Figure 15: Rigoberta Menchu Tum

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Rigoberta Menchu (1959 – ) is a Mayan woman from Guatemala. Growing up in the midst of civil war between the rich landowners against the native Mayans, Rigoberta became involved in activism at an early age. She would work with her family, especially her father, to travel between rural communities to teach people their rights and how to organise, in addition to being involved in feminist organisations.

The Menchu family encouraged fellow Guatemalans to protest the Government led mass atrocities. They were punished gravely for their activism. In 1980, at a peaceful protest, Rigoberta’s father was murdered alongside 37 other activists, and his death was followed not long after by the torture and murder of her brother and the torture, rape and murder of her mother. At 21, Rigoberta fled her home country into exile.

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Even abroad Rigoberta continued to oppose the military regime back home, publishing her story and gaining global attention to her cause with her book I, Rigoberta Menchú in 1983. She also joined and led several organisations involved in the liberation of Guatemala, and even returned to the country three times, although she had to leave for her own safety.

In 1992 she received the Nobel Peace prize as recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous peoples. Four years later the civil war finally ended, and Rigoberta finally returned home. She continues her work to support and seek justice for Mayan victims of the genocide, and founded the first indigenous-led political party in Guatamala.

Rigoberta’s commitment to seek justice and speak out against the regime that murdered her family and her people is no surprise; but what is remarkable is her willingness to speak loudly against the cruelty and injustice, despite the very real threats to her own life. Rigoberta is a testament to her family and the Mayan people, and I hope that she is forever remembered her bravery in the face of such brutality and danger.

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