Military Reform: Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace

Agreement on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and the Role of the Armed Forces in Democratic Society (Mexico City, 19 September 1996)

IV. Executive Branch: C. Armed forces

35. The signing of an agreement on a firm and lasting peace constitutes a fundamental change in relation to the conditions which have prevailed in Guatemala for more than three decades. This change has positive implications for State institutions, and in particular the Guatemalan armed forces. The role of the Guatemalan armed forces is defined as that of defending Guatemala’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; they shall have no other functions assigned to them, and their participation in other fields shall be limited to cooperative activities. The measures laid down in this Agreement ensure that the doctrine, means, resources and deployment of the armed forces are in line with their functions and Guatemala’s development priorities.

Constitutional reforms

36. The Government undertakes to sponsor the following amendments to the Guatemalan Constitution:

(a) Article 244. Constitution, organization and functions of the armed forces. The Guatemalan armed forces are a permanent institution in the service of the nation. They are unique and indivisible, essentially professional, apolitical, loyal and non-deliberative. Their function is to protect the sovereignty of the State and its territorial integrity. They consist of ground, air and naval forces. Their organization is hierarchical and based on the principles of discipline and obedience;

(b) Article 219. Military courts. The military courts shall take cognizance of the crimes and misdemeanours specified in the military code and in the corresponding regulations. Ordinary crimes and misdemeanours committed by military personnel shall be tried and judged by the ordinary courts. No civilian may be judged by military courts;

(c) Article 246. Duties and powers of the President over the armed forces. Replace the first paragraph by the following: "The President of the Republic is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and shall issue his orders through the Minister of Defence, whether he is a civilian or a member of the military".

Legal framework

37. Amendments to the Constituent Act of the armed forces deriving from the amendments to the Guatemalan Constitution, and amendments deriving from the peace agreements, shall be sponsored.

Military doctrine

38. A new military doctrine shall be formulated in accordance with the reforms envisaged in this Agreement. The doctrine shall encompass respect for the Guatemalan Constitution, human rights, the international instruments ratified by Guatemala in the military field, protection of national sovereignty and independence, the territorial integrity of Guatemala and the spirit of the agreements on a firm and lasting peace.

Size and resources

39. The size and resources of the Guatemalan armed forces shall be sufficient to enable them to discharge their function of defending Guatemala’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and shall be commensurate with the country’s economic capabilities.

Educational system

40. The necessary amendments shall continue to be made to the corresponding regulations so that the military education system is consistent, in its philosophical framework, with respect for the Guatemalan Constitution and other laws, with a culture of peace and democratic coexistence, with the doctrine defined in this Agreement, and with national values, the integral development of the individual, knowledge of our national history, respect for human rights and the identity and rights of the indigenous peoples, and the primacy of the individual.

Arms and munitions

41. The Government shall adopt the most appropriate policies for the acquisition of combat weapons and equipment in accordance with the new functions of the armed forces. The operation of the munitions factory shall be taken into account so that it can meet the needs of the civilian public security forces.

Restructuring

42. The public educational, financial, health, commercial, assistance and insurance institutions, installations and offices corresponding to the needs and functions of the Guatemalan armed forces shall operate under the same conditions as other similar not-for-profit institutions. All the graduates of the Adolfo V. Hall institutes shall join Guatemala’s military reserves. The Guatemalan armed forces shall allocate programmes to them for that purpose. The Government shall decide on an appropriate use for the television frequency allocated to the Guatemalan armed forces.

Military and community service

43. The practice of voluntary military recruitment shall be continued, until the Government of Guatemala, on the basis of the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights, adopts the necessary administrative decisions, and the Guatemalan Congress approves a civil service law, which shall include military service and community service; this law shall entail fulfillment of a duty and a constitutional right, which is neither compulsory nor a violation of human rights, is universal and non-discriminatory, and would reduce the length of service and offer options to citizens.

44. On the basis of these general principles, the Government undertakes to sponsor the above-mentioned law, which shall be drafted on the basis of what has been agreed on and achieved by the joint working group which is currently considering the matter.

