March celebrates Women’s History Month and last year we profiled several less well known Guatemalan women who have achieved great things. This March, RWI will be highlighting women from across Latin America who have made big impacts in justice, human rights, and development.
Claudia Paz y Paz Bailey grew up during the civil war and was determined to study law to help bring justice to the war-torn country. She took after her grandfather who was also a lawyer and earned a Ph.D in Human Rights and Criminal Law from the University of Salamanca, Spain.
Throughout her career, she served as a judge in Supango, Sacatepequez, Guatemala. She was also the legal advisor for the Archbishop’s Office in the Human Rights Office of Guatemala and has been consulted as a legal expert before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. She also founded the Institute of Comparative Studies in Penal Sciences of Guatemala and gained a reputation in Guatemala as a fierce human rights defender. Her reputation for fighting for the women and indigenous groups, ultimately led to her appointment as the first female Attorney General of Guatemala.
In the less than three years that she has held the office, Paz y Paz has gained a global reputation for standing up for impunity and bringing change to a justice system that is known for its corruption.
Her most notable achievement? Bringing former dictator and general Efrain Rios Montt to trial for charges of genocide and human rights violations committed 30 years ago, during the civil war. Montt will face trial later this month, and many Guatemalans are closely watching for the outcome to see if he will finally be brought to justice.
This trial sets a precedent that those in power, or those who previously held positions of power, are not untouchable by the justice system and sends a message that the victims of the civil war deserve justice even three decades later.
Paz y Paz has also been credited with reducing violence in Guatemala by dismantling criminal networks rather than focusing on individual crimes. The success of these reforms can be seen in the recent convictions of over 60 members of Los Zetas, one of the most notorious drug trafficking cartels, and a seven percent decline in the murder rate.
This unassuming woman is even the subject of a documentary currently in production, Paz y Paz: Inside the Prosecutor’s Office, which follows her day to day experiences pursuing justice within the prosecutor’s office. In 2011, she was honored by Hillary Clinton and International Crisis Group. Check out this video introducing her work.Despite her numerous awards and recognition around the world, she is humble about her accomplishments in interviews:
The awards are very important because they support not only my action, but our joint action as an institution. One person alone could not do everything that has been done in these two years.
In reality, it is recognition of the work of a team of people. In fact, those who carry out searches or investigations and prosecute cases are a group of prosecutors, men and women.
And that international recognition is echoed in the voices of many Guatemalan citizens who are saying that the work of the public prosecutor’s office has improved. Even people filing charges tell me: I didn’t dare to bring an accusation before, but now I do.