September 11, 2010 marked the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Myrna Mack. In an interview with La Hora, Helen Mack – Myrna’s sister and the director of the Myrna Mack Foundation – stressed the importance of historical memory and justice: “Twenty years later we continue the fight against impunity…because the impunity of the past is what has generated the impunity of the present.”
Myrna Mack Chang was a Maya/Chinese anthropologist who researched human rights violations of internally displaced populations during Guatemala’s armed conflict. As a result of her outspoken criticism of the government, she was stabbed to death as she left her office in Guatemala City on September 11, 1990.
In 1991 Helen Mack pursued prosecution in Guatemala of those responsible for the assassination, including multiple graduates of the US School of the Americas. The case was taken to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC, and later to the Inter-American Court in Costa Rica. Two years later, one of Myrna’s attackers, a low ranking security official, was convicted in a groundbreaking decision. The case also led to the trial of two colonels and a general, as the intellectual authors of the murder; the highest ranking officials in Guatemala ever to be tired for human rights violations. In 2002, Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio was convicted for his role in ordering her murder. The decision, however, was overturned in an appeals court in 2003, and the case has been taken to Guatemalan Supreme Court. This case was the first of its kind in Guatemala and paved the way for similar human rights cases.
Helen Mack went beyond the prosecution of her sister’s killers and in 1993 founded the Myrna Mack Foundation to “drive the fight against impunity, the formation of the Rule of Law in Guatemala, and the consolidation of peace and democracy.”
Mack has continued to fight against impunity and human rights violations in Guatemala. In 2010, Helen was appointed by President Colom to lead investigations into police corruption. In one of her first statements after her appointment, she asserted that the low pay and poor work conditions of Guatemala’s police were key catalysts in corruption and must be addressed. On April 28, 2010, Helen won the Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award from the Center for Justice and Accountability.