Press Releases

    17 November 2004

    Guatemala Mission Successful Example of UN Peace-Building, with Lessons for Other Operations, Says Secretary-General in Message to Closing Ceremony

    NEW YORK, 16 November (UN Headquarters) -- Following is Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s message to the closing ceremony of the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), delivered by Kieran Prendergast, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in Guatemala City, 15 November:

    I deeply regret that I am not able to be present for this important occasion in the history of Guatemala, but I am with you in spirit.

    We at the United Nations are proud of our work for peace in Central America.  That work had its origins in the historic Guatemalan town of Esquipulas, where the region’s leaders resolved to put aside deep differences and came together to bring peace to the isthmus.  The United Nations achieved many “firsts” in this region:  in multidimensional peacekeeping, in the protection of human rights, and in the pioneering work carried out by truth commissions.  Here in Guatemala, the United Nations Verification Mission stands as a successful example of UN peace-building, with valuable lessons for operations in other parts of the world.

    But most of all, it is Guatemalans who should be proud of what they have accomplished in recent years. The road to peace was not the work of one government or one political party or one group in society.  Several administrations did their part, as did a broad spectrum of groups in civil society, as well as the URNG.  Their efforts spanned years, and showed great determination throughout.  As a result, the people of Guatemala brought an end to an era of terrible violence. They continue to implement a truly national agenda, embodied in the peace accords signed eight years ago.  They have made enormous progress in managing the country’s problems through dialogue and institutions.  And they have cooperated closely with the international community, opening their country to an unprecedented degree of scrutiny and involvement in national affairs.  In these ways and more, the peace process has matured so much that the time has come for MINUGUA to depart.

    This is not to say that serious problems do not still plague Guatemalan society.  Too many people fear for their safety and security.  There are wide-ranging social inequalities.  Discrimination across ethnic, cultural and linguistic lines remains disturbingly prevalent.  And Guatemala has fallen short of its obligations to pay reparations to war victims and to substantially increase tax revenues to pay for much-needed social investments.  Still, such challenges can be addressed within the peaceful framework of democracy.

    The closure of MINUGUA should not be seen as the end of the peace process, but rather, as the beginning of a new and necessary phase in which national actors assume full responsibility for monitoring and promoting the goals of the peace accords in the future.  The UN family will remain engaged, focusing its efforts on the ongoing challenges and goals defined by the peace accords.  In addition to the ongoing work of the UN Development Programme and the other funds and programmes, the United Nations has indicated its willingness to continue to accompany Guatemala in its quest to strengthen the rule of law and build strong institutions capable of guaranteeing the human rights of all its citizens.  The United Nations and Guatemala have signed agreements providing for the opening of an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and for the creation of a special body to investigate clandestine groups -- clear signs of the country’s commitment to address these challenges.

    But henceforth, the major protagonists in this story will be the Guatemalans themselves, as it should be.  The Government and other branches of State, political parties, civil society groups and the media all have their respective roles to play.  Civil society organizations in particular are increasingly playing a healthy watchdog function, pressing the State to assume its obligations.

    MINUGUA could not have helped Guatemala reach this point without the support and the welcome it received from the full spectrum of the country’s people.  State institutions, the human rights community, victims’ organizations, news media, women’s and indigenous groups, all around the country, cooperated with a genuine sense of being part of a common mission. The international community, and in particular the six “Friends of Guatemala” -- Colombia, Mexico, Norway, Spain, the United States and Venezuela -- also provided invaluable support.  And, of course, the many MINUGUA staff members, international and Guatemalan, gave deeply of their skills and devotion. Let us remember that in 1998, six United Nations staff perished in a helicopter crash, along with the pilot, making the ultimate sacrifice while serving the cause of peace.

    MINUGUA may be leaving Guatemala, but the United Nations remains firmly committed to peace and development in Guatemala and the entire region.  I very much look forward to continuing this close and evolving partnership.

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