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Since 1945, it is estimated, more people have perished as a result of gross human rights violations than as a result of war, yet we have little knowledge of why governments commit gross human rights violations. The present study, seeking to obtain an understanding of the causes underlying gross human rights violation, compares the human rights situation in a country where gross human rights violations are the rule (Guatemala) with the situation in a country where this type of violations does not occur (Costa Rica).;The focus of the study is on the short-term sources within the political system which are perceived by those in power as a threat to their power and which trigger gross human rights violations. Furthermore, the long-term sources or background factors which set the stage and allow gross human rights violations to be perpetrated are analyzed. The study concludes by highlighting the causes of gross human rights violations and briefly addresses how these violations are presently dealt with in Guatemala.