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 relationships as a contribution to peacebuilding in Guatemala
Commissioning party: German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
Country: Guatemala
Overall term: 2017 to 2020

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

Context

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 sufficiently safeguard the basic needs and rights of citizens. Serious shortcomings with regard to public security and crime lead to low conviction rates. Violence influences the structure of social relationships and undermines social cohesion. The state has little scope to resolve emerging social conflicts peacefully.

Human rights violations, both past and present, are rarely pursued. Human rights defenders are increasingly finding themselves threatened in their work.

Objective

State and non-state institutions in Guatemala are increasingly able to safeguard human rights and enforce the rights of women and indigenous groups. Human rights violations, both past and present, are being addressed. 

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Approach

The project deploys experts who advise Guatemalan institutions and supports their work with limited financial contributions.

It advises state and non-state actors committed to protecting, respecting and safeguarding human rights. This is seen as a 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 in regions and municipalities in three areas: It supports the actors in safeguarding human rights, particularly of women and the indigenous population. It assists in addressing past and present human rights violations. It analyses human rights violations as the cause and result of social conflicts with a view to resolving them without recourse to violence.

The project supports disadvantaged groups in actively asserting their rights and empowers state institutions 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-state partners and draws on these links to help build trust and reinforce networks between the various actors. CPS’s partners in Guatemala operate in areas that include 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 widespread access to the target groups. The process-based approach enables projects to be supported over a longer term.

The project’s partner organisations include the Guatemalan State Ombudsman’s Office (PDH), the Human Rights Office of the Archdiocese of Guatemala (ODHAG), the non-governmental organisations Equipo de Estudios Comunitarios y Acción Psicosocial (ECAP) and Memorial para la Concordia, the indigenous organisation Ajkemab’ Rech K’aslemal and the Asociación Civil Verdad y Vida.

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

Results

In Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz, citizens are using theatre, art 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 website Memoria Virtual Guatemala allows access to multimedia information, including databases, documents and videos on Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. Numerous organisations are networking with one another here and actively cooperating, for instance by using social media to establish a memory culture and deal with the past.

Women who suffered serious human rights abuses during the civil war are receiving psychosocial support. This includes processing traumatic experiences, educating people about women’s rights, raising awareness in the social environment, working with future generations and with male family members. In addition, the women and their families are prepared for and supported in testifying as witnesses in court cases. These include the women who contributed as witnesses to a historical decision in 2016, when a court handed long prison sentences to two former senior members of the military.

he 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.