On November 9, about 30 people crowded into the SJA Parish Center to hear a powerful presentation by Gillian Locascio. In 2012 and 2013, Gillian accompanied Guatemalans facing threats and violence for their work defending human rights. It was a compelling story of how international solidarity can protect and support these efforts.
Gillian started out by providing a brief history of the roots of injustice in Guatemala and the armed conflict that took place from 1960 to 1996. Then she described what it was like to work with witnesses during the historic trial of former ex-facto President Rios Montt for genocide. After decades of silence, these witnesses finally had the opportunity to speak publicly about the atrocities that happened in their communities so many decades ago.
She also described the efforts of rural communities currently organizing against a proposed hydroelectric dam that would flood their farmlands and houses. Their non-violent tactics include enacting local referendums that clearly and emphatically say "no" to these harmful mega-projects.
Gillian described the role of human rights observers who accompany individuals, communities, and organizations working on sensitive human rights issues. By doing so, they provide a dissuasive presence, a link to the international community, and a measure of moral support to Guatemalan activists.
The attentive audience left with a better understanding of the human rights situation in Guatemala today, and a sense of hope that Guatemalans will continue to find ways to advocate for justice, rights and human dignity.
For more information about accompaniment, go to the NISGUA website: www.nisqua.org. (NISGUA is the organization Gillian worked for in 2012 and 2013.)