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1996 Peace Accord Implementation

In December 1996, decades of violent turmoil in Guatemala ended with the signing of a peace accord that established immediate plans for the demobilization and initial incorporation of the rebel forces, the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatematelca (URNG), and reduction of the Guatemalan army. Demobilization processes are often accompanied by sharp increases in crime. For this reason, careful attention has been paid to criminal activities of ex-combatants, both former government soldiers and ex-rebels.

The accord calls for a one-third reduction in the army's authorized strength and budget--already achieved--and for a constitutional amendment to permit the appointment of a civilian Minister of Defense. A constitutional amendment to this end was defeated as part of a May 1999 plebiscite, but discussions between the executive and legislative branches continue on how to achieve this objective.

The army has met its accord-mandated target of 28,000 troops, including subordinate air force (1,000) and navy (1,000) elements. It is equipped with armaments and materiel from the United States, Israel, Yugoslavia, Taiwan, Argentina, Spain, and France. As part of the army downsizing, the operational structure of 19 military zones and three strategic brigades are being recast as several military zones are eliminated and their area of operations absorbed by others. The air force operates three air bases; the navy has two port bases.

The advent of peace has opened the way for progress. Documented human rights violations have declined significantly in recent years, and institutions are being built to ensure fair and equal treatment for all Guatemalans. A new civilian police force is learning to serve the people and not instill fear. The President's Human Rights Commission and the office of the Human Rights Ombudsman are also now in place and have an important role to play. The new Supreme Court has made clear its intention to address shortcomings. The international community, multilaterally and bilaterally, is a committed ally in these efforts.

The 1996 signing of the peace accords, which ended 36 years of civil war, removed a major obstacle to foreign investment, but numerous corruption scandals associated with the PORTILLO administration have dampened investor confidence. The distribution of income remains highly unequal, with perhaps 75% of the population below the poverty line. Ongoing challenges include increasing the government revenues, negotiating further assistance from international donors, upgrading both government and private financial operations, and narrowing the trade deficit.

On 08 June 2001, a court convicted three military officers, former Presidential Military Staff (EMP) specialist Obdulio Villanueva; active-duty EMP Captain Byron Lima Oliva; and Lima Oliva's father, retired Colonel Byron Lima Estrada, of the April 26, 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, the Coordinator of the Archbishop's Office on Human Rights. The court sentenced them to 30-year, noncommutable sentences. Because the murder occurred just 2 days after Bishop Gerardi delivered the final report of the Office's "Recovery of Historical Memory" project, which detailed many of the human rights abuses committed during the internal conflict and held the military, military commissioners, and civil self-defense patrol forces responsible for more than 90 percent of war-related human rights violations, some observers had suspected a political motive for the crime.

In December 2001, in violation of the spirit of the Peace Accords, the President named the former Minister of Defense, General Eduardo Arevalo Lacs, who had retired only the previous day, to be the new Minister of Interior. The President has not yet carried out his commitment to dissolve the Presidential Military Staff (EMP), and the Government increased its budget in the year. In addition, the Finance Ministry increased the overall military budget.

During 2001 the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) reported increased signs of the participation of clandestine armed groups in illegal activities linked to employees of the Prosecutor's Office, justice system, and police. MINUGUA reported increases in violent deaths, killings in prisons, and "social cleansing" operations in which persons deemed socially undesirable (e.g., gang members, local delinquents, and released or escaped convicts) were murdered. Security forces tortured, abused, and mistreated suspects and detainees. Prison conditions remained harsh. After a massive jailbreak in June, the Government instituted a State of Alarm for 2 months, during which the rights to freedom of movement and legal representation, as well as protection against arbitrary detention were suspended in principle. On August 2, in response to violence associated with protests against tax increases, a state of exception was declared in Totonicapan; and the military patrolled the state capital for three days.

In September 2001 MINUGUA reported investigating 26 of the 43 allegations of extrajudicial killings received between July 2000 and June and confirming the validity of the claims in 18 cases. These figures represented an increase over the previous reporting cycle (October 1999 to June 2000) during which MINUGUA investigated 15 of 21 alleged extrajudicial killings and confirmed 13.

The number of attempted lynchings and resultant deaths increased in 2001 compared to 2000, but did not reach the very high levels of 1999. MINUGUA reported 75 lynchings by year's end, which resulted in 27 deaths and 140 injuries. These figures are significantly higher than in 2000, when 52 lynchings resulted in 32 deaths and 83 injuries. Since MINUGUA began tracking individual lynching cases in 1997, up until June of 2001, it recorded a total of 251 cases. Of these, only 48 of them, or 13 percent, have gone to trial. In only 29 cases have sentences have been handed down. Of these sentences, 20 cases, or 6 percent of the total, resulted in convictions. MINUGUA noted that lynchings, especially those that result in the death of the victims, increasingly are planned and premeditated events. There continued to be cases in which municipal officials or other local leaders were involved in lynching attempts. The large majority of the attacks took place in rural areas most severely affected by the internal conflict, which still suffer from the lowest levels of human development.

During 2002 Guatemala experienced a grave crisis of public security. Assassinations, lynchings, kidnappings, theft, drug trafficking, prison uprisings, among other acts of violence, affect the entire population and made of 2002 one of the most violent years of the country's post-war period. During the last years the pattern of violence in the country has increased markedly. The number of assassinations has risen 33 percent since 1999 - 426 deaths, or 13 per day, were registered just during the month of December 2002.

The national authorities had not been able to stop the spiral of violence that had targeted indigenous leaders, judges, public prosecutors and witnesses. The prevailing situation of insecurity is directly related to the inability of the National Civil Police (PNC), the Office of the Prosecutor and the judicial authorities to prevent and punish crimes. The deterioration of the PNC has prompted the Government to continue its dependence on the military to resolve public security problems. This continues to damage the image of the PNC and fails to achieve positive results as soldiers were not adequately trained nor efficient in carrying out public security responsibilities.

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Page last modified: 11-08-2017 14:54:18 ZULU