Agreement on Constitutional Reforms and the Electoral Regime (Stockholm, 7 December 1996)

I. Constitutional Reforms

Guatemalan armed forces

20. In a democratic society, the typical functions of the armed forces relate to the defence of sovereignty and territorial integrity; any other function is atypical and exceptional; like any other government institution, their exercise of other functions must take place in a context of subordination to lawfully constituted authority and be preceded by a decision of and be monitored by the lawfully constituted authorities of the State within their specific sphere of competence. Any exceptional function of the armed forces must therefore be decided by the President of the Republic, as Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, and be subject to oversight by the Congress of the Republic.

21. Moreover, like other Ministers of State, the Minister of Defence is called upon to perform policy-making functions which do not necessarily require that he have a strictly technical background. As a result, the current requirement that he be a member of the armed forces is not justified. In keeping with present day conceptions of the organization of the judiciary, exclusive military jurisdiction in criminal matters should be confined to strictly military crimes and misdemeanours.

Constitution, organization and functions of the armed forces

22. Sponsor in the Congress of the Republic an amendment to article 244 of the Constitution so that it reads as follows:
"Article 244. Constitution, organization and functions of the armed forces. The Guatemalan armed forces are a permanent institution in the service of the nation. They are unique and indivisible, essentially professional, apolitical, obedient and non-deliberative. Their function is to defend the sovereignty of the State and the integrity of its territory. They consist of land, sea and air forces. Their organization is hierarchical and is based on the principles of discipline and obedience."

Comprehensive Agreement Human Rights (Mexico City, 19 March 1994)

VI. Military Conscription

1. Conscription for compulsory military service must not be forced, nor should it be cause for a violation of human rights and, therefore, while military service should continue to be a civic duty and right, it must be just and non-discriminatory.

2. To that end, for its part, the Government of the Republic of Guatemala shall continue to adopt and implement the necessary administrative decisions and shall initiate, as soon as possible and in the spirit of this agreement, a new Military Service Act.

Implementation History

1997

Intermediate Implementation

The “Xaman case” set a precedent for the civilian judiciary's jurisdiction over common crimes committed by military personnel. On 12 June 1996, Legislative Decree 14-96 codified this revision to military privilege.1

The Armed Forces performed an internal review of the Kaibil Special Operations and Training Center, where Guatemala's notorious commandos had been trained. Only minor changes were instituted.2

In accordance with the stipulation in the agreements to reduce military spending, the Government began cutting the budget of the Armed Forces. The Education and Doctrine Command was created to initiate reforms in military education and training.3

The Strategic Analysis Secretariat (SAE) was created as part of the intelligence services reforms stipulated in the Agreement on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and on the Role of the Armed Forces in a Democratic Society. The SAE was intended to be a civilian intelligence body in service of the President, but it was initially run by members of the Armed Forces, in violation of the agreements.4

The accord does not require a reduction in the armed force; however there is a, suggested size for the military. As of 1996, the military strength of Guatemala was 36,000 personnel, which was reduced to 30,000 personnel in 1997.5

  • 1. “Verification Report: Status of the Commitments of the Peace Agreements Relating to the Armed Forces,” United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), May 2002.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ibid.; “Report of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) for the Consultative Group Meeting for Guatemala,” United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), January 18, 2002.
  • 5. D. Scott Bennett and Allan Stam, “EUGene: A Conceptual Manual,” International Interactions 26 (2000):179-204; see  http://eugenesoftware.org.
1998

Intermediate Implementation

Reductions in military spending continued and fell to percentages of GDP lower than required by the agreements.6

Even after the Follow-up Commission approved an extension to the first quarter of 1998, the Government failed to set up an Advisory Council on Security, draft legislation regulating the bearing of arms, or advance the Civil Service Act.7 As of 1998, the military strength of Guatemala was 30,000 personnel.8

  • 6. “Verification Report: Status of the Commitments of the Peace Agreements Relating to the Armed Forces.”
  • 7. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/53/421), September 28, 1998.
  • 8. D. Scott Bennett and Allan Stam, “EUGene: A Conceptual Manual.”
1999

Intermediate Implementation

On 30 August 1999, the budget of the armed forces reached the benchmark of a 33% reduction in military spending as a proportion of GDP. However, by the end of the year, the size of the military budget relative to GDP came out at 0.68%, which slightly exceeded the stipulated amount of 0.66% of GDP.9

