Genocide Survivors: “If we go forward fighting, we will find justice.”

We sang, we danced, we laughed and we celebrated each other. That’s how we started day two of the transitional justice conference with the help of our partner organization Taller de Vida. They led us in a group song and dance that left us all energized to start the day.

Our partner Taller de Vida leading an energetic drum circle and icebreaker.
Our partner Taller de Vida led an energetic drum circle and icebreaker.

And the women needed this positive energy. Because today, we’d be hearing first-hand stories of the human rights abuses that they and their families have suffered. We heard the story of “Maria”, a survivor of the 1982 massacre of Las Dos Erres in Guatemala, where over 200 campesinos, many of them children including her brother and other family members, lost their lives during a wave of brutal violence under Rios Montt. She bravely shared her painful story with us, and how she fought for justice. Years later, she testified against the perpetrators of this violence in the Inter-American system, through regional human rights bodies. And thankfully, some of these men are now in jail.

And we heard from more women about the violence, threats, discrimination and displacement they and their families have faced. When I listened to these women’s stories, I was inspired by their bravery and by the shared fight for justice that has brought them all together here.

But what do we do when justice eludes us? What do we do when the police don’t investigate these crimes? What do we do when prosecutors don’t try these cases? What do we do when legislators don’t pass laws that protect women and families? How do these brave women seek justice?

When local and national channels fail, that’s when we go to the international system. And that’s what the second day’s training focused on. Lisa Davis and Cassandra Atlas of MADRE’s Human Rights Advocacy staff led a dynamic session on the tools and vehicles available to these women to bring their cases to an international stage. Not only does bringing your case to the international stage give visibility and voice to your issue, but it’s a vital opportunity to demand action from your government and a key moment to build coalitions and solidarity movements for justice.

Seeking justice in the international system is a long process, and it does not bring change overnight. But it is an important vehicle for demanding justice for these women. But as Maria’s story shows us, it can work. And as Maria said to the group, “I want to say to all the women who are here to not be afraid…because when we are scared, we are silent. But if we go forward fighting, we will find justice.”

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