Rights and the Rule of Law in Guatemala"
Allison Davenport, Latin
Human rights does not stand
alone in Guatemala. It is linked to other political and economic
issues facing the country, according to Guatemalan Human Rights
Leader Helen Mack.
"Security must be redefined
to mean not just national, but economic security," Mack said,
noting that 80 percent of Guatemalans live in poverty today,
as opposed to 70 percent just 15 years ago. Fiscal reform is
essential to sustaining the peace process, she said.
The president and founder
of the Myrna Mack Foundation, Mack spoke about human rights
and the rule of law in Guatemala following the 1996 Peace Accords
at the Institute of International Studies in November. Named
after Mack's sister, the Guatemalan anthropologist killed in
1990, The Myrna Mack Foundation advocates for judicial reform
and the establishment of law in the Central American country.
Her visit was sponsored by CLAS, The Department of Ethnic Studies
and The Human Rights Center.
Before Myna Mack's death,
widely considered to be by military forces, her work was dedicated
to showing the effects of the military's scorched earth campaign
against indigenous Mayan communities in the 1980's. "When Myrna
died, they killed the voice of displaced peoples," Helen Mack
Mack has carried on her
sister's crusade, defending those victimized by military repression
in the country. False police findings and attempts to bury
her sister's case prompted her to act. With the support of
the international and academic communities, pressure was put
on Guatemalan officials to forge an independent investigation
of her sister's murder.
The support and advocacy
work of UC Berkeley faculty were essential in pushing officials
to begin the investigation, she said. "It helped make the case
more than just another Guatemalan death," she said. As a result,
compared to other examples of human rights cases in the country,
her sister's has gone further in the judicial system than any
other and is the only one that has the possibility of being
brought to justice, she said.
Despite the unprecedented
progress of her sister's case, the 1994 Defense of Human Rights
Treaty and the 1996 Peace Accords, Helen Mack questions whether "the
judicial system can be strengthened if there is no political
will." In her estimation, 99 percent of the country has been
effected by violence.
And, the most recent attempt
to heal the country - last year's Project for the Recovery
of Historical Memory organized by the Catholic Church - brought
on another round of violence when Bishop Juan Jose Gerardi
was brutally murdered following the release of his report,
which was critical of government officials. As in the Mack
case, police officials have made a succession of false explanations
for Gerardi's death, including a crime of passion by a gay
lover and fellow priest.
"All of the players in
the Gerardi case are linked to the military," Mack said, adding
that the murder was both an indication of the military's continuing
impunity and a declaration by these forces that "If we can
kill a bishop, we can kill anybody."
Mack acknowledges the
progress and the success of many efforts to stabilize and heal
the country. But she said, "The Peace Accords are only the
base of the discussion about the society we want." The fear
to organize and speak out remain in a nation where people are
threatened with violence for any seeming opposition. "More
space, more consciousness [is needed] to reclaim the space
that impacts public opinion," she said.