Contributor(s)Prison Insider

Physical integrity

The Guatemalan constitution is one of the few in the region to not have abolished the death penalty.

The country is regarded as abolitionist in practice. One person received the death penalty in 2010. The last execution goes back to some fifteen years.

The death penalty may not be imposed on women, people over the age of 60, those who have committed political crimes, and convicted prisoners whose extradition has been conditioned on Guatemala’s agreement not to impose capital punishment.

Certain crimes, such as murder, kidnapping, rape and abduction, among others, may result in the death penalty.

A law adopted in 1996, established that the death penalty be carried out by firing squad.

Number of executions


The country’s homicide rate is 30 per 100,000, the 5th highest in Latin America1.

This climate of violence has repercussions on the country’s prisons. According to the CIEN, 146 prisoners died between 1July 2015 and 31July 2016, mostly due to acts of violence.

The number of violent deaths has increased in recent years, with a yearly average of 41 deaths between 2012 and 2014.

The risk of dying in prison in 2012 was three times greater than that in Guatemala City. The risk in 2015 was nine times greater2. A report published by the General Direction of the Penitentiary System (DGSP) indicates that there were11 murders by strangulation over a period of nine months in 2015. Moreover, there were several cases of asphyxiation which were suspected of being suicides.

Twelve prisoners died in August 2015 at the El Boquerón prison. Their bodies were found in the prison’s garbage disposal bins.

At least nine inmates died on November 2 at the Preventive Detention Centre for Men in Zone 18.

Sixteen inmates died on November 29 during a prisoner uprising at the Granja Penal Canadá.

Eight inmates died on December 31 during a confrontation between rival groups at the Izabal prison3.

During a visit to the Preventive Detention Centre for Men in Zone 18 and to the Granja Penal Pavon in October 2015, the Human Rights Ombudsman Office for the due process (Defensoría delDebido Proceso de la Procuraduría de Derechos Humanos (PDH) noted that there is no protocol or procedure to deal with prison deaths. It also pointed out that in the centre’s Section 11- which is controlled by the Barrio 18gang- it is the prisoners themselves who handle these cases and who decide whether or not to report the individuals responsible for the deaths. The DGSP reports the facts and identifies the culprits, but the Public Prosecutor’s office does not open any investigation4.

After the Granja Penal Canadá uprising,the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) called the Guatemalan authorities “to adopt appropriate measures, including structural reforms, to prevent this types of acts of violences. The IACHR urged the State to take concrete steps, such as disarming inmates and imposing effective controls to keep out weapons and other illicit items; increasing security personnel and surveillance inside prisons; investigating and punishing any act of violence and corruption that may take place in correctional facilities; and preventing the activities of criminal organizations with a presence inside prisons.”5

Byron Lima - the Guatemalan soldier imprisoned since 2000 for killing Archbishop Juan José Gerardi, a prominent defender of human rights [cf. Personal]— was murdered on 20 July 2016, in the Pavón prison, along with thirteen other prisoners and an Argentinian female visitor. It was reported, on numerous occasions, that Byron Lima had a lot of influence in the prison and on the prison’s administration itself, in spite of his sentence. His death was attributed to a power struggle within the prison. The incident garnished widespread media coverage and much of the public opinion believed the investigation lacked transparency6.

  1. Insight Crime, “Insight Crime’s 2015 Latin America Homicide Round-up”, 14 January 2016 

  2. The hell of the Guatemalan prisons” in El País, 20 August 2016 (in Spanish) 

  3. Tension to the Izabal prison due to prisoners’ demands” in Prensa Libre, 2 January 2016 (in Spanish) 

  4. Human Rights Ombudsman, Annual Detailed Report 2015, p. 98 

  5. Organization of American States “IACHR expresses concern regarding violent deaths in Guatemalan prisons”, 7 December 2015 

  6. Insight Crime, “Who killed Byron Lima”, 21 July 2016 (in Spanish) 

Number of deaths


07/2015 - 07/2016 / National Center for Economic Investigation

Torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatments are carried out regularly during preventive detention.

The system of “self-governance” leads to increased violence inside prisons with very little legal access in cases of abuse. These armed groups usually act with consent from the authorities and regularly hold other inmates in ransom to obtain money. This practice is known as “talacha”. Prisoners without enough resources are victims of assaults which sometimes can be deadly.

Prisoner J.S.G. died in June 2015,after being beaten by other prisoners at the Huehuetenango Preventive Detention Centre for men.

The bodies of G.Y., A.O.G.A. and K.F.V. were found covered in blood with signs of beatings on August 8 in the toilets of a cell at the El Boquerón Preventive Detention Centre[^press2].

Surveillance and sanctions:

Most of the torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatments are not reported. The population does not trust State institutions. The victims fear reprisals from those who commit these acts and do not believe they will receive appropriate punishment.

The National Institute of Forensic Sciences (Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Forenses (INACIF) is responsible for examining the lesions found on the bodies of the victims,but it does not deal with their causes. According to the Community and Psychosocial Action Study Team (Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (ECAP), the INACIF is not applying the Istanbul Protocol1.

The classification of the crime of torture does not abide by Article 1 of the United Nations Convention against Torture.

According to the Penal Code, prison sentences for acts of torture should be from two to five years (Art.425) but it does not stipulate whether there is a statute of limitation on this offence or not.

On 1 July 2012, the Constitutional Court declared that Article 201a of the Penal Code -which defines an act of torture -is unconstitutional.

The Guatamalan State cancelled the visit expected in mid-2013 from Juan E. Méndez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, and has not re-scheduled any more. The Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture conducted a visit from the 11 to 20 May 2015.

[^press 2]: “Three prisoners are found dead in El Boquerón prison” in Prensa Libre, 8 August 2015

  1. UDEFEGUA and OMCT, Report for the Committee against Torture - 55th session, February 2015, pp.13-14 (in Spanish)