During our fall tour, “Guatemalan women healing towards justice,” community psychologist Maudi Tzay met with hundreds of students, activists, psychologists, and healers from across the U.S. to speak about the groundbreaking case of Sepur Zarco and the critical work of Guatemalan feminist organizations to create spaces for healing grounded in justice.
Maudi is a Kachiquel community psychologist from Guatemala whose work with ECAP – the Community Studies and Psychosocial Action Team – brings healing to movements for social justice and human rights. Since 2014, she has provided psychosocial support to women from the community of Sepur Zarco, who survived state-sanctioned rape and sexual slavery in the 1980s under a U.S.-backed military dictatorship. Earlier this year, the survivors achieved a major legal victory when, for the first time in the Americas, sexual slavery was successfully prosecuted as a crime against humanity in a domestic court.
The 20-day tour brought together more than 900 people during 26 events in the Southwest and West Coast. Through a variety of educational events and exchanges, the tour drew important links between militarism and sexual violence in local and global contexts, cultivating a more intersectional and global analysis of gender-based violence while strengthening connections across movements for gender justice. The tour celebrated the legal victory for the survivors of Sepur Zarco and the movements and organizations that supported them, while emphasizing the importance of transcending legal strategy to facilitate processes for healing, resistance, and resilience which are inextricable from justice.
For more background on the Sepur Zarco trial, read NISGUA’s in-depth report.
Maudi talks about the Sepur Zarco trial during a tour stop in Nogales, Arizona on the 2016 NISGUA tour. Credit: Graham Hunt
Maudi toured the U.S. representing the Alliance to Break the Silence and End Impunity, the interdisciplinary feminist coalition behind the strategic litigation that made this an emblematic case in struggles for justice across the Americas. Speaking to the local and international importance of the case, Maudi identified the verdict as a victory for all indigenous women in Guatemala, who face enormous racism and gender and class barriers within the national legal system. The women testified through interpreters and listened to trial proceedings through headsets, organized by accompanying organizations. Despite the language barrier and other legal hurdles, they worked together with other advocacy, mental health, and feminist legal organizations to achieve a successful verdict, which Maudi focused on during many of her presentations.
“At the beginning of the verdict, the judges said that they believed the women, that the most valued piece of evidence that led to the conviction was the women’s own testimonies. That kind of legal victory can become part of a healing process.” — Maudi Tzay
The former military officials prosecuted during the trial were sentenced to crimes against humanity, in addition to other charges. While “crimes against humanity” is a blanket charge, the judges chose to individualize sexual violence in their verdict as a way of strengthening the legal precedent and giving power to the testimony of the women survivors. The plaintiff organizations identified this naming of the crime as an important victory in the struggle to combat painful stigmas against sexual violence and to open the door for other cases of gender-based crimes.
Throughout the process, the women survivors were clear that a central goal of litigation was to help to build a legal framework to ensure that this kind of extreme violence against women would not be permitted to occur ever again, anywhere in the world.
“To be able to demand justice, first knowing what justice means for the victims is necessary. It isn’t only about attending to the victim, but also about preventing sexual violence so that it never happens again in any country. That’s what the women are asking for – that in no other place in the world will women suffer what they have suffered. For this to happen, [the experiences gained in the Sepur Zarco case] need to cross borders.” – Maudi Tzay. To read an extended interview with Maudi, click here.
Tour stop in Nogales: Challenging ongoing militarization and sexual violence today
From October 8-10, we joined over 300 social justice organizations from across the Americas for a weekend of community, education, and action against U.S. militarism at the Convergence on the U.S./Mexico Border in Nogales, Arizona/Sonora. The Convergence was organized by the School of the Americas Watch and partner organizations, moving the annual protest for the first time away from the gates of the Western Hemisphere School for Security Cooperation (formerly the School of the Americas) to the border in recognition of ongoing U.S. militarization.
At the border, Maudi joined dozens of other speakers in drawing connections between the legacy of the School of the Americas and the training of national and international military officials in counter-insurgency and scorched earth tactics including torture, massacres, sexual violence, forced disappearance, and forced displacement. Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was trained at the School of the Americas, and it was under his de facto 1982-1983 presidency that many of these types of human rights violations became systematized. Women were particularly targeted for being life givers and sexual violence was used in widespread ways to attack entire communities.
“Where there exists militarization, there exists sexual violence.” – Maudi Tzay
Maudi joined speakers from the across the Americas in a rally that took place on both sides of the border wall to call for an end to militarization throughout the region. Many speakers shared personal stories about experiences with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and militarized violence on the border, while other shared song and messages of solidarity. Speaking from the Mexican side, Maudi highlighted sexual violence as a crime that is systematized across militarized contexts, referencing the high number of women who are raped along the migratory route. Hundreds of people gathered for her speech in a rare moment of solidarity in spite of the border that divided two crowds, as Maudi declared “Guatemala, presente!” For a longer report-back, click here.