A scheduled vote in Guatemala’s Congress on amnesty for war crimes was suspended on Wednesday when several lawmakers walked out, leaving the session without a quorum.
The proposal would have freed more than 30 former members of the security forces and paramilitaries convicted of human rights violations during Guatemala’s long armed conflict. The bill would also halt thousands of investigations.
But it drew impassioned opposition from victims’ groups and human rights activists who rallied in front of the Congress in Guatemala City on Wednesday.
International organizations and foreign governments, including the United States, called on Guatemalan legislators not to move forward with the vote. On Tuesday, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the Guatemalan Congress to withdraw the proposal.
The vote could still be rescheduled for the coming weeks. By not turning up for Wednesday’s session, or by walking out, lawmakers effectively put off the decision for another day.
Although the Inter-American Court’s order is not binding, it could lead to a condemnation of Guatemala if the amnesty is approved, Fernando Travesí, the executive director of the International Center for Transitional Justice in New York, said in an email.
More than 200,000 people died or disappeared during Guatemala’s 36-year armed conflict, according to a 1999 United Nations report. Many of the victims were noncombatants in Maya communities that were destroyed during the army’s scorched-earth effort to flush out leftist guerrillas.
In a landmark trial, a Guatemalan court convicted former Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the country’s dictator in 1982-83, of genocide against the Ixil Maya. His conviction was overturned, and he was being retried when he died last year at 91.
Four high-ranking former military officers were convicted last year in an emblematic case involving the detention and torture of a student in 1981 and the kidnapping and disappearance of her 14-year-old brother. Another prominent case, involving a military base where hundreds of bodies have been exhumed, is stalled in the courts.