CONTACT: MELVIN O. SHAW
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0010; fax (319) 384-0024
(Editor's note: Rigoberta Menchu Tum will be available to meet with
members of the media in the Kirkwood Room (second floor) of the Iowa Memorial
Union from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11)
Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum lectures at UI Nov.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum,
who distinguished herself as a human rights advocate for Guatemala's indigenous
peoples, will present a lecture, "The Universal Declaration and Human
Rights," at 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 12 at Macbride Hall Auditorium
at the University of Iowa.
Menchu was labeled a communist and several attempts on her life and
her associates' lives were made by Guatemalan authorities when she began
working through the Committee of Peasant Unity and speaking on behalf of
her people nearly two decades ago. Menchu used political tactics and social
work to lessen discrimination against Guatemalans of non-Spanish descent
who were denied citizenship by the military-led government -- the same
government that killed her brother, father and mother.
Menchu's brother Petrocinio, was kidnapped and burned by military soldiers
in 1979 while the family watched. In 1980, Menchu's father, Vincente, was
among 39 Indian leaders who died in a fire at Guatemala's Spanish embassy
while protesting human rights violations. In a separate incident, her mother,
Juana, also a human rights advocate, was raped, tortured and killed one
Menchu was born in abject poverty in 1959. She grew up in the small
village of Uspanadan, located in the western Guatemalan highlands, where
most of the country's indigenous population lives. As a child without a
formal education, she worked as a maid for a wealthy white family and as
a teenager, she picked coffee beans at plantations along the Guatemalan
coast. She taught herself Spanish so that she could tell the world about
the depraved conditions and injustices imposed upon indigenous peoples.
"Rigoberta Menchu Tum has improved the lives, not only of indigenous
peoples in Guatemala; she also has profoundly influenced the political
discourse of the country as a whole. She is an important reason why democracy
now has a foothold there," says Burns Weston, principal organizer
of Menchu's UI visit.
In October, she attracted international attention when she charged Guatemala's
judicial system with corruption and stated that the trial of 27 soldiers
accused in the 1995 massacre of 11 people from the village of Xaman was
moving too slowly. Menchu currently is acting as an advisor to the prosecution.
The Xaman case is the first in that nation in which members of Guatemalan
armed forces face trial for any of the 424 massacres attributed to them
during the nation's 36-year civil war.
Menchu, who penned her life story in "I, Rigoberta Menchu, An Indian
Woman in Guatemala," published in 1983, has been a human rights activist
for more than two decades and is a personal advisor to the UNESCO Director-General.
She is the second Nobel Prize winner to visit the UI in two months as a
Global Focus: Human Rights '98 lecturer in the UI's year-long commemoration
of the 1948 signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Her visit is sponsored by the UI College of Law's International and
Comparative Law Program and the UI International Programs.