At the end of last year, Jo-Marie Burt and Paulo Estrada presented a commentary, in WOLA, on the challenges facing those seeking justice for crimes carried out during the internal armed conflict. Many successes have occurred but the state, including the military and the oligarchy, is fighting back, putting this struggle for justice at risk.
The writers outline the successes, as well as setbacks and ongoing challenges, in seeking justice for wartime atrocities in Guatemala. The piece ends with some recommendations.
Over the past year, powerful elites have sought to reassert their control over Guatemala’s justice system, removing and intimidating independent prosecutors and judges from their posts, while others face intimidation and unfounded efforts to criminalize them. Many have been replaced with loyalists willing to do the bidding of those elites, undoing years of progress in strengthening prosecutorial and judicial independence and combating corruption and impunity. Despite these concerning setbacks in rule of law and anti-corruption efforts, several high profile transitional justice cases are presently before the courts of Guatemala. The May 2021 arrests of 12 senior and mid-ranking military and police officials in the Military Diary case, which includes 195 victims of enforced disappearance, extrajudicial execution, torture and sexual violence between 1983 and 1985, is the most dramatic of these. A dozen other human rights cases connected to Guatemala’s internal armed conflict (1960-1996) are currently making their way through Guatemala’s courts, pressing forward against great odds in an increasingly hostile climate for justice efforts.
Since the signing of the peace accords in 1996, Guatemalan courts have handed down 26 sentences in 21 cases of conflict-era human rights violations, including genocide, massacres, forced disappearance, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, and other crimes against humanity. Nearly 70 military personnel, soldiers, police and members of the civil defense patrols (PAC) have been convicted for serious human rights violations.
Despite the laborious and dedicated work of human rights defenders, survivors and families of victims, and independent judges and prosecutors, the efforts to seek justice for wartime atrocities in Guatemala are at grave risk. The international community can play a critical role in pressuring Guatemala to fulfill its international obligations to guarantee victims access to truth and justice.
You can read the full piece here, Hope amidst the darkness: Victims continue to press for justice for wartime atrocities in Guatemala, which also contains links to tables and summaries.