Country report and updates: Guatemala

Last revision: 30 Apr 1998
30 Apr 1998

1 Conscription

conscription not enforced

Since 1994 conscription has not been officially enforced.

After 1994 the civil war between the government and the URNG (National Guatemalan Revolutionaty Unit), which had lasted since 1962, gradually came to an end. In that year the Global Human Rights Accord was signed by the government, the URNG and the United Nations. In 1996 the government and the URNG reached a further agreement, 'On strengthening of civil society and tasks of the army'.

At present conscription has no clear legal basis.

Conscription is enshrined in art. 135 of the 1985 Constitution. [2] [8]

The 1994 Global Human Rights Accord requires the government to pass new legislation on military service, which is to be non-discriminatory and pay due regard to human rights. New legislation is believed by many to be essential for the ending of human rights violations which have taken place in the context of forced recruitment. [2]

The Global Human Rights Accord stipulates that enlistment into the armed forces is to be voluntary until new laws on military service have been passed. This requirement was reiterated in art. 33 of the above-mentioned 1996 agreement between the government and the URNG. [7]

Nevertheless the old legislation on military service seems never to have been officially repealed. Under the 1988 conscription law (Ley Constitutiva del Ejercito), Title 4 art. 68-78) all men aged 18 to 30 are liable for 30 months' military service. Under this law temporary or permanent exemption is possible for medical reasons, election candidates and clergy. [2] [8]

Registration for military service still seems to be compulsory. According to a government statement in 1995 all men are obliged to register for military service at the age of 18. No further details are known about this. [10] [18]

No new legislation on military service has been implemented as yet.

By late 1997 a new law (Ley de Servicio Civico Nacional) was under preparation. This proposed law is said to be based on the choice between military and civilian service, a principle embodied in the 1994 Global Human Rights Accord and the 1996 agreement between the government and the UNRG. The law is being further drafted by a commission consisting of representatives of the armed forces, the government and civil society (including NGOs working on issues of conscientious objection and military service). It is not known when the law will next debated in Congress. [7] [8]

In the 1990s several other proposals for new laws were submitted, but they all were rejected by Congress. [2]

Popular resistance to conscription and forced recruitment is considerable, owing to the human rights violations which have taken place in this context and the traditional impunity with which the armed forces have always acted in Guatemala.

In 1988 CONAVIGUA (National Coordinating Committee of Guatemalan Widows) was founded. It campaigns against forced rercruitment and for civil control over the military, voluntary military service and recognition of the right to conscientious objection. [1] [4]


Voluntary enlistment is usually sufficient to achieve the requisite number of recruits. Many poor Guatemalans are drawn to an an army career seems because of the monthly wages USD 35,- wages plus a USD 20,- allowance for their parents. [8] [15]

forced recruitment

Ever since 1994 there have been reports of forced recruitment by the armed forces, although on a lesser scale than during the civil war.

In May and June 1995 the Attorney General's Office for Human Rights received 596 complaints from young men maintaining they had been recruited by force. [3]

Since the signing of the Global Human Rights Accord the army has reportedly changed its recruitment tactics in some places whose residents have opposed to forced recruitment. In places where the armed forces have not faced opposition they have continued to employ forced recruitment. In 1995 CONAVIGUA suggested that the army sends call-up notices to youths reaching the age of 18, threatening to present themselves at certain military camps claiming that they had been selected to perform military service. The entire procedure and the threatening notices of the call-up notices puts pressure on recipients to obey them. [3]

All the same the government has taken some steps to end forced recruitment.

In August 1995 General Felipe Miranda Trejo was dismissed after being sued for authorizing forcible recruitment in Huehuetenango department in 1994. [13]

In 1995 the military commisioners were abolished by Decree N-79-95, as agreed in the Global Human Rights Accord. The military commisioners (comisionades militares) are recruitment agents paid and armed by the government. Since the 1930s they have acted as local army agents, hence responsible for (forced) recruitment. Following their legal abolition more than 24,000 of them were supposed to get demobilized. [3] [14] Actually they still exert considerable influence in the villages, whose inhabitants are apt not to realise that they no longer have any legal authority. [8]

2 Conscientious objection

The right to conscientious objection is not legally recognized. Art. 135 of the 1985 Constitution stipulates that it is a duty to perform military and social service. However no further legal provisions for performing social service have ever been implemented. [2]

The Global Human Rights Accord is based on the principle of choice over performing military or civilian service, but it does not specifically mention any right to conscientious objection. [8]

The new law at present being drafted, Ley de Servicio C'vico Nacional, is said to embody the principle of choice over performing military or civilian service. [8]

In the 1990s several law proposals were submitted which included provisions for the right to conscientious objection and substitute service, but they have all been rejected by Congress.

