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Impossible Memory and Post-Colonial Silences: A Critical View of the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH) or Truth Commission in Guatemala

Esparza, Marcia

While truth commissions help break the silence over the past, they do so with limited effects. As in other Latin American countries, the Truth Commission in Guatemala was the non-judicial, transitional justice mechanism the state adopted to address the war’s mass violence (1962–1996) and its legacy. The 1994 Oslo Agreement, signed by the government and the left wing guerrillas known as the National Guatemalan Revolutionary Unity (URNG), established the legal mandate of the United Nations’ Historical Clarification Commission (CEH in Spanish). Without having the capacity to prosecute, the Commission’s main goal was to compile the country’s official record by piecing together its history of war atrocities. The mandate called for everyone who had knowledge about killings, forced disappearances or torture during the war, regardless of their role, to tell their war stories to prevent the past from repeating itself. Eventually, it was assumed, the record would contribute to challenging the State’s widespread impunity and to achieving justice. Yet, it was told primarily by victims, leaving behind a legacy of collective silences, as I suggest in this brief essay.

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Indigenous Peoples’ Access To Justice, Including Truth And Reconciliation Processes
Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University

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Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Published Here
March 26, 2015


This is a chapter from "Indigenous Peoples’ Access to Justice, Including Truth and Reconciliation Processes". The entire volume is available in Academic Commons at