Defying The Impossible. Bringing Peace To Guatemala.
“Burden of Peace” Documentary at Human Rights Film Festival NY
By Ignacia Simonetti
The 2015 Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York City brought together 16 powerful stories about individuals and communities whose actions have had a positive impact in countries such as Iran, Colombia, and Sudan. This year’s festival, co-presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the IFC Center, attracted a diverse group of filmmakers united under a common goal: challenging the status quo. For Dutch Director Joey Boink, that meant the fight against government corruption and impunity in Guatemala.
Boink’s documentary “Burden of Peace” follows Claudia Paz y Paz during her tenure as the nation’s first female attorney general, in a country with one of the highest crime rates in the Western Hemisphere. The cameras uncover Claudia’s efforts of prosecuting former head of state Jose Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity. During the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996, an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans—mostly indigenous Mayans—died or were forcibly disappeared.
Claudia’s story is a fearless journey about the costs that come with uncovering the truth, which in the case of Guatemala was buried under a devious system of impunity. When Paz y Paz took office in 2010, only 2 percent of murder cases were being solved. The judicial system, blinded by corruption, had consistently ignored crimes committed during the civil war. Not only did she dramatically improve the system, increasing the rate of solved murder cases to 35 percent, but she also helped restore faith to the thousands of families of victims of violence.
Paz y Paz’s determination to uncover and tackle years of corruption caught the attention of the international community, earning her a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Unfortunately, she did not receive the same recognition locally. Getting credit, however, was never among Claudia’s ambitions. Hers was a matter of commitment, to the practice of law and respect for human rights and the Guatemalan people. As she described in the film, “I cannot devote myself only to causes that do not anger anyone, if there is a case there is a case case [to be pursued].”
The documentary is also a heartening testimony to the challenges faced by women in male-dominated occupations such as the legal profession. A strong sense of frustration is evident throughout the film. The unlimited access of the cameras to Claudia’s life allows the audience to witness the many dilemmas she faced from her position of power. Not only was she falsely accused of committing fraud and perpetuating Marxist ideology, she was also ridiculed for her weight, looks, and the sound of her voice.
Paz y Paz faced strong resistance, including death threats, from those opposed to her work. Yet despite such challenges and a relentless schedule that limited the time she could spend with her family, Boink’s narrative brilliantly succeeds in portraying her more as a role model than a victim. It was her stamina that kept her from collapsing and her strong convictions that saved her from the political games she was pulled into.
“Burden of Peace” is an illustrative and dramatic piece about battling impunity and about Claudia’s commitment and personal sacrifice to that cause. It is also an authentic portrait of the paradox that has haunted and continues to haunt Guatemala. While former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, now 89 years old, has been declared mentally incompetent to face a new trial for the crimes committed during his tenure, Georgetown University recently presented Paz y Paz an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree for defying the impossible and for bringing peace to Guatemala.