Human Rights 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.
The key principles of Human Rights Accompaniment:
- Protective Presence – The presence of accompaniers makes the costs of human rights abuses more apparent to the perpetrators, persuades them to act differently, and deters attacks on civilians.
- Monitoring of human rights violations – When presence cannot completely halt human rights violations, accompaniers are there to monitor and report these abuses to relevant agencies.
- Standing with local communities and human rights groups – Accompaniment helps focus global attention on local communities and human rights groups, so increasing their credibility and capacity to work for change.
- Advocacy – This is the tool for increasing international action for change. By sharing eyewitness testimonies with decision makers, media, civil society, and business officials, so as to change public policy. Increased international awareness increases pressure on the perpetrators of human rights abuses and helps protect civilians from these abuses.
- Principled Impartiality – Human Rights accompaniers are pro-human rights and do not discriminate against anyone but stand faithfully with the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized.
- Nonviolence – Nonviolence is a way of living that rejects the use of violence and seeks to bring change through the engagement of individuals and groups peaceful strategies.
Based on the above, International accompaniment in Guatemala 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.
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.
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.”
Human Rights Accompaniment must combine a strategic local presence with international pressure in order to be effective. Human Rights Accompaniment must combine a strategic local presence with international pressure in order to be effective. 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
GSN no longer links prospective human rights accompaniers with organisations in Guatemala but if you have an interest in pursuing this, you may want to explore Peace Brigades International, who do offer accompaniment opportunities. You can find more information here, PBI – Protective Accompaniment.
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.