Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war ended in 1996. The conflict, particularly the military government’s “scorched earth” policy, had left around 200,000 killed or disappeared, the majority indigenous Guatemalans. A UN truth commission, the Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission, found that acts of genocide had been committed against the indigenous population. Although it is more than two decades since the end of the conflict, the rule of law remains weak in Guatemala. Around 16 murders take place every day, and with around 98% impunity, the vast majority go unpunished. Human rights defenders working to secure respect for human rights and accountability for past crimes are particularly at risk in this climate, as are those resisting mining and other large-scale development projects in rural areas.

2015 was marked by a political and institutional crisis in Guatemala that broke out following a criminal investigation, driven by the International Commission against Impunity (CICIG) and the Public Ministry (MP), against a network of state and non - state high-level officials allegedly involved in corruption and tax evasion. As a result of these investigations, and because of the social and popular mobilization demanding, among other things, the resignation of policymakers and debugging of the legislative and judicial body, representatives of senior government resigned from their positions. Among these highlights, the then Vice President Roxana Baldetti and then President Otto Perez Molina,resigned after being charged with conspiracy, passive bribery, and other charges.

As part of this political crisis and the uprising of voices demanding a thorough reform of the Guatemalan political system, elections were conducted throughout the country for officers of the Executive and Legislative branches as well as for mayors of 338 municipalities. Social organizations noted the existence of illegalities in the process by some political parties, and the existence of violence in some jurisdictions and lack of voting rights in others (1). Jimmy Morales, the Front National Convergence, was the winner of the second round of presidential elections, held on October 25, 2015. Different analysts and representatives of civil society have pointed out the connections of the new president and his party to retired military officers who have been linked to harassment committed during the internal armed conflict (2) and the structure of the former ruling party, the Patriotic party.

In the field of human rights, several sectors of civil society, including indigenous movements have expressed doubts about the willingness of the new government to engage in dialogue to resolve existing conflicts. The same doubts arise about the will to resolve the historical demands of the population (land, decent housing, health and education) and respect the rights of ethnic, sexual and gender diversities. One of the uncertainties of various social sectors, and specifically women, is whether the campaign or the program of the new government will address the issue of access to land ownership for women. Landlessness prevents women access to other resources and services, such as credit and technical assistance, which may require land be offered as collateral. Similarly, they are excluded from most state programs of productive investment and technical assistance. (3)

Looking ahead over the next four years, social movements are calling for Guatemala to enforce the reforms identified in the mobilizations of the election period. These broad draft reforms will not be easy to implement, because profound changes are required on the political, economic and social level.

(1) Convergence for Human Rights, Apuntalemos Democracy, Guatemala, September 8, 2015.

(2) See the following articles: Comedian advised by military wins first round in Guatemala , Prensa Libre, 07.09.2015; Rodrigo Veliz, Jimmy appeals to the old policy: ex PAC and military in the Altiplano , Wanderer, 10.13.2015; Luis Solano, the security chief Jimmy Morales and the story of two farms , Independent Media Center of Guatemala, 10.23.2015; CERIGUA Cabinet of Jimmy Morales, unknown , Guatemala, 26.10.2015.

(3) Oswaldo Ical Jom, the issue is not touched on campaign: women owners , October 21, 2015, Nómada

PBI in Guatemala 

PBI first operated a project in Guatemala from 1983-1999, which closed following the Peace Accords. Unfortunately, the human rights situation soon began again to deteriorate, and local organizations asked PBI to return.

The current project opened in 2003. PBI now accompanies around 10 organizations nationwide with 10 international volunteers based in Guatemala City.

Visit the Guatemala Project's website

Who we protect in Guatemala 

The organisations and social movements we accompany are searching for the truth about Guatemala's civil war, for compensation, reconstruction and respect for the war's victims; they are fighting against the repression of defenders of human rights, and raising issues concerning environmental degradation and access to land.

Fighting impunity

PBI accompanies groups that carry out exhumations of clandestine mass graves, as well as lawyers and human rights organisations threatened and harassed for their work challenging impunity for past human rights violations.

Defenders of land rights, culture and natural resources

The concentration of ownership of land, and lack of acknowledgment of ancestral land rights is one of the main problems affecting indigenous people in Guatemala and was a root cause of the armed conflict. These days organisations continue to expose the negative impact of illegal exploitation of forestland and natural resources, as well as defending the rights of communities affected by mega-projects (open air mining, hydroelectric projects, oil extraction, etc).