Guatemalan reparations program for civil war victims’ families about more than compensation
Guatemalan reparations program for civil war victims’ families about more than compensation

Amanda Martin [Director, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA]: "In April 2005, the United Nations Human Rights Commission adopted a set of international principles on reparations for victims of human rights violations. These include restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition. Satisfaction includes a search for victims, identification of bodies and reburial, fact verification, public disclosure of the truth, public apologies, commemoration, and tribute to the victims.

The Guatemalan National Reparations Program (NRP) was created in 2005 as a result of the recommendations of the UN-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification. The program compensates victims' families with $3,000 (US) for each victim. For example, when a family from the department of Q'uiche (where 45% of the massacres took place during the internal armed conflict) files for compensation for the murder of their father, their case is reviewed, and if accepted, they receive this sum of money.

There are several criticisms of the NRP program. As one massacre survivor said, "What amount of money can compensate for the loss of my son?"

Many Mayan communities support a comprehensive compensation program. "The current program is purely economic; it doesn't provide justice to the families. We want complete reparations, which include housing, because our houses were destroyed during the scorched earth policy. We want potable water in our communities, accessible health care facilities with updated equipment, paved roads, bilingual education in Mayan villages, medical and psychological services for families suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an official apology from the Guatemalan government and a promise to never repeat these crimes," said Maria Dolores Itzep, lawyer from the Rabinal Popular Lawyer's Collective, who represents her community before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in a massacre case against the Guatemalan state.

In 1982, the Guatemalan Army massacred 268 people in the Mayan Achi town of Plan de Sanchez. The people of the community took their case to the IACHR where a "friendly agreement" was determined with the State. However, the Guatemalan government failed to comply with the terms of the agreement. The case went to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in Costa Rica. The community won the case in 2004 and the government now has to comply with each of the items on the list. To date, however, the state has taken few actions to fulfill its obligations, except for economic reparations of $60,000 (US) for each family member killed, and a formal apology by the Vice President in 2005.

The backlog of cases filed for the NRP is enormous. With over 150,000 people killed and 47,000 forcibly disappeared, the program is insufficiently staffed and severely under funded.

One NRP worker said, "I lost my brother and sister during the war; they were disappeared by the army. Now I work with the NRP, interviewing survivors, taking their testimony. The money is not enough to help them. When $3,000 is divided among 10 family members, it disappears quickly. The testimony is so important; it is part of the ongoing Historical Clarification Commission project, to tell the true story of what happened during the genocide.""

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