“The impunity of the past is today’s corruption” – Lessons learned in Guatemala’s path to build sustainable peace

In 1996 the Peace Agreements were signed in Guatemala, ending an internal armed conflict that lasted 36 years between the government and the guerilla movement. Interpeace’s 25 years of experience has taught us that signing a peace agreement is not the end of the process of building peace, but really the beginning of a long process to transform conflict and build sustainable solutions. Twenty-three years later and Guatemala continues to face widespread violence. Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemala’s first female Attorney General, from 2010 to 2014, indicates that “impunity is one of the reasons there is so much violence in Guatemala.”

On 17 March 2019, Interpeace co-hosted an event at the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH), entitled “Guatemala: For Memory, Against Impunity” with the World Organizations Against Torture, Casa Allianza, the Geneva Solidarity Delegation and the Right Livelihood Award. The event began with a screening of the documentary Burden of Peace, directed by Joey Boink, which illustrates the work of Claudia Paz y Paz as Attorney General in Guatemala and her fight against impunity, as she seeks to bring justice and truth on the crimes committed during the civil war.

“We cannot ignore the violations of human rights and the only way of dealing with them is through truth and justice.” Throughout the documentary, Claudia Paz y Paz highlights the importance of healing wounds of the past in order to build peace. During her mandate, a genocide trial against General Efraín Ríos Montt took place in Guatemala, convicting him for his role in the massacres of Ixil Mayas in the 1980s. Although the verdict was annulled at the time by the constitutional court, this process marked a changing point in the country. Providing victims with the opportunity to share their experiences during the armed conflict, contributed to a process of restoring trust between the people of Guatemala and the justice system, “there are still open wounds, but maybe we can heal them through justice."

Building trust is essential in the process of building peace. Trust gives institutions lasting legitimacy and helps individuals and groups remain engaged in the process. Claudia Paz y Paz took important steps in this direction. She was one of the most effective attorney generals in the country, but despite her efforts, was forced to leave office seven months early. She mentions, “the impunity of the past is today’s corruption.” Currently the fight against corruption in Guatemala has given hope to the population but has greatly increased political tensions.

Arnoldo Gálvez interviews Claudia Paz y Paz via Skype at FIFDH event. Photo credit: World Organisation Against Torture

“How do we keep this hope alive?” asked Guatemalan journalist, Arnoldo Gálvez, Global Communications Manager of Interpeace, during an interview with Claudia after the screening of the documentary. “After I left office, Thelma Aldana and Iván Velásquez continued with the fight against impunity. It’s not a one-person job. I have faith in the prosecutors and human rights activists in my country…we cannot let justice take steps back” she answered.

During the panel event, prominent figures in Guatemala’s political landscape discussed the current situation on the eve of the presidential elections on June 2019 and looked back on Guatemala’s fight against impunity and corruption after Claudia left office in 2014.

“Since 2015, when the arrests were made against very high officials in the government, it gave young people hope. Hope that justice could be done and especially that Guatemala’s reality could start to change.” Lenina García, Secretary-General of the Student’s Association of San Carlos University in Guatemala, was one of the panelists at the FIFDH event. She acknowledged the impact produced when President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, were forced to resign and were later convicted on corruption charges. These prosecutions were led by Thelma Aldana, former Attorney General and Iván Velásquez, Head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known as CICIG. Working in conjunction with Guatemala’s Public Prosecutors Office and the National Civilian Police, CICIG is an independent international body that aims to investigate serious crime in Guatemala, to strengthen the rule of law. Established in 2006 by the United Nations in response to a request for assistance from the Government of Guatemala, CICIG has helped dismantle drug cartels, money-laundering rings and death squads.

Photo credit: Arnoldo Gálvez and Lenina García. Photo credit: FIFDH/Miguel Bueno

The convictions against former President and Vice-President of Guatemala, began a long process of high-profile arrests made against prominent figures in politics and the private sector, demonstrating a significant change in the justice system in Guatemala. Commissioner Iván Velásquez was also a panelist at the FIFDH event. He recognized the crucial steps made towards building democracy in Guatemala, but also acknowledged that civil society must continue to demand transformative changes, “the indigenous communities and students in Guatemala play a crucial role in the fight against impunity.”

Along with building trust, fostering local ownership is equally important to build sustainable peace. As Iván Velásquez expresses, all sectors of society must participate in identifying the challenges and obstacles to peace and must work together to develop their own solutions. This in turn, will ensure the sustainability of peacebuilding efforts. Those who are traditionally marginalized from politics in Guatemala – women, youth and indigenous groups – therefore, play a key role in bringing change to the country.

Arnoldo Gálvez, Lenina García, Iván Velásquez and Juana Baca Velasco. Photo credit: FIFDH

Juana Baca Velasco, Director of the Ixiles Association of Women’s Organizations, was the third panelist at the event. “Justice has been managed by the interests of the government. There is very little will to solve the complaints made by the indigenous communities. There are hundreds of violations against indigenous women that have not been brought to justice.” Despite significant efforts in the past 5 years, Juana Baca Velasco reminds us that there is still much to do in Guatemala.

