Iduvina Hernandez

Iduvina Hernandez, a journalist and human rights activist, was personally involved in the struggle for justice in Guatemala during the 36-year armed conflict that took the lives of up to quarter of a million people.

Her involvement began during her days as a student activist, when 16 of her fellow students were killed.

In 1984, she had to go into exile in Mexico after the death of a colleague. She remained there for five years and could have stayed on and started a new life. But her heart was bound to her native country and so she returned home.

Even today Hernandez says her life is constantly in danger and that she and her colleagues continually receive death threats. But she would rather die fighting for her country than silently watch corruption and impunity run rampant.

Although she sees some progress in Guatemala, Hernandez acknowledges that it is still a dangerous country where corruption is deeply entrenched in politics and society.

Hernandez has studied, and tried to influence, the reform of the intelligence services in Guatemala. The security forces in Guatemala were responsible for many human rights abuses during the civil war.

She has also studied professionalism in journalism in the Central American Journalism Program at Florida International University. She says that in order to understand current events in Guatemala, it is crucial to understand the past.

Hernandez is currently the director of the Association for the study and promotion of security in Democracy (SEDEM), an NGO that works to improve security, reduce impunity and improve the democratic process in Guatemala.

You can read Amnesty International’s report on SEDEM here. For more information on the Human Rights situation in Guatemala, you can follow this link.


Peace or Justice? Colombia’s Difficult Choice


Colombian President Manuel Santos said the time for peace is "now or never" but reiterated that any negotiated agreements must be ratified by popular vote.

Santos, who started peace talks with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, back in November, has said Tuesday that he would be willing to meet  FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londoño, who is sometimes referred to as Timoleón Jimenez or Timochenko, to hasten an agreement in talks seeking to end 50 years of conflict. He has however warned that the nation will continue at war if Colombians reject what is agreed at the negotiating table.

"I think this is the most important process that Colombia can have and, if it's successful, the most important thing that can happen to Colombia in recent history," Santos told W Radio, a local radio station.

More than three dozen FARC commanders are in Cuba, which is hosting the talks. They are working through a five-point agenda that would let the two sides declare an end to the fighting. The war has pit the FARC and a smaller rebel group, the ELN, against government troops and illegal paramilitary death squads.

The outcome of the talks will however depend on whether Colombians vote to accept the mechanism for dealing with thousands of documented abuses, and ensuring justice for the victims if the matter goes to referendum. According to a study by a state-supported National Center for Historic Memory, the FARC killed nearly 3,300 people since 1981, launched hundreds of attacks on small towns and kidnapped nearly 13,000 people from 1970 to 2010. Some Government forces were also implicated in rights abuses.

“We don’t believe there will be justice, as they say there will be,” said German Bernal, 35, who represents victims of the conflict in Tolima. “I think the government, in its rush to find peace, is doing things we don’t agree with on the issue of justice.”

A prosecutor for the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, has written that the suspended sentences the Colombian framework could permit suggest that the objective is to “shield the accused from responsibility.” She also said the plan might be in violation of Colombia’s own treaty obligations.

“It’s the search for the right balance between peace and justice,” said Sibylla Brodzinsky, co-editor of “Throwing Stones at the Moon,” a recently published book on victims uprooted from their homes by Colombia’s conflict. “What it comes down to is if you demand too much justice, then peace is at risk. If you prioritize peace over the demands of justice, you could be creating the basis for an entirely new conflict.”

Santos, who has pushed hard for a peaceful negotiated settlement for Colombia, told Reuters in a recent interview that the rebel leadership could face jail terms if peace were achieved. He also said FARC negotiators would need to return to Colombia's jungle and face capture or death in battle if talks collapse.

Londoño  is not personally taking part in the negotiations so far, and his exact whereabouts are unknown. He is thought to be coordinating the war from hiding in Venezuela.

Any meeting between Santos and Londoño would be the first such sit down since former President Andres Pastrana met rebel founder Manuel Marulanda during peace talks that fell apart in 2002.


Story sources: The Washington Post and Reuters 

Read more here, here and here

Read about  the search for peace and justice in Guatemala here

Image Source: xmascarol Flickr  

Monitoring Guatemalas Montt Genocide Trial


"Terror and impunity." These are the first words Iduvina Hernandez says when she is asked to describe Rios Montt, the former Guatemalan head of state now awaiting partial retrial for genocide.

During the trial of former dictator Rios Montt, Hernandez assumed the task of monitoring proceedings and regularly reporting news to the many illiterate villagers in rural indigenous communities of Guatemala.

In this photo, taken on day 26 of the trial, Iduvina Hernandez (seated on right) and fellow activist Marylena Bustamente listen to testimony given by Montt (in foreground). Two days later, on May 11th 2013, the court sentenced the former president to 80 years in prison for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Later that month, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court struck down Montt's conviction and ordered all proceedings from the last several weeks of the trial redone. For more on the trial, see this excellent site.

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