Civil Peace Service: Dealing with the Past and Promoting Human Rights

Project description

Title: Civil Peace Service: Strengthening human rights and promoting non-violent social relations as a contribution to peacebuilding in Guatemala
Commissioning party: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Guatemala
Lead executing agency: Civil society organisations and state institutions
Overall term: Since 1999; currently: 2013 to 2016

Guatemala. An artistic interpretation of the trauma of war, created as part of a psychosocial support process (partner organisation: ECAP) © GIZ


Even after the signing of peace accords to end the civil war in 1996, violence, poverty and extreme inequality with regard to the distribution of resources are still prevalent in Guatemalan society. Ethnic and cultural discrimination go hand in hand with the social, political and economic marginalisation of the majority indigenous population. Political structures leave little room for active civic engagement and genuine co-determination.

State institutions are weak and unable to safeguard the basic needs and rights of citizens to a sufficient extent. Serious shortcomings with regard to public security and crime lead to low conviction rates (30 per cent). Violence influences the structure of social relationships and undermines social cohesion. The state has little scope to resolve emerging social conflicts peacefully.

Violations of human rights, both past and present, are rarely pursued. Defenders of human rights are increasingly finding themselves threatened in their work.


State and non-governmental institutions in Guatemala are increasingly able to safeguard human rights. Violations of human rights, both past and present, are being addressed. Dialogue processes to promote the establishment of non-violent individual and social relationships are initiated with the involvement of the majority indigenous population.


The programme deploys experts to advise Guatemalan institutions and supports their work through relatively small financial contributions.

It advises state and non-governmental actors committed to protecting, respecting and safeguarding human rights. This is seen as a foundation and prerequisite for non-violent conflict transformation and the establishment of non-violent social relationships.
The work of the Civil Peace Service (CPS) therefore promotes cooperation between state and civil society actors at local level in three areas:

  1. Safeguarding human rights, particularly of women and the indigenous population.
  2. Assisting in addressing past and present human rights violations.
  3. Analysing human rights violations as the cause and result of social conflicts with a view to resolving them without recourse to violence.

Disadvantaged groups are supported in actively asserting their rights. State institutions are empowered to fulfil their obligations more effectively. As a result of its many years of work in Guatemala, CPS has established relationships of trust with various state and non-governmental partners and draws on these links to help build trust and reinforce networks between state and civil society actors. CPS’s partners in Guatemala operate in areas including psychosocial support, archiving, memory work and human rights monitoring, art and culture, dialogue, and new media.

The deployment of CPS experts in and by partner organisations creates close ties to the partners and provides direct access to the target groups. The process-based approach enables projects to be supported over a longer term.

The project’s partners include the Guatemalan State Ombudsman’s Office (PDH), the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala (ODHAG), the non-governmental organisations Centro de Análisis Forense y Ciencias Aplicadas (CAFCA) and Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (ECAP), the indigenous organisation Ajkemab' Rech K'aslemal and the association Verdad & Vida.

Guatemala. Burying victims of the civil war following an exhumation (partner organisation: CAFCA)


Examples from the field

In Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz, citizens are using theatre, painting and historical research to actively exercise their cultural rights as Maya Achi and Maya Pocomchi groups. Teachers in particular are looking at local history in their lessons, thus ensuring that the Ministry of Education is involved at local level.

The online portal ‘Memoria Virtual Guatemala’ allows access to information, databases, documents and maps on Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. Numerous organisations are actively cooperating to establish a memory culture and deal with the past in the public sphere.

Women who had been subject to serious human rights violations during the civil war are receiving psychosocial support through the partner organisation ECAP. This includes processing traumatic experiences, bringing victims together, providing support for restitution processes, educating people about women’s rights, raising awareness in the social environment, working with future generations and liaising with relevant local institutions. In addition, the women and their families are prepared for and supported in testifying as witnesses in court cases. These include the women who, as witnesses, contributed to a historical decision in February 2016, when a court handed long prison sentences to two former senior members of the military. The judges confirmed that the military had used sexual violence systematically on a huge scale as a means of warfare and genocide. Guatemala is thus playing a pioneering role in the legal investigation and prosecution of war crimes.