In July 1982 armed forces, paramilitaries, and civil self-defense patrols (“Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil”, or PACs) brutally massacred over 250 people in Plan de Sanchez, a remote Maya Achi community in northern Guatemala, outside of Rabinal, Baja Verapaz. In particular, in the early morning of the day of the massacre, two grenades fell east and west of Plan de Sanchez and in the afternoon, about 60 armed men in military uniforms arrived. Soldiers guarded all entry and exit points into or out of the community, while others went door to door gathering men, women, and children. The girls and young women were held separately, about 20 of which were taken to a house, raped, beaten, and then killed. The remaining victims were put inside another house, which was then fired upon with guns and grenades and burned to the ground.
After the massacre, military officials frequently visited Plan de Sanchez to intimidate the survivors of the local population and question the whereabouts of men not involved with the PACs. Such presence created an environment of fear which led community members to hide in the hills nearby to avoid interaction with the military.
In October 1996, faced with constant delays and other irregularities in the domestic proceedings, the survivors instructed their legal representatives in both national and supranational proceedings, the Centro para Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos (CALDH), to lodge a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which opened the case No. 11.763 on July 1, 1997.
On April 29, 2004, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights found unanimously that Guatemala had violated the following articles of the American Convention on Human Rights to the detriment of the victims, their next of kin, and all survivors: Articles 5(1) (Right to Physical, Mental, and Moral Integrity), 5(2) (Prohibition of Torture, and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment), 8(1) (Right to a Hearing Within Reasonable Time by Competent and Independent Tribunal), 11 (Right to Privacy), 12(2) (Prohibition of Restrictions Impairing Freedom of Conscience and Religion), 12(3) (Exceptions to Freedom to Manifest One’s Religion or Beliefs), 13(2)(a) (Prohibition of A Priori Censorship), 13(5) (Prohibition of Propaganda for War and Advocacy of National, Racial, or Religious Hatred), 16(1) (Freedom of Association for Any Purpose), 21(1) (Right to Use and Enjoyment of Property), 21(2) (Right to Compensation in Case of Expropriation), 24 (Right to Equal Protection), and 25 (Right to Judicial Protection), in relation to Article 1(1) (Obligation to Respect Rights).
In particular, the ruling of the Court was taken on the basis of the acknowledgment of international responsibility by the State of Guatemala, since, on August 9, 2000 Mr. Alfonso Portillo, the President of Guatemala at the time, acknowledged the State’s international responsibility for the massacre.