Journal Article

At War with the Past? The Politics of Truth Seeking in Guatemala

Anita Isaacs

in International Journal of Transitional Justice

Volume 4, issue 2, pages 251-274
Published in print July 2010 | ISSN: 1752-7716
Published online May 2010 | e-ISSN: 1752-7724 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ijtj/ijq005
At War with the Past? The Politics of Truth Seeking in Guatemala

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  • Human Rights and Immigration
  • Public International Law
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1Truth seeking in postwar Guatemala is a political battleground in which perpetrators intent on guarding against accountability confront victims’ associations equally intent on exposing abuses endured during the country's 36-year armed conflict. Having stage-managed the peace negotiations that established the restrictive parameters of Guatemala's Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH), army officers and guerilla leaders ceded control of truth seeking to Commission staff and their civil society partners, even as the latter mobilized to push the CEH to its investigative limits. The CEH final report's finding that the army had committed genocide galvanized both sides. Victims’ associations insist on more truth alongside justice and reparations, while army perpetrators reject incriminating Commission findings. The Guatemalan case reveals how truth initiatives are at once politicized and polarizing and how politics interfere with a truth commission's effort to produce a consensus history, end violence or afford reconciliation. While it confirms that confronting the past risks undermining the labor of transition architects, it also suggests that these may be necessary evils that could eventually contribute to transforming and strengthening democracy.

Journal Article.  10828 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Human Rights and Immigration ; Public International Law ; Human Rights

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