Following thirty-six years of bloody civil war in Guatemala-during which 1 million Guatemalans were displaced domestically, 250,000 fled abroad, 100,000 were killed, and 40,000 still remain unaccounted for-a UN-brokered peace was finally signed in December 1996 between the government of President Alvaro Arzu and rebel forces known as the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca.
Unlike South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (see above), the Guatemalan accord called for an ambiguous means to deal with atrocities committed during the war. (Since the peace settlement, international teams of anthropologists and medical personnel have documented nearly 500 mass graves in the country, most of them constructed by the Guatemalan military to bury slaughtered villagers.) Over the objections of many indigenous Guatemalans and international human-rights groups, such as Amnesty International, who wanted a full investigation of all war crimes, the peace accord created a weak process for uncovering and adjudicating the past. For example, the settlement let stand a 1984 government amnesty that exempted its security forces from responsibility for acts committed in the war, and extended the life of the Commission to Clarify the Violation of Human Rights, a weak committee established in 1994 to investigate human-rights violations with no authority to charge individuals accused of violations.