The referendum for the full package of constitutional amendments occurred on 16 May 1999. With low turnout, voters denied the proposed amendments, which included military reforms under the heading of executive agency. While this vote prevented the complete fulfillment of many components of the peace agreements, the parties to the agreements for their part showed good faith by drafting, submitting and approving the reforms. Government and civil society leaders also began working on alternative paths to enact structural reforms.10

In October 1999, the President's office submitted a bill to reform the Arms and Munitions Act and implement the related stipulations in the Agreement on the Strengthening of Civilian Power and on the Role of the Armed Forces in a Democratic Society. No further progress was made on it, however.11

Ministry of Defense leaders worked on comprehensive reforms in the design of military education. At the end of 1999, the President of the Republic ceremoniously delivered to MINUGUA a copy of the new Handbook of Military Doctrine of the Armed Forces of Guatemala. MINUGUA and the Follow-up Commission convinced the government that the handbook needed to be treated as a draft proposal subject to scrutiny from verification bodies and civil society.12

As of 1999, the military strength of Guatemala was 30,000 personnel.13

  • 9. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/54/526), November 11, 1999; “Verification Report: Status of the Commitments of the Peace Agreements Relating to the Armed Forces.”
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. “Verification Report: Status of the Commitments of the Peace Agreements Relating to the Armed Forces.”
  • 12. Ibid.
  • 13. D. Scott Bennett and Allan Stam, “EUGene: A Conceptual Manual.”
2000

Intermediate Implementation

The Government began to make progress toward dissolving the Presidential General Staff (EMP), which was responsible for many human rights violations during the armed conflict. As an alternative, the Government created the Secretariat of Administrative Affairs and Security (SAAS).14

The posture of the Armed Forces toward civilian affairs was not conducive to the relationship envisioned by the agreements. The Guatemalan military still operated as a counter-insurgency force in many ways, and as such tended to treat the civilian population as potential enemies. Civilian affairs in the military spent their time tracking the political leanings of civilians and continued to deploy “psychological operations squadrons” and “ideological operators.” The Armed Forces also continued their involvement in matters of public safety, bolstered by the Support for Civil Security Forces Act passed by Congress. These trends defied the demilitarization of public security mandated in the peace agreements.15

The time line of the peace agreements originally stipulated the end of 2000 as the deadline for compliance with military reform components. Since the Government had fallen too far behind to meet this deadline, the Follow-up Commission rescheduled the final deadline for 2004. Among the delayed commitments were the creation of a new military doctrine, changes to the military education system and intelligence programs, and the termination of the EMP.16

While the 2000 budget was set to allocate the appropriate amount for military spending (0.66% of GDP), the Executive ended up transferring so much more money to the Ministry of Defense that actual expenditures reached 0.83%.17

As of 2000, the military strength of Guatemala was 31,000 personnel, which was an increase of 1,000 personnel from 1999.18

  • 14. “Verification Report: Status of the Commitments of the Peace Agreements Relating to the Armed Forces.”
  • 15. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/55/175), July 26, 2000.
  • 16. “Verification Report: Status of the Commitments of the Peace Agreements Relating to the Armed Forces.”
  • 17. Ibid.
  • 18. D. Scott Bennett and Allan Stam, “EUGene: A Conceptual Manual.”
2001

Intermediate Implementation

The Joint Group, composed of civil society and military leaders, proposed a draft Civic Service Act that would set the standards for a universal, human-rights-compliant, non-compulsive system of military and civil service in accordance with the peace agreements. The Follow-up Commission and Peace Secretary endorsed the draft and forwarded it to the President's office to submit to Congress. The Strategic Affairs Secretariat (SAE) prepared a draft Free Access to Information Act, which was approved by the Follow-up Commission and also submitted to Congress. The SAE also began working on a draft Supervision of State Intelligence Agencies act. A group of legislators with the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) presented a new draft to the Arms and Munitions Act, which was only reviewed and shelved.19

Following positive dialogues over the Handbook of Military Doctrine of the Armed Forces of Guatemala, Government Accord 456-2001 established a process of soliciting input from civil society on national defense policy. The Civilian Affairs Directorate of the General Staff also began reforming its Civilian Affairs Doctrine handbook, which was originally designed for a counter-insurgency strategy that manipulated the civilian population for military ends, and was far from consistent with international human rights law norms.20

