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The film ‘Burden of Peace’ had its International Premiere in London this evening in front of a full cinema in London as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival. The film follows the Guatemala Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, through her almost four year tenure in the post.
The duo who made the film, Joey Boink and Sander Wirken, were fortunate in that they knew Guatemala well, having done film there and lived there for a few years. They were also fortunate in having a remarkable subject in Paz y Paz.
Claudia Paz y Paz was the first female Attorney General of Guatemala and also the first Attorney General who had a human rights background. She worked with Bishop Gerardi in the Diocesan Human Rights Office after she graduated. We became aware of the close bond that Paz y Paz had with the Bishop and she spoke movingly about him and his violent murder.
At one point, during the beginning of her tenure, we find her talking to a group of investigators who had not managed a single conviction in the previous year. Looking back over her impressive achievements in the post, her approach was successful.
It was under her watch that Efraín Ríos Montt finally faced justice for the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity, in 2013. The sequence in the film where witness testimonies in the trial were juxtaposed to become, almost, a single testimony of what happened to all the victims of the genocide was particularly powerful and moving. Her last day in the job was also moving as her staff showed their love and admiration for her.
Also from the trial, there was footage showing the grotesque behaviour of Ríos Montt’s defence lawyer, Francisco Garcia Gudiel, for which he was recently suspended by the Ethics Tribunal of the Guatemala Bar Association. His one year suspension was for violation of the ethics code.
Ricardo Ruiz Mendez, leader of Fundación Contra el Terrorismo (FCT) was, at one stage, quite personal in his attack on Paz y Paz. I expect he thought he was being very funny by his description – he was really showing what a small man he is. Regarding his assertion that human rights belongs to a marxist ideology, this might be news to those who suffered in the gulags. Listening to him, one got the sense that because Bishop Juan Gerardi was a champion of human rights and therefore a Marxist, he deserved to die. It seems his current public musings continue in the same vein.
Justice for a crime of the past has no place in the world of the FCT, especially if the perpetrator has a uniform.
Paz y Paz’s appearances before the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court were telling in giving the impression that for the magistrates concerned, having an ounce of humanity was not in their job descriptions. They appeared totally without interest in what was happening before them. It was as if the outcomes were predetermined and were not in favour of Paz y Paz, nor of Guatemala. Her tenure ended before her four years was up and, despite having the second highest score of all the applicants for her role, she did not make the shortlist of six.
Towards the end of the film, one got a sense of how tired she was looking – the endless struggles for justice and the final betrayal by the Justice System of her country. Her husband also looked worn out and he must have been a great support.
Her betrayal was a consequence of her success in her post – she was a threat to the elites and powers in Guatemala. She was a threat to their cosy retirements. It would be a shame to think of the genocide trial as a failure and that this should then characterise her tenure in office. The fact that the trial happened at all must be seen as a great achievement in Guatemala, knowing what we do of its history and present day. New spaces have been opened up and, yes, some have been closed down but space there is. Guatemala has been well served by Claudia Paz y Paz and would greatly benefit from having more people like her.
This is a fine film that tells the story of an incredibly brave woman and does so without being sentimental. In the background, if you look closely enough, are those other brave souls who worked with her in her role as well on the bench during the genocide trial. They all deserve the thanks of those who seek justice in Guatemala.
You can find out more about the film at the website here.