with the past
When a committee of three internationally renowned jurists and human
rights scholars appointed under the Oslo Accord to look into the
Guatemalan conflict, handed over their report to the country's leaders
not so long ago, it was apt that their findings should be prefaced
by an appeal from a survivor's testimony that " Let the history
we lived, be taught in the schools so that it is never forgotten,
so that our children may know it".
on its way to being acknowledged as one of the most extensive recent
analyses detailing the fragmentation of a country's morality and
dignity, the report of the three member commission piquantly called
the Commission for Historical Clarification (the point being that
it was not established to judge but rather to clarify the history
of the civil war), makes compulsory reading for us. Indeed, there
are many points of comparison and few of departure.
report of the Commission documents an exceptionally moving account
of three decades of agony. It expressed the hope that the violence
and horrors described in the report should leave no room for despair.
That, " …………(on the contrary), despite
the shock that the nation should suffer upon seeing itself reflected
in the mirror of its past, it was to be hoped that the truth would
lead to reconciliation………………,
the victims whose past had been degraded and manipulated will be
dignified (while) the perpetrators, through the recognition of their
immoral and criminal acts, will be able to recover the dignity of
which they had deprived themselves."
main purpose was to place on record Guatemala's bloody past, for
though it is accepted that the country's armed confrontation, largely
between its ruling elite and the ethnic Mayan people, had caused
death and destruction, the gravity of the abuses suffered repeatedly
by its people has yet to become part of the national consciousness.
mandate was to seek for answers to some bewildering questions. Why
were innocent people compelled to live under the shadow of fear,
death and disappearances for more than 34 years? Why were there
daily threats in the lives of ordinary citizens having no connection
with armed groups or paramilitary groups? Who can explain the extreme
human rights abuses committed by both forces and specially by the
State? Why did defenceless children suffer acts of savagery? Why
did these acts of outrageous brutality, which showed no respect
for the most basic rules of humanitarian law, religious ethics and
cultural spirituality, take place? All questions, undoubtedly, of
intense relevance to us.
indictment that the Commission delivered on Guatemala's leaders,
both state and non-state, is severe. The number of persons killed
since the outbreak of the internal armed confrontation in 1962 were
estimated to be over two hundred thousand with state forces and
related paramilitary being responsible for 93% of the deaths. Guerrilla
forces were held accountable for only 3% of these atrocities while
the remaining 4% concerned deaths where it has not been possible
to determine responsibility.
victims included men, women and children of all social strata, working
professionals, church members, politicians, peasants, students and
academics. In ethnic terms, the vast majority were Mayans.
majority of human rights violations occurred with the knowledge
or by order of the highest authorities of the state. Interestingly,
the Commission dismissed the excuse that lower ranking army officers
were acting with a wide margin of autonomy without orders from their
superiors. It reminds, in overtones of general familiarity for us,
that no high commander, officer or person in the midlevel command
of the Army or state security forces were tried or convicted for
human rights abuses in all those years.
convictions that did, in fact, occur applied only to significantly
lower ranking personnel whose trials were attended with monumental
publicity. It is on this basis that the Commission, presupposing
the reasoning of the UN Human Rights Committee in more recent times,
takes the violations to be the result of an institutional policy,
with impunity for those aberrant officers.
the other hand, high level responsibility for abuses is not imposed
on the state alone. Guerrilla high military commanders were held
accountable for deliberate attacks on civilians. The role of the
church in the Guatemalan conflict was also critiqued on the basis
that the divisive policies it adopted led to a further fragmentation
of the national identity.
the manner in which the Commission has pinpointed responsibility
for past violations is important, the value of its report for us
lies equally in what has been detailed as imperative measures for
the process of national healing. Thus, it directs that, in the name
of the State of Guatemala and with the primary aim of restoring
dignity to the victims, the President of the Republic and the leaders
of the political and military forces responsible for the violations
assume responsibility for past violations and ask pardon for them.
is a profound irony that a decade and more down the line, Sri Lanka's
leaders have yet not complied with a similar duty in respect of
the forty to sixty thousand "disappeared" persons in this