Justice for Guatemala’s disappeared being delivered one case at a time

Thousands of these documents have led to the successful prosecution of crimes against humanity.

Fernando Garcia was 26 years old, studied Engineering and was an active participant in his university’s Student Association and his company’s Union. In 1984 he was kidnapped and never seen again.  His mother and wife led an anguished search, always receiving the same response: nobody had seen or heard anything. Twenty-five years later, thanks to the discovery of official records of the former National Police of Guatemala, the truth behind his disappearance and death has come to light.

Fernando García with his wife and their daughter Alejandra, sometime before Fernando's abduction.

Seven years ago the archives of the National Police (long thought to be destroyed) were discovered.  The recovery and examination of thousands of these documents has led to the successful prosecution of some of these crimes against humanity, including the landmark conviction of two former National Police officers who were responsible for Garcia’s death.

According to the Historical Clarification Commission’s report released in 1999, García was one of an estimated 45,000 civilians disappeared by state agents during Guatemala’s 36-year civil conflict.  Many of these cases remain unsolved, while the families of the victims continue in a relentless search for truth and justice.

Since 2009, the Government of Canada has been contributing to the legal process in Guatemala in two ways: First, Canada has partnered with Avocats sans Frontières Canada to support human rights lawyers with much needed capacity building in international law and strategic litigation. Second, Canada has supported with key institutions like the National Police Historic Archive in the recovery, restoration, and preservation of documents and official records. These activities are critical to successfully present cases and receive judgments like the one in the Garcia case.

Canada has contributed to the recovery, restoration, and preservation of documents and official records.

Minister of State of Foreign Affairs Diane Ablonczy recently visited Guatemala’s National Police Historic Archive and inaugurated new facilities built for the centre, as part of the Government of Canada's support to transitional justice in Guatemala. Minister Ablonczy was accompanied by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

“Perpetrators of serious crimes committed in Guatemala in the past are no longer beyond the reach of the law,” said Minister Ablonczy. “Canada is proud to participate in the effort to prosecute the authors of these crimes and to support the victims. Canada has been a dependable partner in Guatemala’s efforts to bring closure on past violations and in helping Guatemalans build a more peaceful and prosperous society.”