Preventing a conflict relapse in Guatemala


The United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala ensured the ceasefire held and disarmed combatants, in addition to guaranteeing a relatively safe and secure environment for elections to take place alongside EU and Organisation of American States observers, preventing a conflict relapse in Guatemala.

The March 1994 Timetable Agreement called for the deployment of a UN mission to support the ongoing peace process in Guatemala.1 Six months later, the United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA), which was initially an unarmed mission composed of 250 human rights monitors, indigenous specialists, and police, deployed to Guatemala.2 Following the negotiation of the Agreement on the Definitive Ceasefire in December 1996, a small contingent of 155 unarmed military observers were attached to MINUGUA and tasked with monitoring the ceasefire, separating combatants, and disarming URNG troops. These tasks were completed efficiently, with the entire URNG demobilisation process being completed in just 18 days.3

Despite some initial successes, the peace process in Guatemala faced a growing number of obstacles. For the most part, these were the result of domestic political opposition to the implementation of reforms stipulated in various peace agreements. Changes to the Guatemalan legal system and security sector, for example, were hindered by institutional resistance. Similarly, constitutional reform was derailed and ultimately rejected in a May 1999 referendum in which just 18 percent of the population participated.4 The failure to implement important provisions of previous accords undermined the peace process and threatened to renew the conflict.5 The general election held later that year remained peaceful, thanks in part to the deployment of Organisation of American States and EU observers, however it resulted in a hard-line political party (led by a former general who had previously taken power in a coup d’état) which was strongly opposed to the peace process coming to power.6 One of the new government’s first actions was to begin a ‘comprehensive remilitarization of the state,’ bringing Guatemala even closer to conflict relapse.7 Fortunately, the ongoing efforts of MINUGUA (particularly its human rights component) helped to maintain a degree of stability until the government was replaced by a moderate party in the 2003 elections.8 When MINUGUA formally closed in December 2004, implementation of the peace agreements was back on track and the Guatemalan military had been halved in size and placed under civilian control.9 MINUGUA helped to reduce political violence, build stability, and ultimately prevent a return to war in Guatemala.

1 Agreement on a Timetable for Negotiations of a Firm and Lasting Peace in Guatemala, 1994. Available at: (Accessed 18/11/2020)

2 UN Peacekeeping. Guatemala – MINUGUA: Background. (UN, 2020) Available at: (Accessed 11/11/2020)

3 William Stanley. Enabling Peace in Guatemala: The Story of MINUGUA. (Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2013) p.142

4 Mireya Navarro. “Guatemalans Deny Changes For Indians And the Army.” The New York Times. (1999) Available at: (Accessed 18/11/2020)

5 Stanley. Enabling Peace in Guatemala. p.186

6 “Report of the Electoral Observation Mission to Guatemala 1999 Elections.” CP/doc. 3356/00. (OAS Permanent Council, 2000)

7 Stanley. Enabling Peace in Guatemala. p.224

8 BBC. “Guatemala general beaten in poll.” BBC News. (2003) Available at: (Accessed 18/11/2020)

9 Ibid. pp.262-4

Start Year


End Year




UN Regional Group

Latin America and the Caribbean

Type of Conflict

Risk of a conflict relapse

Type of Initiative

Monitoring, observation, political, and verification missions

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The EU, Organisation of American States, and the UN




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