Guatemala civil war victims reject amnesty for perpetrators of violence | News | DW | 26.02.2019
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Guatemala civil war victims reject amnesty for perpetrators of violence

Victims of Guatemala's civil war have decried a move to grant amnesty to war veterans and have demanded reparations. More than 200,000 people died in the conflict that ravaged the Central American nation for 36 years.

Family members and victims' groups in Guatemala observed the country's annual remembrance of the civil war on Monday, pleading with the government not to proceed with a law that would grant amnesty to those who have already been convicted of carrying out atrocities during the decades of violence.

Spanning from 1960 to 1996, the Guatemalan civil war left roughly 250,000 people dead or disappeared, with the bulk of the violence having been inflicted on rural indigenous communities. At least 1 million people were internally displaced.

The signing of peace accords in 1996 led to the National Reconciliation Law, ending the war and, for victims, beginning a long road in search of justice.

Monday's memorial was established on the anniversary of a UN report that detailed the scale of the human rights abuses, which attributed a vast majority of the killings to Guatemala's army or right-wing paramilitary groups. The report also recommended reparations and access to justice for victims.

"We commemorate this day with pain and frustration because nothing has been fulfilled," Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist Rigoberta Menchu said during a demonstration in the country's capital, Guatemala City.

Retroactive amnesty

Introduced last June, initiative 5377 would amend the National Reconciliation Law and grant retroactive amnesty, which could lead to dozens of people convicted for crimes such as executions, forced disappearance, torture and sexual violence, to be freed within 24 hours.

Read more: Reconciliation in post-civil war Guatemala – a journey into the past

Proponents of the measure have argued that an amnesty pledge was also a part of the 1996 peace accords and that many legal irregularities in the convictions of war veterans have occurred. They argue that the amendment will help Guatemala reach reconciliation.

But several national and international organizations have rejected the legislation or expressed serious concerns. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights said in January that the initiative "fails to comply with the country's international commitments regarding memory, truth and justice, particularly concerning amnesties."

Likewise, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement that if the amendment is approved, it would "represent a drastic setback to accountability and the rule of law in Guatemala."

Read more: Guatemala: Breaking the silence about the past

Families seek compensation

Otilia Lux, an activist and contributor to the UN report, was present at Monday's commemoration, where family members carried photos of victims, along with flowers and posters. "What we need is justice and compensation for the victims," Lux said.  

The Q'anil Tinamit National Victims' Movement said initiative 5377 "hurts our dignity, our hope for justice and peace." The group echoed Lux's call for compensation, saying that some 80,000 people are currently registered to receive the reparation.

Prosecution for crimes committed during the Guatemalan civil war has led to the conviction of high-profile figures. Chief among them was Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala during the peak of violence in the early 1980s. Rios Montt died in 2018 at the age of 91 while under house arrest. He was the first Latin American leader to be convicted of genocide.

jcg/cmk (EFE, AFP)

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