Repression and the unfair distribution of land in Guatemala led to an internal armed conflict in the early 1960s that lasted for 36 years, in which over 200,000 people – most of them civilians – were killed or “disappeared”.
Photo: Alva Azócar
Our work in Guatemala
Good opportunities for continued peace and a fairer society. That is the aim of Sweden’s development cooperation with Guatemala. For this reason, we focus on the rule of law and equip poor people to influence policy and participate in the economy on fairer terms.
Guatemala is characterised by deep economic disparities, discrimination against women and marginalisation of the country's large indigenous population. 20 years after the civil war, implementation of the peace accords is still the country's most important challenge.
Development cooperation with Guatemala is steered by the Strategy for Sweden's development cooperation with Guatemala 2016–2020. The goal is to support the country in its implementation of the peace accords, and so strengthen democracy, increase respect for human rights, consolidate peace, and reduce violence and poverty.
The development assistance has three main areas:
- Human security and freedom from violence. This concerns strengthening the rule of law, combating corruption, increasing reconciliation after the armed conflict and combating gender-based violence.
- Strengthened democracy and gender equality, and greater respect for human rights. The focus is on strengthening democratic institutions, increasing the participation of excluded groups in political processes and strengthening respect for human rights, particularly those of indigenous peoples, women and children. Sexual and reproductive rights and land rights are particularly important.
- Better opportunities and tools to enable poor people to improve their living conditions. Creating conditions for sustainable and climate-adapted food security and employment with decent working conditions.
Through our work, we also support Guatemala in achieving the global goals for sustainable development, particularly the goals to eradicate poverty and hunger, build peaceful and inclusive societies, promote gender equality and to create sustainable economic growth and employment.
Although change in Guatemala can only be achieved by the Guatemalans themselves, international support and presence is important. For this reason, we support local civil society organisations and entrepreneurs, while also cooperating with the UN’s expert bodies and civil society organisations, both international and Swedish (e.g. Diakonia and We Effect).
We also strengthen key functions within the state, such as the Prosecutor General, the Ombudsman for Human Rights, the Gender Equality Authority and the Statistics Authority, which must take greater responsibility in the work to create a fairer society.
Rule of law on the march
Guatemala’s weak rule of law is an important part of explaining the widespread impunity for corruption, violent crime and violations of human rights. The result is a discriminatory judicial system, high levels of violence and a political system characterised by corruption and influence from organised crime.
Sweden supports Guatemala in the fight against impunity and for a stronger rule of law. We do this by contributing to the work implemented by the Prosecution Authority and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to clean out criminal networks within the state. In the past two years, these contributions have helped to expose extensive corruption networks within the state and have resulted in a large number of legal proceedings and a popular mobilisation with calls from civil society demanding political reforms.
Through our work with transitional justice, we support those in Guatemala striving for justice and reconciliation after the civil war by establishing the truth surrounding violations of human rights, bringing perpetrators to justice, compensating their victims and ensuring that history will not repeat itself. Here too, important progress is now being made. In 2016, two former members of the military were sentenced for having used sexual slavery as a weapon against the civilian population during the civil war. This was unique in the world.
Political opening but still difficult for human rights activists
Recent years’ advances within the judicial system have led to civil society calling for profound political reforms, and they have achieved a measure of cautious success.
Sweden supports organisations that promote the political participation of women and indigenous peoples, such as Fondo Indígena and Diakonia. Through support to the PARLAD programme, Sweden also creates an interface between civil society and decision-makers in the congress.
At the same time, organisations and individuals who stand up for human rights have occupied more room in the political process. Particularly vulnerable are those working with the right of indigenous peoples to land and natural resources. Besides this, violence towards women is widespread. Sweden supports organisations that work to strengthen respect for human rights.
Employment and resilience to reduce poverty
The vast majority of the country's poor live in rural areas and belong to the country's indigenous peoples. Land is unevenly distributed, malnutrition widespread and there is a lack of employment outside small-scale agriculture. Besides this, climate change hits poor people hardest.
Sweden supports programmes under the UN (FAO, UNICEF, WHO and UNDP) that increase the opportunities of poor people to tackle these difficult living conditions, partly through a diversification of agricultural production and new methods to manage water in arid areas.
Sweden also supports contributions based on the principle that local micro and small enterprises are an important source of employment and income. The organisation Helvetas works to strengthen local value chains and the FDLG in order to give poor people access to financial services. We also strengthen women's influence over their own life choices by creating new income opportunities and tackling gender-based violence (We Effect).