Post-Conflict Justice in Rwanda and Guatemala

On March 26th, the group held a conference on Post-conflict justice. We had the honour of receiving Oscar Gasana, mediator and professor of mediation at Saint Paul University, who talked about the Rwandan situation, and Guillaume Charbonneau, project manager for Inter Pares’ Latin America team, who talked about Guatemala.

Summary of Presentations:

Oscar Gasana, Mediator for the Federal Government and Professor

–          The Rwandan genocide, a genocide of proximity, killed about 1 million people over the course of 84 days.

–          150 000 individuals have been detained for their participation in the genocide, rendering the regular justice system useless.

–          Three courses of action were undertaken:

–          The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (UNICTR) was established in 1997

  • It tried those with the greatest responsibilities for the genocide
  • 92 people were indicted in 2004, out of which 49 were found guilty and convicted, 14 were acquitted, 12 are still in appeal, 2 died in the process, 2 cases were withdrawn, 10 were referred to other jurisdictions and 9 are still at large

–          Rwandan court system and Gacaca

  • By 2006, only 10 000 suspects have been tried in courts.
  • Gacaca dealt with ordinary offenses in a traditional manner
  • It offered a long term solution to national suffering through reconciliation
  • People elected the judges, which was an issue in the cases where there were no Tutsi survivors and Hutu judges had to be appointed
  • Ended in 2011
  • Many witnesses were killed and corruption was omnipresent
  • Some cases were referred back to the regular court system and some were sentenced to short sentences or community work

–          A unity commission was established in 1999. It aimed at:

  • Peace education
  • Promotion of Rwanda
  • Training grassroot leaders
  • Holding trials in other countries like Canada, France and Belgium
  • Extradition

–          Information related to burial location were not always disclosed

–          There were issues surrounding the creation of an archive as there was no system in place in Rwanda. A budget has now been put together for this purpose

Guillaume Charbonneau, Project Manager at Inter Pares

The lead-up to the genocide – important contextualization

–          The roots of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict can be traced back to colonization

–          The conflict began even earlier in the 1960s. In response to a situation of profound inequities and the closing of democratic spaces, various guerrilla movements emerged at that time and fought to overthrow the military regimes.

–          During the next decades, the Guatemalan army systematically attacked the civilian population in the country’s Highlands (in its vast majority Indigenous), whom they suspected to be sympathetic to the guerilla cause.

–          As part of their counterinsurgency strategy, Guatemala’s military governments established Civil Defence Patrols.

–          The number of refugees increased dramatically at the beginning of the 1980s.

The peace process

–          Peace Accords were eventually signed in 1996, bringing a formal end to Guatemala’s civil war.

–          The UN-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission, which was created as part of the Peace Accords.

–          According to the Commission, in total, 200,000 civilians (83% of Mayan origin) were killed or forcibly “disappeared” and 440 villages were destroyed.

–          The Commission identified the Guatemalan Army and its collaborators within the social and political elite as responsible for 93% of the atrocities committed.

The current situation

–          The high hopes that had been raised with the accords and the Truth Commission that followed have not fulfilled all their promises, especially around the demands for Truth, Justice and Reparations.

–          The Guatemalan State committed itself to eradicate illegal groups and clandestine security organizations. Nonetheless, the high levels of impunity and the inefficient administration of justice resulted in those groups continuing to operate unhindered, paving the way for a dramatic increase in petty and organized crime rates around the year 2000.

–          One of the main causes that can explain this situation is the lack of follow-up to one of the key points of the Peace Accords, namely the demilitarization of the country and its corresponding control of private violence.

–          The prospects for justice in Guatemala improved in 2010 with the appointment as Attorney General, of a former colleague of Inter Pares, Claudia Paz y Paz. Her term was cut short on technical procedures, and she was excluded from seeking re-election as Attorney General last year.

–          Increasingly we are seeing the re-militarization of Guatemalan society. The fragility of Guatemala’s state institutions has resulted in the judicial system becoming part of the problem.

–          Impunity is still widespread for crimes of the past, which feeds into the current impunity rates for crimes committed today.

–          2014 saw the highest number of attacks (804 in total) against human rights defenders.

–          Violence against human rights defenders has as a background the increased stigmatization for their defense of rights.

–          Individuals who defend fundamental rights of Indigenous and rural communities such as the rights to water, to a clean environment, as well as the right to free, prior and informed consent are criminalized and face disproportionate legal retaliation.

Looking forward

–          Civil society organizations have urged for the creation of an international commission that would investigate and prosecute illegal groups integrated in the State apparatus. This initiative led to the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, in Spanish), which currently receives funds from the government of Canada.

–          The CICIG was able to prosecute very high profile cases in recent years, as well as to push for the adoption of legal and judicial reforms in the country.

–          The same civil society organizations that have pushed for the CICIG to be created are now asking for the Guatemalan government to renew the CICIG’s mandate for a fourth term in order to enable it to continue its work. The current government, led by ex-military official Otto Perez Molina, recently stated his opposition to this.


–          We urge Canada to continue its much needed financial and political support towards the CICIG, and to follow the call by the Human Rights Convergence to exhort the Guatemalan government to renew the mandate of the CICIG.

–          We urge Canada to maintain political and financial support for the key role of Guatemalan civil society as a watchdog and as legitimate social actor.

–          We urge Canada to remain vigilant and increase its efforts to express public support to human rights defenders in Guatemala who are facing heightened vulnerability.