United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) - VISION

International Information

International Operation Name: United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala

International Mission Name: United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA)

Mandating Organization: United Nations

Region Name: Central America

Location: Guatemala

Mission Date: 19 September 1994 - 15 November 2004

Mission Mandate: United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/48/267, 19 September 1994 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1094, 20 January 1997

The United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala was created through General Assembly Resolution A/RES/48/267 of 19 September 1994. Its mandate was to conduct verification of human rights and institution-building activities in Guatemala. This was primarily a civilian and humanitarian mission. When the Government of Guatemala and the Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG) signed a cease-fire (Agreement on the Definitive Ceasefire) in Oslo on 4 December 1996, the Security Council created a military observer mission through Resolution 1094 on 20 January 1997. The military observers’ mandate included observation of a formal cessation of hostilities, the separation and concentration of the respective forces of forces, and the disarmament and demobilization of URNG combatants in assembly points specifically prepared for this purpose.

Civil war was practically the normal state of affairs in Guatemala for 36 years. It was a bloody conflict with both sides committing human rights violations against combatants and civilians. In the end, the conflict pitted the left-wing Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG – Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity) against a right-wing military dictatorship and later an elected government. 

The URNG was created in February 1982 as an amalgamation of four leftist groups fighting the Guatemalan government, the oldest of which dated back to 1962, although political violence had begun two years before. These groups and the URNG attacked government and military installations and set-up “collection” posts on roads to collect money. They also used “war taxes”, collected from the peasants, as another means of supporting their activities. 

By 1966, the government had created counter-insurgency organizations that included “scorched-earth” campaigns as part of its operations to eliminate support for the revolutionaries. In 1981, the military dictatorship began to force farmers to join in Civil Defence Patrols, and to act as informers and enforcers for the military. Those who did not suffered harassment and in some cases disappeared. 

With political violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, there was considerable impetus by the mid-1980s to establish a meaningful peace that would bring an end to cross-border operations and sanctuaries. In 1989, the URNG and the civilian government (elected in 1986) signed an accord in Oslo to start negotiations. This did not, however, end the violence. In 1994, the URNG and the government signed a series of accords:

  • Comprehensive Agreement on Human Rights,
  • Agreement on a Timetable for the Negotiation of a Firm and Lasting Peace in Guatemala, 29 March 1994,
  • Agreement on Resettlement of the Population Groups Uprooted by the Armed Conflict, 17 June 1994; and,
  • Agreement on the Establishment of the Commission to Clarify Past Human Rights Violations and Acts of Violence that have Caused the Guatemalan Population to Suffer, 23 June 1994

To support these accords, the UN General Assembly passed resolution A/RES/48/267 on 19 September 1994. This created the Misión de Verificación de las Naciones Unidas en Guatemala (MINUGUA – United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala). More than 250 human rights monitors, legal experts and police were deployed throughout the country in a process designed to reduce the violence while negotiations for a more permanent peace agreement continued. 

In January 1996, Alvaro Arzu assumed the Presidency. One if his goals was to create a lasting peace. Both sides suspended hostilities in March. By December, an agreement was reached with the URNG, formalized with the Agreement on the Definitive Ceasefire, signed in Oslo on 4 December 1996 and the Agreement on a Firm and Lasting Peace (Peace Accord) signed in Guatemala City on 29 December. As part of the Peace Accord, the URNG guerrillas would demobilize in the first half of 1997, in an operation to be verified by UN military observers. Accordingly, the Security Council passed Resolution 1094 on 20 January 1997, creating a military observer component to MINUGUA. With these agreements, the civil war that had killed over 200,000 Guatemalans was over. 

Before the UN mission was initiated, the URNG provided information on its 3,570 personnel to be demobilized, and on its military equipment inventory and the location of mines. The Guatemalan military provided lists of which units were to redeploy to bases. The first UN military observers deployed to six verification sites on 21 February 1997 and began operations on 3 March 1997. A total of 132 military observers and 13 medical personnel from 16 nations participated. 

The separation of forces was conducted by creating an inner security zone and an outer coordination zone around each URNG assembly point. Guatemalan army units could not enter the security zone while police units could only do so after consulting with the MINUGUA military observers. As URNG guerrillas arrived at the assembly points, they turned over their weapons, including explosives and mines, to the military observers. 

In all, MINUGUA military observers demobilized and issued temporary identification cards to 2,928 URNG combatants plus additional identification cards to URNG personnel who did not have to assemble. Over 535,000 weapons and rounds of ammunition were transferred to the military observers. The military observers also participated in the clearing of 378 mines, identified by the URNG, although this assistance was not part of the military observers’ mandate. 

The completion of the MINUGUA military observer mandate occurred on 14 May 1997 when the Chief Military Observer handed over former URNG weapons and equipment to the Minister of the Interior. The human rights and institution-building portion of the mandate continued. 

The transition to a peaceful Guatemala was not without problems. Bishop Juan Gerardi was murdered in April 1998 after a report that he had been commissioned to prepare indicated that the Guatemalan military had been responsible for murder and human rights violations. Small paramilitary groups, both former URNG and former military, continued to conduct politically motivated attacks that threatened to destabilize the success of the Peace Accord. The poverty of the country also resulted in armed groups conducting robberies and extortion. MINUGUA’s assistance in creating a national police force was one invaluable means towards reducing these problems. 

As stability returned to Guatemala, the requirement for MINUGUA was reduced. The mandate was therefore allowed to lapse in December 2004.

Canadian Forces (CF) Information (VISION)


Date: 31 January 1997 - 25 May 1997

CF Mission/Operation Notes: Canadian Forces participation in MINUGUA’s military observer component was given the name Operation VISION. The order for the mission was issued on 31 January 1997, although planning for the mission predated this by several months. Staff checks identified 17 Spanish-speaking personnel, of whom 15 were selected to deploy. Personnel for the Canadian Contingent in Guatemala (CCIG) arrived in Guatemala on 15 February, the Commanding Officer having arrived on 9 February. After one week period of training, they deployed to the assembly areas. 

CCIG personnel were assigned in teams of two to each of the six assembly areas. The living conditions were described as “spartan” with some assembly areas lacking running water, electricity and sufficient tents when the CCIG arrived, but what made the conditions tolerable was the positive outlook of most URNG guerrillas towards a permanent cease-fire. 

The busiest period for the observer teams was during the period of assembly. Personnel arriving for demobilization had to be confirmed against URNG lists, weapons had to be collected and access to the assembly areas controlled. The military observers also investigated potential violations of the security zone and reported on the general implementation of the Peace Accord. The observers were also required to escort URNG personnel whenever they needed to go outside the assembly areas. 

With the end of the military observer mandate of MINUGUA, the Canadian contingent began its return. The main body left Guatemala on 18 May, with the Commanding Officer leaving on 27 May. 

At the end of this mission, DND was asked by the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to examine the possibility of providing two Spanish-speaking officers for the human rights aspect of MINUGUA. This was eventually approved and the first Canadian liaison officer, on what was named Operation QUARTZ, deployed on June 1998, joining five members of the RCMP. 

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