After 25 years of working to build peace in conflict-affected regions in the world, Interpeace recognizes that the process matters and determines the result. There is a need not only to focus on the end goal of building peace, but also on making sure that the process leading to it is managed in a way that allows for inclusion, constructive dialogue and consensus-building – rather than confrontation and power games. Guatemala has taken significant steps towards fighting corruption and impunity, which gives other countries hope that change is possible. Notwithstanding, it is important to recognize that building peace takes time and that long-term commitment is necessary for change to be sustainable.

Watch the livestream of the event held at FIFDH on 17 March, 2019.

Interview via Skype with Guatemala’s first female Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, begins in minute 2:36. 

Guatemala: For Memory, Against Impunity

Interview via Skype with Guatemala's first female Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, begins in minute 2:36. 

Panel event "Guatemala: For Memory, Against Impunity," presented at the Geneva International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights (FIFDH) on March 17, 2019.  The event was co-hosted by Interpeace, the World Organization Against Torture, Casa Allianza, the Geneva Solidarity Delegation and the Right Livelihood Award.

After decades of civil war and despite a developing democratic process, Guatemala is struggling to cope with widespread violence and impunity in the country. The event began with the screening of the documentary Burden of Peace, which illustrates the work of Guatemala’s first female Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, and her fight against impunity, as she seeks to bring justice and truth on the crimes committed during the civil war. A short interview via Skype was conducted with Claudia before the panel event began.

The panel discussion included prominent figures in Guatemala’s political landscape who discussed the current situation on the eve of the presidential elections on June 2019.

The panelists were:

The event was moderated by Arnoldo Gálvez, Global Communications Lead of Interpeace.



Solidarity and support to the Colombian people

On Thursday, January 17, a car bomb exploded at a police academy in Bogotá, Colombia, killing 21 people and wounding more than 50. This is the deadliest attack in Bogotá, since the government signed a Peace Agreement with the FARC in 2016.

We express our solidarity with the authorities and the people of Colombia and extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims. In partnership with the organization Alianza Para la Paz, Interpeace has been working for over two years with the Colombian National Police, a key institution to build lasting and sustainable peace.

In these difficult moments, Interpeace reaffirms its commitment to continue supporting the efforts of the National Police and all Colombians on their path towards lasting peace.

Challenging the Conventional: Making Post-Violence Reconciliation Succeed

Reconciliation is a deeply complex process, which has gained increasing prominence on the agenda of post-violence peacebuilding. Yet reconciliation remains a contested and highly context-specific notion. In fact, there is considerable debate among scholars, experts and practitioners on the concept and practice of reconciliation, and how to best assess the achievements or limitations of reconciliation processes, especially in contexts where there are risks of re-emerging or transformed patterns and typologies of violence. Consequently, evidence is often lacking or disputed about interventions that are ‘successful’ in fostering reconciliation from the perspective of the people experiencing these processes.

Together with the Kofi Annan Foundation and with support of the Government of Finland et Robert Bosch Stiftung, we have developed a report entitled - Challenging the Conventional: Making Post-Violence Reconciliation Succeed, addressing the design and implementation of reconciliation processes, based on studies in Guatemala, Northern Ireland, DRC and South Africa. Our report argues that reconciliation requires a tailor-made approach and lasting attention from all segments of society: if we invest a fragment of what is spent in war on reconciliation, lasting peace might well be enjoyed by many more citizens around the world.

A New Partnership to Sustain Peace in Latin America

In 1994, Interpeace (under its previous name, the War-torn Societies Project), initiated a peacebuilding pilot project in post-conflict Guatemala. That work launched a series of peacebuilding processes that the organization would carry out in the region over the next 24 years.

Guatemala. Photo credit: Sandra Sebastian

One of the values that defines the unique nature of Interpeace is the commitment to ensuring that peacebuilding is locally-owned and locally-driven. This is done by strengthening local capacities to build peace, so that the people living in conflict are responsible for implementing and developing initiatives in their own context. In this same manner, Alianza para la Paz (APAZ) was established in 2015 as a result of Interpeace’s core value of strengthening regional capacities to build peace.

Today APAZ begins its independent work with a vision of “the Americas for the Americas”, which is based on trust, mutual understanding, dialogue and inclusion. APAZ and Interpeace are joining forces in a new partnership to explore peacebuilding challenges in Latin America. This alliance will build on a long track record of peacebuilding engagements in the region with a strengthened ability to link local action to global policy influence and resources.

Colombia. Photo credit: Interpeace

The new partnership agreement signed is for the benefit of the mission that Interpeace and APAZ share to sustain peace in Latin America. This exciting milestone is possible due to the commitment and passion of peacebuilders across Latin America and to the support of all those that have believed in our work.

Learn more about APAZ ici.


Youth, Peace and Security in the Northern Triangle of Central America

This report was commissioned by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Peacebuilding Support Office (PBSO) with funds from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). The report was developed as a contribution to the Progress Study on Youth, Peace and Security mandated by Security Council Resolution 2250. The research and consultations for this report followed the key research questions and methodology developed for the Progress Study.
The content of this report does not necessarily represent the views of the United Nations.