of the four disappeared defenders is emblematic of the serious abuses committed by the Guatemalan Army during the internal armed conflict in the country, which culminated in the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996. The case also underscores the prevailing culture of impunity in Guatemala and the persistent debt of the Guatemalan State with the victims of serious human rights violations.

“34 years after the Army abducted and disappeared these brave human rights defenders, their families will finally be heard,” said Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Guatemala’s debt to the victims of serious human rights abuses committed by the State has not been paid, and the current attacks on democracy and the rule of law in the country make it more relevant than ever to hold the Government accountable.Justice delayed is justice denied. It’s long past time”.

“The pain of these four families is a reflection of the pain shared by countless families victimized by Guatemala’s brutal state repression. We remain hopeful that the families will finally obtain justice before the Court.” said Amilcar Méndez, founder of CERJ. “It has been impressive to see how these families have endured so many years of suffering, and honestly, I cannot understand how they have survived. We, who have remained patient and steadfast in our fight for justice, continue to support this just cause.” he added.

The hearing will be live-streamed (in Spanish only) here.

About Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights:

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that has worked to realize Robert F. Kennedy’s dream of a more just and peaceful world since 1968. In partnership with local activists, we advocate for key human rights issues— championing change-makers and pursuing strategic litigation in the United States and around the world. And to ensure change that lasts, we foster a social-good approach to business and investment and educate millions of students about human rights and social justice. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Twitter: @RFKHumanRights.