Truth or Reconciliation Mechanism: Accord for a Firm and Lasting Peace

Agreement on the Establishment of the Commission to Clarify Past Human Rights Violations and Acts of Violence that Have Caused the Guatemalan Population to Suffer (Oslo, 23 June 1994)

Whereas the present-day history of our country is marked by grave acts of violence, disregard for the fundamental rights of the individual and suffering of the population connected with the armed conflict;

Whereas the people of Guatemala have a right to know the whole truth concerning these events, clarification of which will help avoid a repetition of these sad and painful events and strengthen the process of democratization in Guatemala;

Reiterating its wish to comply fully with the Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights of 29 March 1994;

Reiterating its wish to open as soon as possible a new chapter in Guatemala’s history which, being the culmination of a lengthy process of negotiation, will put an end to the armed conflict and help lay the bases for peaceful coexistence and respect for human rights among Guatemalans;

Whereas, in this context, promotion of a culture of harmony and mutual respect that will eliminate any form of revenge or vengeance is a prerequisite for a firm and lasting peace,

The Government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (hereafter referred to as "the Parties") have agreed as follows:

To establish a Commission whose terms of reference shall be as follows:

Purposes

I. To clarify with all objectivity, equity and impartiality the human rights violations and acts of violence that have caused the Guatemalan population to suffer, connected with the armed conflict.

II. To prepare a report that will contain the findings of the investigations carried out and provide objective information regarding events during this period covering all factors, internal as well as external.

III. Formulate specific recommendations to encourage peace and national harmony in Guatemala. The Commission shall recommend, in particular, measures to preserve the memory of the victims, to foster a culture of mutual respect and observance of human rights and to strengthen the democratic process.

Period covered

The Commission's investigations shall cover the period from the start of the armed conflict until the signing of the firm and lasting peace agreement.

Operation

I. The Commission shall receive particulars and information from individuals or institutions that consider themselves to be affected and also from the Parties.

II. The Commission shall be responsible for clarifying these situations fully and in detail. In particular, it shall analyse the factors and circumstances involved in those cases with complete impartiality. The Commission shall invite those who may be in possession of relevant information to submit their version of the incidents. Failure of those concerned to appear shall not prevent the Commission from reaching a determination on the cases.

III. The Commission shall not attribute responsibility to any individual in its work, recommendations and report nor shall these have any judicial aim or effect.

IV. The Commission's proceedings shall be confidential so as to guarantee the secrecy of the sources and the safety of witnesses and informants.

V. Once it is established, the Commission shall publicize the fact that it has been established and the place where it is meeting by all possible means, and shall invite interested parties to present their information and their testimony.

Composition

The Commission shall consist of the following three members:

(i) The present Moderator of the peace negotiations, whom the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall be asked to appoint.

(ii) One member, a Guatemalan of irreproachable conduct, appointed by the Moderator with the agreement of the Parties.

(iii) One academic selected by the Moderator, with the agreement of the Parties, from a list proposed by the University presidents.

The Commission shall have whatever support staff it deems necessary, with the requisite qualifications, in order to carry out its tasks.

Installation and duration

The Commission shall be set up, installed and shall start to work as of the day the firm and lasting peace agreement is signed. The Commission shall work for a period of six months starting from the date of its installation; this period may be extended for a further six months if the Commission so decides.

Report

The Commission shall prepare a report which shall be handed over to the parties and to the Secretary-General of the United Nations who shall publish it. Inability to investigate all the cases or situations presented to the Commission shall not detract from the report's validity.

Commitment of the Parties

The Parties undertake to collaborate with the Commission in all matters that may be necessary for the fulfillment of its mandate. In particular, they undertake to establish, prior to setting up the Commission and during its operations, the necessary conditions so that the Commission may fulfill the terms of reference established in the present agreement.

International verification In conformity with the Framework Agreement of 10 January 1994, implementation of this Agreement shall be subject to international verification by the United Nations.

Measures for prompt execution following the signing of this Agreement

The Parties agree to ask the Secretary-General to appoint the Moderator of the negotiations as a member of the Commission as soon as possible. When he is appointed, he shall be authorized to proceed forthwith to make all necessary arrangements to ensure that the Commission functions smoothly once it is established and installed in conformity with the provisions of this Agreement.

