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Guatemala - Justice Prevails in the Mack Case

After more than a decade of persistent efforts, justice has prevailed in the case of the brutal stabbing death of Guatemalan anthropologist Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang. (The Mack case has been widely viewed as a test case for the rule of law in Guatemala.) On January 20, 2004, the Guatemalan Supreme Court reversed an earlier appeals court decision and upheld the conviction of Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio for ordering Myrna Mack’s assassination. The Supreme Court confirmed Colonel Valencia’s 30-year prison sentence and ordered that he immediately be taken into custody. Regrettably, this did not happen because Col. Valencia eluded authorities and went into hiding.

The day after the Supreme Court ruling, Myrna Mack’s sister, Helen, whose persistence was instrumental in moving the case forward over the years, sent an email to the CHR, saying:

As you well know, this effort was supported by all of you. It seems to me that it is also an achievement of The National Academies, given your commitment and perseverance on the case. The trust and support that you gave me from the beginning was key and essential.

She expressed “profound gratitude for the support and caring” received from the CHR.

On December 19, 2003—in its ruling on the Guatemalan government’s failure to ensure timely justice in the Mack case—the Inter-American Court unanimously found that the State of Guatemala had violated Articles 1 (obligation to respect human rights), 4 (right to life), 5 (humane treatment), 8 (judicial guarantees) and 25 (judicial protection) of the American Convention on Human Rights. In its 240-page decision, the Court ordered, among other things, that Guatemala must:

• investigate the facts of the case in order to identify and prosecute all those who were responsible for the killing or helped cover up the crime;

• guarantee adequate security for the judicial authorities, prosecutors, witnesses, and relatives of Myrna Mack;

• publicly recognize responsibility in the case;

• establish a scholarship in Myrna Mack’s name and name a street or plaza in Guatemala City after her; and

• pay US $266,000 for material damages and US $350,000 for pain and suffering to members of the Mack family.

The Committee on Human Rights (CHR) has worked on Myrna Mack’s case since shortly after she was killed on September 11, 1990, and has compiled detailed case information. In 1992, the CHR sent a mission to Guatemala and subsequently issued two reports that focused on her case—Scientists and Human Rights in Guatemala (1992) and The Myrna Mack Case: An Update(1998). In September 2002, CHR members Mary Jane West-Eberhard (NAS) and Morton Panish (NAS/NAE) went to Guatemala to observe a week of the Mack trial and to visit scientific colleagues there who had received threats for their efforts in pushing the Mack case forward. The CHR issued a report on the mission, entitled Guatemala: Human Rights and the Myrna Mack Case (2003). Copies of the report are available from the National Academy Press.

The CHR is tremendously gratified by the positive outcome of this precedent-setting case. We wish to thank our correspondents for the actions they have taken throughout the lengthy and complicated Guatemalan judicial process.