Saturday, June 28, 2008

Human Rights Accompaniment Report: Katharine Laurie (Part 3) (2008)

Warm greetings from Guatemala,

hard to believe another month has flown by! I really want to thank all of you who responded to my last message with support and encouragement, and, no worries to those who didn´t, it would undoubtedly have clogged up my inbox and kept me trapped in front of the computer for hours upon end ;)

On Wednesday April 16th a verdict was reached in the case I mentioned involving the rape of a Maya K´iche woman by two police officers (while she was in custody for a crime she was later absolved of). One of the accused fled the arrest warrant, but the other officer stood trial, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison!! A huge victory for so many people who worked so hard to push the case forward.

A recent study by the Instituto de Estudios Comparados en Ciencias Penales de Guatemala found that 75% of women suffer some form of sexual abuse while in custody. Clearly not an isolated incident, what is exceptional is Doña Juana´s resolve to keep struggling and the large number of people who supported the case. She left her family, including children as young as five years old and spent months on end in the capital jumping through unnecessary legal hoops which delayed the process at every step. We had the privilege of travelling to the hearings with a range of women´s groups from the capital and other communities. Women who gave their time and energy to come out and support: to make noise and to make sure that Juana did not feel alone. What follows are some of my thoughts after a candlelight vigil held the night before the sentencing.

¨It´s hard to find words to describe standing in a circle of women....indigenous, ladina, tall, short, gorda, colocha, flaka, Canadiense....the crisp night air drawing us closer to one another. I have the sense of standing back, holding my candle, part of the moment, yet as an observer, not an actor. Worrying over the police and other random men observing us, perhaps intending to intimidate, but not succeeding this night.

The struggle of one woman, and the struggle of all women.

One by one they come forward...the well spoken, the timid, the wet-eyed, the angry. They all speak from the heart. They all thank Doña Juana and the Instituto for bringing the case forward. For speaking what so many, so many women face, but are unable to speak...for following justice and never giving up.

And they all pray, that the next day three judges will speak truth and justice, that they will have ignored the attempts to buy and sway their votes...that they will set a precedent in this country. Many women share their stories - that have gone unpunished - looking for their own justice in the verdict of the following day.¨

In true Guatemalan style the next day was spent reading all of the documents presented in the case, lulling to sleep the most avid of listeners. But one week later, when I was unfortunately in a pick up truck in the highlands accompanying another case, the guilty verdict was read. I am told that in the ensuing celebration in the parque central there was marimba, dancing, laughter and tears.

This is of course a glimpse of just one of the many cases we have been following, but I will save discussion of some of the others for another day, as I feel it is so important to celebrate the victories when they happen!

Despite my appreciation of the experiences I have had so far; my belief in the work; and my desire to stay on, I have decided that June will be my last month with the project. There are other things calling me back to Canada this summer and I feel confident this will not be my last opportunity to spend time in Guatemala.

Fuertes abrazos,