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United Nations
Officially known as the Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission (Comisión de Esclarecimiento Histórico, CEH) Guatemala’s U.N.-sponsored truth commission began its work in August 1997; its report was expected in December 1998. CEH chief commissioner Christian Tomuschat, a former U.N. Independent Expert for Human Rights in Guatemala, publicly denounced the lack of cooperation from the military in providing documents and interviews to its investigators, in violation of the accords setting up thecommission.

The July 17 detention of Col. Otto Noack exemplified the military’s recalcitrance. In an interview with Radio Netherlands in early July, Noack acknowledged that members of both the military and the insurgency had committed grave human rights violations. He suggested that all should testify before the CEH and if necessary apply to the Guatemalan court for amnesty. Noack’s comments sparked his arrest for speaking with the press without prior consent from his military superiors, a military regulation rarely enforced.

After visiting Noack in detention, Tomuschat called on other officers to follow his example of admitting past abuses and denounced the Guatemalan military for its action. The government accused Tomuschat of meddling in internal politics and announced it would file a formal complaint with the U.N. secretary-general requesting Tomuschat’s destitution.

After the signing of the peace accords, MINUGUA’s work broadened from human rights monitoring and advocacy to include assistance with the implementation of several accords as well as extensive institution-building endeavors with the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the PNC, and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s (Procurador de los Derechos Humanos) office. This inevitably left fewer resources for human rights verification. The murder of Bishop Gerardi and increased threats against human rights defenders suggested that the reduction in resources dedicated exclusively to human rights verification was premature.

During its annual meeting in Geneva in 1998, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, for the first time since 1982, ended the mandate of its special expert reporting on the human rights situation in Guatemala. (For several years Guatemala’s expert had the status of a “special rapporteur,” placing it in the category of the world’s worst human rights observers. In recent years, Guatemala was assigned an “independent expert,” who provided detailed reports as well as advising the government on human rights improvements.) Many of the recommendations that independent experts Christian Tomuschat and Mónica Pinto had made over the years were incorporated by the government, although several key reforms called for—such as civilian control of law enforcement and intelligence gathering and suppression of clandestine security forces— remained empty promises.

United States
Although the Clinton administration was a strong supporter of the Arzú government, the State Department’s annual review of human rights conditions in Guatemala provided objective reporting on a wide range of abuses. Washington’s aid to Guatemala included training for the military in non-combat-related issues such as planning, administration, and relations with civilians. Significantly, the administration provided support to a wide array of nongovernmental human rights and indigenous organizations, some of them quite critical of the government and military. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City was responsive to communications on behalf of El Estor parish priest Dan Vogt, a U.S. citizen, and convinced police investigators to conduct an inquiry into threats he received in August.













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