Implementation History

1997

Intermediate Implementation

The Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) formed in February and began work in April. German Jurist Christian Tomuschat led the commission, appointing two Guatemalans to fill the remaining leadership positions: Otilia Lux de Coti and Alfredo Balsells Tojo. The international community was slower than planned in supplying financial support, so the CEH did not start taking testimonies until 1 September.1

1998

Intermediate Implementation

The CEH completed its interviews in April.2 The CEH convened 400 persons from 139 civil society organizations for the National Forum on Recommendations on 27 May.3

On April 26, Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi was murdered two days after releasing a parallel report of atrocities committed during the civil war.4

  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. “Guatemala: Memory of Silence," Guatemalan Commission for Historical Clarification, 1999, accessed April 20, 2012, http://shr.aaas.org/guatemala/ceh/report/english/toc.html.
  • 4. Greg Brosnan, “4 Men Convicted in Murder of Guatemalan Bishop,” The Washington Post (Reprinted from Reuters), June 9, 2001, A14.
1999

Full Implementation

The CEH released its final report, “Memory of Silence,” on 25 February 1999. It documented human rights violations against 42,275 victims, of which 23,671 were victims of arbitrary execution and 6,159 of forced disappearance. Mass killings were common, with 626 cases verified by the CEH. Mayans made up the vast majority (83%) of the victims, and the Guatemalan state, mainly through the Army, was responsible for nearly all (93%) of the violations. Most of the violations (91%) were committed between 1978 and 1984. The CEH described the Army's attacks against Mayans between 1981 and 1983 as “acts of genocide.” Insurgent groups also committed many grievous human rights violations, but they amounted to 3% of the total violations identified. The CEH made several recommendations, including: formal apologies from the State of Guatemala and the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG); monuments and a day of commemoration for victims; the creation of a National Reparation Program for victims of human rights violations; investigations into cases of forced disappearances; exhumation of the remains of those killed in massacres so they can be properly buried; education initiatives to foster a culture of peace; ratification of international human rights instruments; increased accountability structures within the Government; improvement the public's access to information; judicial reform, including respect for traditional forms of conflict resolution and customary law; re-emphasis on the military and police reforms and human rights protections stipulated in the agreements; and the creation of a Foundation for Peace and Harmony to oversee the implementation of the CEH recommendations.5

The CEH officially dissolved on 25 February with the presentation of the final report.6

2000

Full Implementation

Citing financial shortcomings, the Government made no immediate progress in implementing the recommendations of the CEH, not even the cost-free gestures of acknowledgment and apology for the sake of national reconciliation. In the meantime, the human rights situation in the country deteriorated.7

  • 7. Will Weissert, “Guatemala's Truth Commission Report Falls on Deaf Ears,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Reprinted from the Associated Press), February 20, 2000, A5.
2001

Full Implementation

A Guatemalan tribunal convicted three men linked to the Guatemalan military for the murder of Bishop Gerardi in 1998. A priest was also convicted as an accessory to the murder.8

  • 8. Greg Brosnan, “4 Men Convicted in Murder of Guatemalan Bishop,” The Washington Post (Reprinted from Reuters), June 9, 2001, A14.
2002

Full Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2003

Full Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2004

Full Implementation

No developments observed this year.

2005

Full Implementation

After preventing any actions to declassify information to investigate crimes committed by persons identified by the CEH for years, the Government adopted an order to improve (nominally) public access to information. The Attorney-General issued guidelines for investigations into past atrocities using forensic anthropologists, but the Government generally maintained a conspicuously silent position on the implementation of the CEH's recommendations.9

  • 9. “Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Guatemala,” United Nations Economic and Social Council (E/CN.4/2006/10/Add.1), February 1, 2006.
2006

Full Implementation

After a period without developments, in December 2009, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned Guatemala for failing to seek justice in the 1982 massacre of more than 200 villagers.10 In March 2012, a Guatemalan court denied amnesty to former dictator Efrain Rios Montt who was facing genocide charges for abuses committing during 1982-1983.11   

  • 10. "Rights courts condemns Guatemala in 1982 massacre," Associated Press Online, December 22, 2009.
  • 11. "Guatemala judge denies ex-dictator's amnesty claim," Agence France Presse, March 2, 2012.