Guatemala is a democratic, multiparty republic. Presidential elections held in 2007 were considered by international observers to be free and fair. Although the government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, serious problems remained, including: widespread societal violence; arbitrary arrest and detention; corruption and substantial inadequacies in the police and judicial sectors; lack of respect for the rule of law; violence and intimidation against human rights defenders and journalists; violence against women; and ineffective enforcement of labor laws. Infiltration of organized crime in many sectors of society and widespread concerns about violence and lack of security undermined citizen confidence in the security, prosecutorial, and judicial sectors and eroded support for democratic institutions.
The U.S. strategy for promoting democracy and human rights focuses on strengthening democratic institutions and encouraging transparency, accountability, and respect for human rights and the rule of law. The United States aims to enhance the capacity of civil society to serve as a partner in consolidating democracy. This strategy, developed in consultation with civil society and indigenous community leaders, prioritizes improved governance and support to government, civil society, and private business for strengthening public sector accountability and transparency. The strategy also includes supporting independent media, and fostering a professional military and national civilian police that respect human rights.
To achieve strategy objectives, the United States focuses on programs that encourage decentralization of central government functions and stronger, more effective local government institutions to increase citizen participation in decision making. The United States uses diplomatic engagement, public outreach, foreign assistance programs, and related initiatives to advance strategy objectives.
The United States holds regular meetings with congressional representatives, political party leaders, and government officials to advance democratic principles and the rule of law. To strengthen justice sector capacity to consolidate reforms initiated under the peace accords, U.S. programs provide substantial material and technical assistance. These programs have expanded the government's 24-hour criminal court system with the addition of two new courts in high-crime areas near Guatemala City. Using the 24-hour courts model, the United States is supporting Guatemala Supreme Court efforts to restructure the country's criminal courts to improve case management and pretrial oral hearings.
U.S. assistance continues to promote police reform and efforts to fight corruption. Mission officials have been providing technical assistance for developing a police inspector general unit and an office of professional responsibility to combat the high incidence of police corruption. These new units are already facilitating investigations and applying sanctions against officers found guilty of corruption. U.S. programs provide technical assistance for mandatory human rights training for all military personnel. The mission also meets regularly with military authorities to ensure their continued cooperation in lawsuits involving human rights abuses committed during the internal armed conflict.
In a major effort to assist the country in combating impunity, the United States has committed significant political and financial resources to the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). The U.S. Mission is working closely with CICIG's commissioner to ensure that the organization will be able to realize its mandate to assist the police, prosecutor, and other government institutions in investigating and dismantling criminal organizations.
Through targeted foreign assistance, the United States is also furthering efforts to improve relations between civil society and the government in addressing past human rights abuses. The U.S. government supports a working group made up of human rights defenders and government officials to process important lawsuits relating to massacres and other serious human rights abuses committed during the country's internal armed conflict. This program is directed at providing closure to family members of victims and breaking the cycle of impunity and lack of respect for the rule of law. The program also provides capacity-building technical assistance and training to human rights organizations, including those promoting the rights of indigenous peoples, to enhance their ability to be more effective advocates for the rights of their communities.
U.S. support continues to enable a forensic anthropology foundation to conduct exhumations and forensic analyses of victims of massacres and forced disappearances that occurred during the internal armed conflict. Through U.S. assistance in 2007, the foundation undertook 128 exhumations throughout the country. The U.S. embassy also supports the work of the National Reparations Program that provides compensation to civilian victims of the internal armed conflict.
U.S. officials meet frequently with journalists, human rights defenders, labor leaders, and indigenous activists to express support and to raise awareness about the important human rights work of these groups. Embassy personnel also regularly urge government officials to investigate threats and attacks against trade unionists and human rights defenders, and to provide additional appropriate protection for these vulnerable groups. The embassy's advocacy in specific cases has resulted in reinstatement of terminated employees and increased security for labor union leaders.
The U.S. government has active outreach programs to promote the social inclusion and political participation of the country's historically marginalized indigenous communities, which represent 44 percent of the population. The programs aim to raise awareness of indigenous rights and improve access to health care services and education in indigenous areas. The mission and two local nongovernmental organizations have been providing journalism training to 120 reporters from Mayan communities. The embassy also regularly sends persons from indigenous communities to the United States to participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program. The participants enhance their expertise regarding a wide range of topics, including public administration, political decision making, and government accountability.
The United States places a high priority on public diplomacy to advance human rights and democracy. In their ongoing dialogue with senior members of the government, U.S. officials advocate for greater government attention to key democracy and human rights problems, including protection of trafficking victims, domestic violence, and labor exploitation.
The U.S. government regularly reports on and advocates for human rights and worker rights, including addressing threats and other abuses against trade unionists and human rights defenders. Working closely with NGOs and government representatives, U.S. officials monitor U.S.-funded human rights and labor projects, and work with the Ministry of Labor, the private sector, and worker organizations to provide technical assistance and training to strengthen institutional capacity, raise awareness of labor rights, and improve a culture of compliance with labor laws. To address the serious problem of trafficking in persons, U.S. officials meet with government representatives and civil society leaders to improve protective services for trafficking victims, and to strengthen legislative and prosecutorial efforts to combat trafficking.