GUATEMALA CITY – A small indigenous community in Guatemala that was razed during the country’s 36-year civil war has been awarded the SOLIDAR Silver Rose by the European Parliament.
Juana Sánchez Toma was raped and tortured during the internal conflict that began in 1960 and claimed the lives of more than 200,000 people across the country. Last week she travelled to Brussels to receive the award on behalf of the Ixil people for their contribution to social justice.
“I will fight for human rights until the day I die,” Sánchez Toma told the audience of more than 250 people during her acceptance speech, which was met with a standing ovation.
Represented by the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), the Ixil community pressed charges against former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt earlier this year for atrocities committed during the civil war.
Ríos Montt became Guatemala’s head of state after a coup in 1982, and although he was in office for less than 18 months, prosecutors say his reign marked the bloodiest period of the war. He was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity in May and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. However, less than two weeks later, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court annulled the verdict. The same court is now maneuvering to facilitate amnesty for the ex-dictator.
“We hope the European Union will continue to support and accompany the struggle against impunity in our country, which we consider a necessary step to achieve the peace our country has sought for so long,” CALDH Director Juan Francisco Soto said during the event.
The SOLIDAR Silver Rose is a key civil society event in the European Parliament that is organized by SOLIDAR, a European network of nongovernmental organizations.
“We awarded the Ixil people a SOLIDAR Silver Rose Award for their continuous struggle for human rights and social justice, and their unremitting pursuit for the truth to come out regarding the atrocities committed against them during the civil war,” SOLIDAR Secretary General Conny Reuter said. “We echo their demands for the European Union to continue its support and accompany the struggle against impunity in Guatemala.”
The SOLIDAR Silver Rose was first awarded in 2000 to recognize individuals and organizations that have contributed to advancing democracy and social justice throughout the world.
Previous winners include Morgan Tsvangirai, a former opposition leader in Zimbabwe; Aminatou Haidar, a Western Sahara human rights defender; and Robert Badinter, a French criminal lawyer who worked to abolish the death penalty.