Lewis Center Hosts Global Salon

Anya Gruber ’16
Assistant News Editor

Last Thursday, Oct. 24, the Lewis Global Studies Center; the Government department; the Program for the Study of Women and Gender; and the Five College International Relations Program presented the Global Salon “Human Rights Research and Activism: Reflections on Genocide and Justice and Guatemala” featuring Elizabeth Oglesby, Associate Professor of Geography and Latin American Studies at the University of Arizona.

Oglesby traveled from Arizona to speak to the Smith community about her time as one of about 50 expert witnesses for a trial against two members of the Guatemalan government who were accused of human rights crimes. She began her career “when I was about your age,” as a recent college graduate, who earned a position as a research assistant in Guatemala. The insights and experiences she gained during this time set her on the path towards her specific involvement in this trial, as well as her overall dedication to justice in Guatemala.

The Guatemalan Civil War was a long-lived conflict that persisted through many decades but was at its worst in the 1980s. The Ixil, Maya descendants native to Guatemala, especially suffered horrendous genocide at the hands of the military-controlled dictatorship. The Truth Commission, a committee sponsored by the United Nations, was created to document hundreds of interviews of the Ixil and other people involved to get a thorough, multi-faceted account of the atrocities that occurred in Guatemala during this time.

Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s ex-dictator, and his subordinate, Maurice Rodriguez Sanchez, were both tried.

Oglesby noted the importance of her knowledge in the theory of human rights activism and her background in academia, coupled with her experience doing research in Guatemala, all of which led her to become absorbed in the relevant situation.

“The judges led with my testimony,” she noted, acknowledging the significance her background held in the trial. “For me, the theory was very important, and the field work was very important. The combination of the two made was what made it powerful,” Oglesby said.

Oglesby also noted the importance of this trial in the realm of human rights trials in general. “This is the first time a regional court has taken on a huge genocide case,” she pointed out.

Additionally, women played a major part in this trial. “One significant aspect [of this trial] was the attention given to the experience of women … A central part of the [military’s] strategy was to destroy the women of the Maya Ixil group,” explained Oglesby.

This is one of many Global Salons that will be held by the Lewis Global Studies Center. Today, Thursday, Oct. 31, at 4 p.m., the Center will be hosting Maya Krisha Rao to speak about the arts in South Asia. Tomorrow, Nov. 1, at 12:10, Mike Chinoy will host a Salon entitled “China at a Crossroads.” For more information about events in the Lewis Global Studies Center, visit http://www.smith.edu/world/announcements.php.

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