Accompaniers from around the world are currently needed in Guatemala for two reasons. Firstly, to maintain an international presence in communities involved in bringing legal cases against former military dictators for crimes of genocide that date back to the early 1980s. Secondly, to support other organisations and individuals who are intimidated and threatened with reprisal due to the nature of their work.
Since 1997, the Centre for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH) has been preparing legal cases in Guatemala against crimes committed during the civil war by the high commands of the regimes of Romeo Lucas García (1978-1982) and Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983). The cases are for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity. A critical element of the legal project is the participation of the victims of the violence and their willingness to publicly testify.
One of the main concerns in this project has been the safety of the witnesses. In order to minimise the risks, the communities requested international accompaniment. Consequently, international accompaniment projects already operating in Guatemala came together to establish a coordinating office and an international network for recruitment and support of volunteers.
Since May 2000, over 332 people from 18 countries have acted as accompaniers and the aim of the project has also now expanded to be able to respond to petitions for accompaniment from other individuals and organisations working for or involved with the Guatemalan social movement, trade unions and the defence of human rights.
In May 2013, Claudia Paz y Paz, the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor, said this about international accompaniment in Guatemala:
“Security of the witnesses is of great concern to the Public Prosecutor. We have been in conversation with the department of the interior and the civil police for how best to address this concern, particularly because the survivors live in such remote areas. We have seen that the most effective way to ensure safety of the witnesses has been through international accompaniment.”
International accompaniment has three main functions:
- To deter attacks against human rights defenders, or diminish their severity.
- To offer moral support to these communities/organisations/individuals.
- To raise awareness of the situation of human rights defenders in Guatemala in general.
Accompaniers usually work in pairs based either in communities at risk in rural regions of the country or with individuals and/or organisations in the capital or other towns. From their placements in the field they are in a position to alert international networks about the situation, rather than physically prevent acts of aggression or intimidation.
How to become an international accompanier
If you are interested in becoming an international accompanier in Guatemala, please get in touch.
For more a personal account about accompaniment, you can read this article about accompaniment by GSN member Rosemary Burnett, Accompaniment in Guatemala – a personal account.