In 1993 the CO group J--venes Objetores de Consciencia submitted a law proposal, but it was rejected by Congress without even being discussed. [8]

In August 1993 CONAVIGUA submitted a draft law to Congress providing for voluntary military service and a free choice between military or civilian service. At first it was not debated by Congress, CONAVIGUA's President, who also became member of Congress, managed to get it back on the agenda. However it was finally rejected by Congress in 1996. [7]

Since 1993 350 men have publicly announced that they were conscientious objectors. They have not been prosecuted as there are no legal means of doing so. [7] [8]

COs are apt to face intimidation by the armed forces, especially the countryside. COs and CONAVIGUA activists are said quite often to receive telephone and other kinds of threats. The military have launched anti-CO campaigns in the media. [7] [8]

3 Draft evasion and desertion


Desertion is punishable under the Military Code by two months up to one year' imprisonment and the death sentence during wartime. [16]

According to a statement by the Guatemalan government in 1992, not responding to the call-up order is not punishable by a fine or imprisonment. Not having responded to call-up makes it difficult to obtain the military service card. This card is needed to apply for an identity card or passport. [11]

Proof of registration is officially required for enrolment for university or other higher education institutes, for some jobs and for some other official procedures. [10] [18]

According to one source, there are no applicable legal penalties for draft evasion and desertion at present as no new law on military service has been passed. [17]


There are no recent known cases of draft evaders being prosecuted. Those caught trying to evade the draft are usually inducted into the army. [16]

During the civil war desertion was widespread. Only 25 per cent of conscripts in the army reportedly completed their military service. [4]

Extrajudicial executions of deserters took place regularly. [2]

5 History

During the civil war forced recruitment was widespread. Methods used included round-ups after church services, at construction sites, at local markets and at soccer matches. [3] [5]

According to CONAVIGUA in 1994, 45 percent of the male population between the ages of 18 and 30 had been recruited by the armed forces at some stage in their live. [2]

The indigineous population (descendents of the original Maya population of Guatemala) has been singled out forced recruitment. Indigeneous organisations consider this a plot against the indigeneous population, stemming their increase and development. The recruitment of indigeneous people reflects a pattern of ethnocide, as the concerned youths lose their identity and often can not return home at the end of their military service. [3] [4] [8]

Poor rural people too have been singled out for forced recruitment. An army spokesman defended recruitment methods in 1990 by claiming that they "favoured poor young men by giving them a salary, food and other benefits", and that recruitment affected only the "economically disadvantaged". [5]

For rich people it is common to avoid forced recruitment by means of bribery. By buying an inscripcion they acquire a document stating they have a rank in the armed forces, even though they do not in fact belong to it. [8]

The armed forces ignored the legal recruitment age of 18. According to the government those able to prove they were under 18 have been released from military barracks. In practice there were numerous child soldiers in the armed forces. [3]

Illustrating the brutality of forced recruitment is the case of two Mexicans in February 1993, who were travelling without identity papers and were forcibly recruited. [4]

Until recently there was forced recruitment into the PAC, the civil defence patrols that were abolished in 1994. Initially recruitment into the PAC was voluntary; art. 34 of the 1985 Constitution clearly states that "No one is obliged to join nor to belong to self-defence groups or associations or similar groups." During the civil war however, there was major forced recruitment into the PAC. Those refusing to join the PAC have been branded guerrillas, and many suffered harassment, human rights violations and executions. [6] [9]

6 Annual statistics

The armed forces comprise 40,700 troops - about 0.36 percent of the population. [19]


[1] González, J. 1996. Objeci--n de conciencia en Centroamérica. KEM-MOC, Bilbao, Spain. [2] Toney, R.J. 1996. Military Service, Alternative Social Service, and Conscientious Objection in the Americas: A Brief Survey of Selected Countries. NIBSCO, Washington DC. [3] International Protection for Children (Guatemalan Division) 1995. Under Age Soldiers in Guatemala. Case study for the UN Study on the impact of armed conflict on children. [4] KDV im Krieg 1994. 'Guatemala - Militärdienst und KDV', in: KDV im Krieg: Kriegsdienstverweigerung in Lateinamerika. Connection. e.V., Offenbach. [5] DIRB 1991. Guatemala: The role of the military. DIRB, Ottawa, Canada. [6] Woods, D.E. 1993. Child Soldiers, the recruitment of children into the armed forces and their participation in hostilities. Quaker Peace and Service, London. [7] KDV im Krieg 1997. 'Es steht noch einiges an...', in: KDV im Krieg 5/1997. Connection e.V., Offenbach. [8] JOPAZGUA 1997. Response to CONCODOC enquiry, November 1997. Jovenes por la Paz, Guatemala. [9] Amnesty International 1993. Impunity - A Question of Political Will. AI, London. [10] DIRB, 25 September 1995 [11] DIRB, 22 September 1992 [12] DIRB, 29 November 1995 [13] NISBCO 1996. Guatemalan Congress to Debate Conscientious Objection Law, 7 February 1996. NISBCO, Washington DC. [14] Amnesty International 1996. Concerns January 1995 - January 1996, AI, London. [15] DIRB, 23 December 1993 [16] US State Department 1996. Profiles of asylum claims and country conditions for 1995/96. State Department, Washington DC. [17] DIRB, 21 April 1997. [18] DIRB, 30 January 1996. [19] Institute for Strategic Studies 1997. Military Balance 1997/98. ISS, London.

Recent stories on conscientious objection: Guatemala

01 Oct 2001


enviado por Orly, desde el SERPAJ PY

9 de agosto del 2001

Después de siete años de vigencia de la Constitución Nacional todavía no se reglamenta la figura de la Objeción de Conciencia. Hubo dos intentos, uno en 1996 y otro en 1997, en ambas oportunidades el poder ejecutivo vetó las leyes sancionadas por el Congreso.

06 Oct 1993

REPORT Nº 36/93

CASE 10.975
October 6, 1993


1. On January 22, 1992, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received the following petition:

Alejandro Piché Cuca, a Guatemalan citizen, left his home in Santa María de Jesús, Department of Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, on April 27th, 1991 headed for the Catholic Church's Pastoral Training Center in Santa María de Jesús where he was taking instruction as a "catechist".