Monday, March 29, 2010

Jesus Tecu Wins International Human Rights Prize!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Wednesday, March 24, 2010

CONTACT: Brenda Bowser Soder
(202) 370-3323,
Guatemalan Genocide Survivor Wins Roger Baldwin Award

Jesus Tecu Osorio honored for his work seeking justice for victims of genocide and empowering indigenous Guatemalans

NEW YORK-Guatemalan indigenous rights activist and genocide survivor Jesus Tecu Osorio has been selected to receive the prestigious 2010 Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Liberty Award for international human rights defenders, Human Rights First announced today.

"Jesus Tecu was only a child when he witnessed the murder of his family during a massacre that killed nearly everyone in his remote Guatemalan village. Instead of seeking revenge, Jesus channeled his energies into pursuing justice for the genocide in Guatemala and working to secure a more peaceful future there," said Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino.

Labeled as genocide by the United Nations, approximately 250,000 Guatemalan people-mainly indigenous Mayans-were massacred from 1960-1996 at the hands of state forces in perhaps the worst human rights violation of the 20th century in the Western Hemisphere. Today, many of the perpetrators of these atrocities remain in powerful positions in Guatemala.

Tecu is a survivor of the 1982 Rio Negro massacre, one of the most emblematic atrocities that occurred during this period Almost all of the inhabitants of the village of Rio Negro were murdered in cold blood by the Guatemalan army and paramilitaries. At the age of 10, Tecu witnessed the murder of his parents and his two-year-old brother. He was then enslaved in the household of a military official for two years.

Tecu is now a leading human rights activist seeking justice for the genocide in Guatemala and promoting the rights of indigenous Mayans. Though he remains at extreme risk and continues to suffer death threats directed towards him and his children, he is undeterred in his fight for justice. In Rabinal, Alta Verapaz, Tecu has established three human rights organizations that provide critical services to indigenous Mayans: the New Hope Foundation, the Association for the Integral Development of the Victims of Violence, Maya-Achí (ADIVIMA) and Rabinal's Community Legal Aid Clinic. He is also a crucial witness in prosecutions against high level Guatemalan military officials taking place now in Guatemala and Spain, as well as in proceedings before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In addition to these activities, he has been a leading advocate in seeking accountability for damages to communities affected by the construction of the Chixoy hydroelectric dam.

"We are proud to honor Jesus Tecu's outstanding achievements and to support his ongoing efforts in Guatemala with this year's Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty," said Massimino. "We also recognize that this honor comes at a critical moment in Guatemala, when prosecutions against military officials who participated in these atrocities are finally starting to gain traction. The people of Guatemala have waited too long for justice, and they owe a great debt to Jesus and others who have risked their own lives to achieve it."

The Medal of Liberty is named in honor of Roger Baldwin, founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the International League for Human Rights. It is presented by Human Rights First every other year to a human rights organization or activist outside of the United States that has made a distinguished contribution to the protection and promotion of human rights. In alternate years the ACLU selects a U.S.-based winner.

Tecu was chosen from a pool of more than 50 extraordinary human rights activities from around the world. The international selection committee that chose Tecu noted his effectiveness in advancing human rights in Guatemala, the distinctiveness of his work, and the considerable risks he faces.

Human Rights First will bestow the Medal of Liberty on Tecu at a ceremony in New York City in May 2010. During his time in the United States, Human Rights First will also organize meetings for Tecu with international and U.S. policymakers in Washington, D.C. and New York.