In the Field
Update: Strategic planning and workplan
The Legal Empowerment in Quiché Project is built around a participatory strategic design that derives from both a baseline survey and a process to ensure that project efforts match the perceptions, priorities and capacities of the institutions and social organizations in the department. Most projects begin with an externally generated design. As a result, they often fail to adapt to local realities and end up having limited impact. The participatory strategic design process will increase consensus on select justice challenges among civil society and official justice agencies and simultaneously strengthen partnerships between them.
Between 19 November and 3 December 2010 the project worked with a consultant who has facilitated strategic planning and trainings with the Guatemalan Judiciary, National Police and the USAID Justice Program and a broad cross-section of officials and citizens working on justice issues in the department. The group worked to formulate strategies that consider the historic, structural and current justice challenges and assess the factors that adversely affect the potential to achieve the vision and goals identified by the group.
Following a validation exercise of the strategic planning in early January, CBF and IPJ met in early February 2011 to complete a workplan of activities to address strategic justice issues. These include continued collaboration with the Quiché Conflict Network (see this note about founding the Network ) and the selection of communities for project efforts.
IPJ returned to Quiché in April to participate in formulation of upcoming activities, review project monitoring and an initial field activity in Cotzal (more detail available 28 April blog on IPJ web-site). The project implementation team has worked hard to build alliances with local justice agencies and local communities in Quiché. It has also developed potential additional support and collaboration from UN Women and the German aid agency, GIZ.
Milburn Line will return to Guatemala in August to monitor progress on implementation of these initiatives.
The Legal Empowerment in Quiché Project has continued to move forward with a series of consultations to ensure adequate goals are defined, that ownership of the project transcends the IPJ and the Barbara Ford Peace Center, and that the relationships necessary to address objectives are in place. Our first step in this process was the development of a baseline survey to delineate perceptions of justice issues and areas for priority amongst key officials, civil society and local community leaders. The baseline survey provides a clear, if challenging, snapshot of the current justice landscape.
Summary of findings from Quiché baseline study:
The baseline survey offers a basis for project implementers and partners to develop an integrated work plan for the project, simultaneously exploring and validating overarching themes, establishing priorities and refining strategies. Between July 22 and September 18, 2010, instruments were designed to guide a systematic interview process for a team that conducted 50 surveys, with a geographic coverage of 20 municipalities and more than 50 communities, and a total participation of 96 persons (42 men and 54 women), as follows:
Most cited issues across all sectors:
Other sources of conflict mentioned included unemployment, alcoholism, individual debts, child support, emigration and abandonment.
Representatives of the departmental prosecutor’s office reported that 40 to 60 percent of cases managed by the Public Ministry are violence against women, and that many women do not engage the justice system due to fear, economic dependence or not being aware of how to file complaints.
Regarding processes to resolve conflict, most official agencies focus on the constitutional system; civil society aspires to build bridges between official agencies and local communities; and local communities tend to depend on their local and/or indigenous authorities.
Regarding how such processes actually function, most of those surveyed agree that neither the constitutional nor indigenous justice systems are working effectively. The formal system is slow and has weaknesses (e.g., interpretation), with some areas of improvement noted that include the justices of the peace and mediation centers.
Mayan customary law is recognized through the International Labor Organization Convention 169, but it is not generally accepted due to violent and abusive practices ascribed to it. A review is required to ensure its restorative justice potential is realized within practices that correspond to official justice standards.
Improved effectiveness can be obtained through more complete dissemination of legal standards and institutions available to serve the public in local languages.
The identified training needs include conflict prevention, resolution and mediation techniques.
Based on the survey, the project is conducting strategic planning exercises with civil society and official agents to identify specific project activities of support in the proposed areas. These include joint training initiatives and public articulation of justice standards that will begin early in 2011, as the pressures of an electoral year begin to mount. Milburn Line will travel to Guatemala from Feb. 6 to 12, 2011, to support this process.
From Aug. 4 to 18, 2010, the IPJ worked with the Sister Barbara Ford Peace Center (CBF) in Quiché, Guatemala to begin a legal empowerment project for indigenous communities with funding from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The project will continue in Quiché over the next three years and attempt to strengthen indigenous populations’ access to justice through promoting greater civil society participation in and coordination with justice processes. This is a truly historic goal in Guatemala, given the massive civil and political rights violations experienced in Quiché during the conflict, including targeted murder of civilians and massacres in 327 villages; and that the justice system has traditionally excluded indigenous populations and been utilized to take away their lands instead of ensuring their rights.
Following an initial meeting with State Department officials, the IPJ and CBF team conducted a survey with some 40 official and civil society interlocutors that will form the baseline for eventual project activities, defined according to the priorities expressed by local Quichelenses.
Persons consulted expressed continued frustrations with the inefficiencies of the justice system, including the lack of interpretation for Mayan language speakers. Many of the conflicts that are legacies of the 36 year civil war, like disputes over land titles and authoritarian social practices like lynchings, continue to be present. But there is increasing awareness of newer issues, like domestic and gender-based violence, that offer an opportunity to unite justice and civil society sectors against challenges that are not mired in the ideologies of the conflict. This opportunity is not being allowed to pass by Mayan women who have become active in defending their rights.
Another encouraging example is the work of the Defensoría Indígena Wajxaqib’ No’j. In the nine years since its founding DIWN has expanded its non-violent Mayan law work across Quiché and other Guatemalan departments, emphasizing justice that achieves reconciliation and restoration of social cohesion in line with Mayan custom, as opposed to the more punitive constitutional system.
In San Pedro Jocopilas, for example, DIWN has solved cases by ensuring that historical (ex-soldiers and ex-guerrillas) and contemporary (evangelical Protestants, Catholics and Mayan traditionalists) adversaries participate in dialogue and consensus to resolve local conflicts. DIWN currently has a bill in the Guatemalan Congress on Indigenous Law Jurisdiction to regulate Mayan law practice in coordination with the Constitutional system, which offers a tremendous opportunity for local communities to resolve conflicts without having to litigate in the overwhelmed official system.
These examples are important since, in addition to efforts to strengthen local justice processes in Quiché, the project will also seek to learn lessons with policy implications for improving justice practices across Guatemala.