*This blog post was written prior to Laura’s safe return to Canada*
I was born in 1996, the same year that the Guatemalan Peace Accords were signed to bring the end to 36 years of war. This means that peace in Guatemala has just entered its twenty-third year.
Twenty-three years of transitional justice may seem like an awfully long time to welcome ‘transition’ but during the past 4 months in Guatemala I have seen first hand the many ways that things are still transitioning.
In January, I moved to Rabinal, Baja Verapaz, Guatemala, where two of Breaking the Silence’s partners are located. Here, I have been splitting my time between the Rabinal Legal Clinic and the New Hope Foundation. Rabinal is a small town on the traditional land of the Maya Achí. This means my workplaces are a beautiful mix of Spanish and Achí. While I dedicated myself to learning Spanish in the fall, and I am now immersed in two bilingual workplaces. It is pretty surreal!
At the Rabinal Legal Clinic, I have been working alongside a lawyer focused on the Maya Achi Sexual Violence Case which has been 10 years in the making. This case concerns the crimes against humanity committed from 1981-85 against 36 women during the internal armed conflict in Guatemala during which the government committed genocide against the Indigenous population. Since its inception, the legal clinic’s overarching goal has been to bring to justice the intellectual authors of the genocide. However, impunity is a very serious challenge in Guatemala.
As a result, this case has come across many barriers which demonstrate the persistent impunity culture that the clinic is battling against. These include: filing for the recusal of the presiding judge based on her prejudice and lack of impartiality, harassment and threats, the release of the accused from jail, and Congress proposing a law which would grant amnesty for all war criminals and end all pending crimes against humanity cases. These struggles for justice in crimes against humanity illuminate some of the ways in which Guatemala is still in transition.
Despite the challenging context, so far in 2020 there have been some positive developments. One man who had been at large in the United States was extradited to face charges in January. As a result, part of my work was to accompany the women to the hearing in the capital city. The judge decided in February that the accused would be kept in preventive custody until the preliminary hearing in May.
While the legal clinic is fighting impunity at a national and international level, the other half of my time is spent with The New Hope Foundation. This organization works locally to focus in part on how the mantra of nunca mas (never again) can be instilled into the generation who may not have lived through the violence but whose families and lives are still affected by it. This includes New Hope Community Bilingual Institute which offers middle and high school education. This education focuses on community development, teaching the true history of Guatemala, and Indigenous Maya Achí traditions.
I am looking forward to the rest of my time in Guatemala. I look forward to building more relationships of solidarity and to supporting the work being done here to fight the impunity of the past in order to transition into a more just future.