Finally victims can explain in court what happened to them

25 Oct 2012

image An indigenous woman in Guatemala shares her experience of the armed conflict in Baja Verapaz. Photo: Hector Morales Delgado/UNDP Guatemala

Guatemala’s Attorney General discusses transitional justice challenges in her home country

Those who deny the atrocities committed by both sides in Guatemala during that country’s 36 year civil war are among the biggest challenges to transitional justice for victims of the former regime, according to Attorney General, Ms. Claudia Paz y Paz.

“One of the biggest challenges that we face is that the memory of these events is disputed by many in Guatemala, despite the mountain of evidence,” said Ms. Paz y Paz, who is in New York this week to share some of her country’s experiences in prosecuting the crimes of the former regime since the civil war ended in 1996. “Many people deny that genocide took place. For them, going after the people who committed massacres is political revenge. Our message is that it is not revenge, it is justice. That is why it is important that the high ranks go in front of the court.”

Over 200,000 people were killed during Guatemala’s conflict. More than 45,000 disappeared, including an estimated 5,000 children. UNDP has been providing support to the government since 2009 to help prosecutors collect evidence and bring those responsible to justice. This has included training for the police and the Attorney General’s Office in forensic archeology, exhuming mass graves, and the development of a witness protection programme.    

Thanks to the work of the Attorney General and support from UNDP, several of those responsible have been convicted for their part in massacres and many former high-ranking officials, including a former president, await prosecution in Guatemala.

Ms. Paz y Paz addressed several UN officials and diplomats today. She is due to share her experiences again this evening to delegates from several countries working to prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity in former conflicts in their own countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Colombia.

“Providing justice for victims is important so that it doesn’t happen again,” she says. “There can be no impunity for these crimes, because if you allow impunity for these crimes, before you know it you will begin to see impunity for other offenses, such as drug trafficking and organised crime.”