International Human Rights Accompaniment has been a tool and gesture of solidarity since the 1980s in Guatemala. It began as a response to help protect indigenous Maya citizens who were the target of repression and violence at the hands of the Guatemalan State. (Read more on the history of the armed conflict).
Over the years, Accompaniment has evolved as a response and today focuses on justice for the victims of the internal armed conflict, for those defending their land and natural resources and for those involved in labour struggle.
With much hard work and remarkable determination, the first group of twenty-five hundred refugees crossed the Mexican-Guatemalan border and settled in the northern Guatemalan province of Quiché. The journey home was characterized by heavy rains, bitter cold, some military intimidation, inadequate supplies – and the birth of seven babies!” Beth Abbott, 1993 in Kathryn Anderson’s “Weaving Relationships.”
In the mid 1980s, after spending years living in exile in Mexico, Guatemalans began to express a desire to go home, despite the ongoing conflict raging against the indigenous population there. This assertion came only after years of training and through processes of refugee community development in Mexico. Learning from the Salvadoran experience, where international accompaniment had been critical to the success of the refugee from Honduras, despite government resistance. The Guatemalan refugees decided that the right to accompaniment of their own choosing should be a conditional for their return.
In 1988, Guatemalan Permanent Commissions published an open letter to the people of Guatemala and international friends and publicly declared their intention to return to Guatemala and requested international accompaniment. In Canada, in 1989 a working group was created in order to coordinate a Canadian response to the request for accompaniment. This group developed an education/action program in Canada and helped to strengthen the network of Canadian organization working in solidarity the Guatemalan people. This led to the creation of Project Accompaniment which trained and sent over 140 Canadian volunteers to physically accompany Guatemalans back to their homeland and in the initial steps of rebuilding their communities, despite the ongoing conflict. (Read more here on the return).
In 1999, three years after the Guatemalan Peace Accords were signed, and the year that The Return process ended, Project Accompaniment began to reconsider its role in Guatemala and question its future. Though they didn’t have much trust in the Peace Process, they were doubtful of accompaniment being part of the ongoing solidarity work that was needed in Guatemala and was disbanded. Fearing that there would not be justice in Guatemala for the crimes committeed during the internal armed conflict, that same year, Rigoberta Menchu presented a petition in Spain which denounced the burning of the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala in 1980 at the hands of the Guatemalan State, which killed her father and other members of her family and community, along with Spanish nationals. The Spanish National Court heard the case and began their investigation. The Guatemalan Genocide Case began, and in 2006 international arrest warrants were issued for high ranking members of the military and police, including past military dictators. (Check here for the chronology of Rigoberta Menchu et al. v. Rios Montt et al.; “Guatemala Genocide Case”).
In 2000, a courageous group of war survivors from 22 indigenous communities came together to demand justice in Guatemala for crimes committed during the internal armed conflict. The survivors created the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and filed charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes against former military dictators Romeo Lucas García and Ríos Montt and their military high commands. Recognizing the risks involved in such a high-profile case, the witnesses and their legal advisors requested international human rights accompaniment as a deterrent to violence.
Though Project Accompaniment was no longer, Breaking the Silence continued to see the value and need for international accompaniment in Guatemala. BTS continues to train and send accompaniers as a result of this petition and later became a member of the Coordination for International Accompaniment in Guatemala (ACOGUATE).
Please check out our resources and reports section for further relevant documents.