In the Field
Guatemala Justice Project
Guatemala was the last Central American country to emerge from the Cold War proxy battles that wracked the sub-region and peaked in the 1980s. It is also the country where the fighting took the greatest human toll, with an estimated 200,000 dead or disappeared in a conflict that started in 1960 and ended in U.N.-brokered peace accords on December 29, 1996. Twelve years after the signing of the most ambitious accords in the hemisphere, Guatemala is a place where basic human security – freedom from both fear and want – remains elusive. The continuing lack of security is underscored by high levels of violent crime, fed by near-total impunity. Guatemala had a homicide rate of 45.2 per 100,000 in 2008; it is estimated that 97-98 percent of those crimes go unsolved.
Marginalized groups – indigenous, youth, women and the landless – bore the brunt of the internal armed conflict. The U.N. Commission for Historical Clarification concluded that 83 percent of the 42,000 fully identified victims were Mayan. Today, as local communities continue to be devastated by violence, it is these same groups that are most vulnerable to post-conflict human security threats. The overall climate of insecurity and impunity in turn leads to deeper societal disruptions, and undermines trust in the very institutions essential to the consolidation of a just and lasting peace in Guatemala.
|An embroidery from the Centro de Paz Barbara Ford in Quiché, Guatemala. Photo credit: Crystal Dujowich|
The IPJ, in collaboration with the Barbara Ford Peace Center (CBF) in Quiché, Guatemala, has received a grant award from the United States Department of State’s Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to assist indigenous people in exercising their civil and political rights. Quiché is the Guatemalan department most affected by the violence of the 36-year armed conflict that ended in 1996. More than half of the 646 massacres of largely Mayan indigenous villages documented by the Guatemalan Truth Commission were perpetrated in Quiché.
Though the numbers of politically motivated killings, disappearances and torture characteristic of the conflict are no longer prevalent, the legacy of dysfunctional or inefficient justice processes continues in Guatemala. As a result, the Guatemalan public has little confidence in State capacity to provide justice or security. Confidence in the justice system needs to be built around effective civil society engagement with the formal (retributive) legal system and informal (restorative) justice programs in order to begin the move beyond impunity and toward the rule of law.
Many human rights and justice efforts have focused predominantly on explicitly legal mechanisms, reforming legal codes and training attorneys, to the exclusion of the users of the justice system that seek redress for injustice. Especially in contexts of historical impunity and massive rights violations, as is the case of Guatemala, it is important to structure more integrated approaches to justice that include civil society actors and populations seeking justice. This three year project seeks a more effective method for indigenous people to realize rights and participate as fully-fledged citizens. It will build on the energy and efforts of Quiché civil society organizations to work with justice interlocutors through non-traditional legal empowerment approaches that mobilize social participation in justice processes and have already proven effective in Guatemala in previous project experiences.
This initiative builds on a workshop with the Quiché Conflict Network in June 2009. An IPJ team traveled to Guatemala in August 2010 to conduct an initial baseline assessment with the CBF team that will form the basis of an eventual participatory implementation design.
For periodic updates on the project's progress, go to Legal Empowerment in Quiché Project Updates.