Author Topic: Bringing war criminals to justice in Guatemala  (Read 2443 times)

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Offline mayya

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Bringing war criminals to justice in Guatemala
« on: October 04, 2013, 17:26:57 PM »
Bringing war criminals to justice in Guatemala

Williams writes that Paz y Paz is committed to justice for all in her country. | AP Photos
 By JODY WILLIAMS | 9/11/13 11:10 PM EDT

The following essay is part of a series in which dozens of women will reveal what women they most admire. The series is part of “Women Rule,” a unique effort this fall by POLITICO, Google and The Tory Burch Foundation exploring how women are leading change in politics, policy and their communities. See more essays here.

Her name is Claudia Paz y Paz and hers is not a household name — but it should be.

Paz y Paz has served as the first female attorney general of Guatemala for the past three years, valiantly tackling that country’s corrupt law enforcement system, stepping up prosecutions of gender-based crimes and making significant strides in cracking the reign of impunity that has consumed the country.

I had the privilege of meeting her while leading a Nobel Women’s Initiative delegation to Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala in early 2012 to study the rampant femicide and violence against women throughout the region.

(WOMEN RULE VIDEO: A look at some of women stepping up and taking charge)

I was expecting someone fierce and formidable. She is most definitely fierce in her convictions and belief in justice for all Guatemalans — not just those of wealth and power who have traditionally run the country like a fiefdom. Still, there is a warmth about her that is palpable, stemming from her decades working on behalf of survivors of human rights abuses — especially women, who have suffered the most.

She was the driving force behind the first arrest of a top-ranking official for human rights violations during the decades-long civil war that ended in 1996. Charges of genocide were brought against retired Gen. Héctor Mario López Fuentes, as well as against other members of the country’s elite special forces for their role in a 1982 massacre that killed almost every man, woman and child in the village of Dos Erres. The men were convicted and sentenced to a combined total of more than 6,000 years in prison. (Fuentes skated prosecution for health reasons.)

But the most important case during her tenure has been against former Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, who came to power through a coup in March 1982 and lost power the following year. The former dictator was brought before the court earlier this year to face charges of genocide, forced disappearances, torture, crimes against humanity and state terrorism carried out under his rule, during the height of brutality in the war. Paz y Paz built the case that the military dictatorship, led by Ríos Montt and his then-chief of intelligence, Gen. José Rodríguez Sánchez, ordered and orchestrated the murder of at least 1,771 Ixil Mayans during the war in which more than 200,000 people died or went missing.

On May 15, 2013, the 86-year-old former president, Ríos Móntt, was found guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison. It was a historic verdict — the first time a former head of state was tried and convicted of genocide in a domestic court. It sent a powerful signal that the reign of impunity might be over. But Ríos Móntt served less than 10 days of his sentence in prison as powerful allies of the former dictator maneuvered to have the verdict annulled. Ríos Móntt was returned to house arrest, and the case will go back to court next spring.

As she struggles to help bring justice to Guatemala and to “criminals who previously thought themselves to be untouchable,” the attorney general has been subjected to threats, intimidation and defamation. Supporters of the former general, including current President Otto Pérez Molina, who himself served in the military in the Ixil region under Ríos Móntt, have been vicious in their response to seeing the case in court.

However the case of Ríos Móntt ultimately ends, the impact of Paz y Paz’s daring work to tackle impunity in Guatemala head on cannot be overstated. Even if the conviction were to be thrown out on a technicality, the trial and the guilty verdict cannot be erased from collective memory. Bringing war criminals to trial can be done. And when enough people like Ríos Móntt are held accountable for their crimes, the day will come when others who hold positions of power will understand that they are not above the law.

Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz has been said to have “the most dangerous job in Central America.” Committed to justice for all in her country, she is braver than brave and, despite the threats to her safety, will continue her heroic efforts to bring war criminals to account for their crimes and to once and for all end the cycle of violence in Guatemala. I am proud to know Claudia Paz y Paz, a valiant crusader for sustainable peace, justice and equality.

Jody Williams received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work to ban antipersonnel land mines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines , which shared the prize with her. Since 2006, she has chaired the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which increases the power and visibility of women’s groups working globally for peace, justice and equality.