The Case of Myrna Mack: Laying out Guatemala's Crimes

International pressure encouraged Guatemala to become a democracy and also supported the 1996 Peace Accords that ended our decades long civil war. But if Guatemala is to truly enjoy the fruits of a new era, global efforts must persist in helping our country develop the legal, judicial and political courage to confront its past.

That history includes the brutal 1990 murder of my sister, Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang. At the time, Myrna's murder symbolized the savagery of a 36 year civil war in which government forces killed more than 200,000 Guatemalans. Now it is an icon of our democracy's unfulfilled promises. The 12 year judicial journey that we have made in pursuing her case underscores the intransigence, rather than the retreat, of the old order.

Myrna, an anthropologist, studied the populations of Mayans and other indigenous Guatemalans forced to abandon their ancestral homes during the worst years of the country's civil war. She visited remote areas and listened to the villagers talk of watching "their land laid to waste." She reported what she saw and heard. In doing so, she became an enemy of the state, because her work exposed the barbaric policies practiced against the displaced populations, uncovered the truth behind state actions, and called for the restoration of basic human rights.

Myrna worked as an anthropologist, but the army failed to see her work as scholarly. Instead, intelligence officials viewed Myrna as an "internal enemy." Shortly after she published her first study, government security forces began to investigate her. Then on September 11 th , 1990 as Myrna left her office, two men stabbed her 27 times. Vinicio Cerezo, head of state at the time Myrna was killed, later informed law enforcement authorities that Myrna was "targeted" because intelligence reports indicated that her work posed risks for the counterinsurgency effort.