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Sat Jun 20, 2015, 08:43 PM

Meet the brave woman who convicted Guatemala’s former dictator of brutal war crimes

Meet the brave woman who convicted Guatemala’s former dictator of brutal war crimes

A new documentary, “Burden Of Peace,” chronicles Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemala’s extraordinary first female attorney general

BYNeesha Arter

Photo Courtesy of "Burden Of Peace"

The surname Paz y Paz translates to “Peace and Peace,” which appropriately suits trailblazer Claudia Paz y Paz, Guatemala’s first female attorney general and the subject of the new documentary Burden Of Peace. The film was screened at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York City on Thursday night. Paz y Paz effectively led the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala from 2010-2014, until her term was controversially cut short by seven months.

Guatemala’s long history of political unrest includes a lengthy civil war from 1960 to 1996, genocide, corruption, crime and a deadly drug war. A scandal erupted in 2010 when attorney general Conrado Reyes, in office for just 17 days, was linked to the Mafia there. Reyes was forced out and the country was left searching for an honest, transparent prosecutor. That’s where Paz y Paz, a human rights lawyer, stepped in. She says in the film, “When I took the job as attorney general, I knew there were risks, but I have to do it because the victims deserve justice … the country deserves justice.”

The film depicts Guatemala as a lawless country where one can “kill, rob, and rape while the state does nothing” prior to Paz y Paz assuming the attorney general post. “Guatemala cannot wait. I will do anything I can to reduce impunity,” Paz y Paz said at the beginning of her term. The film details that when Paz y Paz stepped in, more than 20 people were murdered in Guatemala every day. She risked her safety and reputation to address the issue and by the time she left office, 30 of every 100 murder cases were solved, compared to a mere 5 percent prior to her tenure.

In the first six months of her term, there were more drug traffickers arrested than in the previous decade, and throughout her time served, five of the top 10 most wanted criminals in the country were caught. Paz y Paz continued to imprison corrupt military members and many affiliates of the Zetas, Mexico’s most violent criminal syndicate. In addition to pioneering a new wave of justice in one of the most dangerous countries in Central America, if not the world, Paz y Paz opened 24-hour courts to specifically expedite proceedings of cases of violence against women.


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