While the 2001 budget, like the 2000 budget, was set to allocate appropriate amounts for military spending, financial transfers from the Executive to the Ministry of Defense increased military spending to 0.96% of GDP, a level that far exceed the amount permitted by the agreements. At the same time, the Government allocated insufficient amounts to the Priority Program for Peace, in violation of the National Budget Law and the peace agreements.21

MINUGUA confirmed reports that military personnel carried out two extrajudicial executions and colluded with illegal armed groups, which carried out many lynchings and other egregious human rights violations.22

  • 19. “Verification Report: Status of the Commitments of the Peace Agreements Relating to the Armed Forces.”
  • 20. Ibid.
  • 21. Ibid.
  • 22. “Twelfth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/56/273), August 8, 2001.
2002

Intermediate Implementation

The Ministry of Defense prepared a report to set the main themes for future reforms of the Military Code and military prison system. The Ministry also publicly committed to reducing military spending back down to the level stipulated in the peace agreements, but then military commanders began withholding spending reports, and refusing to divulge information even before Congress, on the grounds of national security. The lack of a clear defense policy also left matters of military arms and equipment procurement ambiguous.23

The Armed Forces made very little progress with regard to intelligence services reform throughout the peace agreement implementation process to date. The one significant improvement was the creation of the Strategic Analysis Secretariat (SAE) in 1997. Although it was heavily influenced by the Armed Forces at first, it later became a truly civilian entity. However, the SAE's work was hampered by the Government's failure to create the Department of Civilian Intelligence and Information Analysis (DICAI) and the unauthorized intelligence functions of the Armed Forces, both of which are violations of the agreements.24

The EMP was still functioning, and the SAAS did not have the capacity to handle all the security duties previously upheld by the EMP. The Armed Forces also shirked their commitments in the agreements by remaining steeped in internal affairs—training new recruits for the National Civilian Police (PNC) and conducting independent public security operations.25

Military personnel became more involved in matters of public security, in violation of the agreements.26 At the heart of all the military reforms was the objective of demilitarizing Guatemalan society and strengthening civilian rule over all government agencies. The Government fell well short of this aim.27

  • 23. “Verification Report: Status of the Commitments of the Peace Agreements Relating to the Armed Forces.”
  • 24. Ibid.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/56/1003), July 10, 2002.
  • 27. “Thirteenth Report on Human Rights of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala,” United Nations General Assembly (A/57/336), August 22, 2002.
2003

Intermediate Implementation

Congress passed the Civil Service Act, which provides for a civilian alternative to mandatory military service. The Government continued to use the Armed Forces for public security tasks. After consulting with civil society organizations, the Government created the Advisory Council on Security in February 2003. The Armed Forces made progress in shifting its deployment posture to match the external defense strategy mandated by the agreements and in demobilizing the EMP.28

  • 28. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/58/267), August 30, 2003.
2004

Intermediate Implementation

The Government decided to reduce the number of troops and officers in the Armed Forces from 27,000 to 15,500, to reduce the military budget to 0.33% of GDP, and to accelerate base closings consistent with a reorientation toward external defense only. The EMP was finally replaced by the SAAS and the Ministry of Defense publicly introduced a new military doctrine based on human rights. Civilian regulation of military and intelligence structures was yet insufficient, however.29 As of 2004, the military declined by 1,000 personnel to 30,000.30

  • 29. “United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala: Report of the Secretary-General,” United Nations General Assembly (A/59/307), August 30, 2004.
  • 30. D. Scott Bennett and Allan Stam, “EUGene: A Conceptual Manual.”
2005

Intermediate Implementation

Satisfied with the progress on military reform, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced that the US would lift its ban on military aid to Guatemala.31 As of 2005, the military strength declined by another 1,000 personnel to 29,000.32

  • 31. Ginger Thompson, “U.S. To Lift Ban on Military Aid to Guatemala,” The New York Times, March 25, 2005, Section A, Pg. 6.
  • 32. D. Scott Bennett and Allan Stam, “EUGene: A Conceptual Manual.”
2006

Intermediate Implementation

The military personnel continued to decline in Guatemala. In 2006 the strength was 29,000 personnel which declined to 16,000 personnel in 2007.33