Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rabinal Legal Clinic: Update and Reflection from Chera-Lee Hickox

As the 2010/2011 BTS intern working in the human rights department of the Legal Clinic (or Bufete) in Rabinal, it is an enormous challenge to adequately provide a clear picture of its successes and challenges. I would like to share with you a few of the developments within the community of Chichupac, a community that is represented by the Bufete in a petition in the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights

The Bufete has two petitions open in front of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. The first petition, submitted in 2007, has been deemed admissible by the Commission and will, most probably, after it passes a number of formalities including a denial of a friendly settlement with the State, be seen
by the Court. The petition in discussion includes a massacre in the community of Chichupac where 32 male community leaders were violently tortured and killed in 1982, and 17 other charges against the state including forced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, and sexual violence. I feel
extremely privileged to have been present with five members of the Chichupac community when they were told that the petition was accepted by the Commission – it was the closest they have ever been to justice in nearly three decades of struggle.

Although this news moved me to tears and I had to contain myself from jumping for joy, the community members remained stone-faced and stiff as if showing emotion would compromise their success. I came to realize that the success of this case jeopardizes relationships within the community as the case represents only 82 community members. The remaining community members, who are also victims of
the armed conflict, chose not to denounce the crimes committed against them due to fear, and will not have a chance for justice. This has divided the community creating jealousy and conflict. The sense of accomplishment they must have felt that day had to be subdued because any outward display might cause heartbreak for a neighbour or even a brother.

The division within Chichupac runs deeper than the petition, and threatens the peace in the community. The National Reparations Program (PNR), a state-run program responsible for issuing material and economic reparations for the victims of human rights violations, has shown to be corrupt, and faulty. In my opinion, the program is another war tactic in which the government keeps its hands clean, yet acts to divide and conquer leaving community members to destroy the Mayan soul. In
Chichupac, the PNR has offered 30 houses to be constructed when approximately 160 were destroyed during the armed conflict. The economic reparations are so small in comparison to their loss it serves only to add insult to injury. Furthermore, the victims have the burden of proof, they are responsible to provide documentation of their losses, a burden that revictimizes, and traumatizes the individuals. The
fight for justice has been compounded with struggles and violence, and the Chichupac community is only an example of the difficulties standing up to the government provide.

The Bufete has recognized the injustice of the PNR and are defending the citizen´s right to compensation, adding another dimension to the case of Chichupac. The Bufete is applying for a public hearing in March in Washington. If this is successful they will demand a reform of the program and an extension of its services. Although an opportunity such as a thematic hearing in the Commission would bring attention to the shortcomings of the PNR, the common analogy of David vs. Goliath is appropriate.
With Guatemala acting under impunity, it is almost impossible to make it worthwhile for the state to make changes to the program. The Bufete will continue its fight nonetheless.

It seems to me that in Guatemala any success comes with two additional hurdles, any joy is trumped with distress, and justice comes at a price. The Bufete is all too familiar with this reality, yet continues to move forward with their fight for justice. I have been privileged to be a part of their struggle, and am
filled with pride by their devotion to their cause.