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Mayan Women and their search for justice through strategic litigation

For many years, Trócaire has been supporting processes for access to justice in Guatemala, both for acts perpetrated during the internal armed conflict of the last century, as well as for the defence, respect and promotion of the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. To this end, social organisations have used strategic litigation, with the support of other civil society organisations, some of which are Trócaire partners, to achieve access to justice for women and men, so that the memory of indigenous peoples is dignified and that the state is influenced to change the reality in which they live.

As part of this journey, we have supported and accompanied women when they have been in front of judges, prosecutors and lawyers to tell their truth, express what is in their hearts and point out those who have violently stripped them of their rights, to demand justice and transformative and comprehensive reparation so that these events do not happen again.

We know that there are publications on strategic litigation that describe methods and strategies for the application of this approach, but what has it meant for women to engage in these processes, how has it strengthened them, what has it meant for each of them to tell their truth and make themselves heard?

Being curious about these questions is why Trócaire in Guatemala produced the publication “Mayan Women and their search for justice through strategic litigation”, based on the Sepur Zarco transitional justice case and the midwives constitutional rights case. This document describes the feelings and experiences of the indigenous women at the centre of these cases as social and political actors in their search for justice, dignity and reparations.

From these cases we can understand how criminalisation, slavery and sexual violence constitute forms of state control over the life and death of indigenous peoples, but at the same time, how the strategies implemented ensured an assertive accompaniment and coordination so that all of the women represented, in addition to being and feeling co-responsible, could also identify the contributions that each one of them made throughout the judicial process.

The Mayan women involved in these processes recognise that their main source of strength is embracing their identity and cosmovision, which feeds back into the proposals for healing as a political action promoted by organisations that have allied themselves with them. Long-term psychosocial accompaniment has been another significant support for individual and collective strengthening.

The processes have been complex and at times have involved crises and ruptures, but the women have shown that despite the obstacles and uncertainties it is possible to build alliances in favour of justice, truth and memory, which has allowed these women to re-signify their experiences and share the value of their words in different ways.

And as Emma Molina Theissen says, “From wherever we participate, we women are weaving a fabric in which all colours and textures have a place. It is a mosaic that depicts nobility and love for people, especially children, so that they can grow up free and with opportunities. It integrates the intelligence of those who, like the trial lawyers, prepare themselves and use their knowledge to build a country that offers both the equality and opportunities we need, and it brings together the will of those of us who want a new Guatemala to be forged on the basis of respect, banishing impositions and authoritarianism. And together, we are leaving a strong and clear message that Guatemalan women are not willing to continue to be denigrated, discriminated against or violated.  We walk together, with our eyes attentive to each other’s example, learning from each other, valuing each other.  That is why I choose to live to add my grain of salt to this work for dignity and humanism.

Read the full report here

Emma Molina Theissen, detenida ilegalmente y torturada por miembros del Ejército de Guatemala en 1981, además sufrir la desaparición forzada de su hermano menor Marco Antonio Molina Theissen el mismo año por los mismos actores.

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