Meet Helen Mack.
Helen is the founder and president of the Myrna Mack Foundation, an organization dedicated to challenging the culture of impunity within the Guatemalan military and seeking justice for survivors of human rights abuses.
A businesswoman by trade, Helen was transformed into a leading human rights and judicial reform activist following the government-ordered assassination of her sister, Myrna Mack, in 1990. Authorities reported Myrna’s cause of death as a traffic accident. However given Myrna’s human rights activism and open criticism of the Guatemalan government, Helen knew there was more to the story. She began to seek justice for her sister—and the countless other activists silenced by the government.
In 1991, Helen set legal precedent in Guatemala by initiating the first judicial process against high-ranking members of the Guatemalan Army. Three officials were charged with organizing the assassination of Myrna. More than a decade later, Helen achieved a groundbreaking victory. The Guatemalan government acknowledged responsibility for Myrna’s death and the court convicted the primary author of the crime.
Helen’s victory paved the way for those trying to bring justice for victims of Guatemala’s genocide in the 1980s. Many of those killed were indigenous people. Earlier this year, former president Efrain Rios Montt was convicted of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison. The trial included the testimony of many brave indigenous women who lost family members and were sexually assaulted. Justice faced a setback shortly after the verdict was delivered; Rios Montt’s sentence was annulled. The trial is expected to resume anew in 2015.
Despite the frustration of this setback, Helen remains hopeful that the indigenous people’s voices will be heard, and justice will be served. Helen—along with other courageous human rights defenders in Guatemala—is determined to reform Guatemala’s corrupt system into a fair and just one.
Helen has received several significant recognitions for her work, including the Right Livelihood Award in 1992, The Notre Dame Award by Public Service in Latin America in 2005 and the Human Rights Award from the King of Spain in 2006.