Jesus Tecu
Jesus Tecu

A Guatemalan human rights activist has been recognized by the advocacy organization Human Rights First, which cited his lifelong struggle for human rights for indigenous people in his native country.

Jesus Tecu has been awarded the Roger Baldwin Medal of Liberty for his efforts to promote human rights for Guatemala's indigenous Maya community, and bring an end to impunity for perpetrators of genocide during the country's gruesome decades-long civil war.

Tecu was chosen from among dozens of nominees for the results of his work, and his determination in the face of overwhelming obstacles, says Andrew Hudson, a senior associate at New York-based Human Rights First.

"They consider a criteria like the effectiveness of the activist in terms of advancing human rights, the distinctiveness of their work, security risks they have faced, and the degree to which the award would help them," he said.

Hudson says a recent increase in threats and violence against Guatemalan activists contributed to the decision to honor Tecu. He says Tecu was also chosen for his perseverance in pursuing justice, after having witnessed the slaughter of much of his family by agents of the Guatemalan military during the civil war in the early 1980s.

"His story is incredibly compelling, the fact that as a child he witnessed the murder of his family in one of the worst massacres of the Guatemalan genocide, the Rio Negro massacre," he said. "The fact that he was then enslaved for a couple years by the very perpetrators that carried out the massacre. And the fact that after all of this he wasn't driven t revenge but the cruelty that he witnessed motivated him into seeking justice for the genocide that was committed."

Hudson says Tecu has played a key role as a witness against human rights violators both in Guatemala and in international courts.

Tecu says that as a result of his work with indigenous communities in the central Guatemalan province of Alta Verepaz, he continues to receive death threats against him and his family, which he believes come from the alleged perpetrators of civil war era massacres.

He says ultimately all human rights activists in Guatemala are fighting for justice and wish to see to those who committed crimes during the country's civil war punished and imprisoned.

Tecu adds that the award will strengthen his activities in the Mayan community of Rabinal. Tecu heads several organizations which work in the fields of education and empowerment for indigenous peoples in the region.

Alta Verapaz, home to a large concentration of indigenous Mayan people, and the scene of numerous massacres during the civil war, is among the poorest and least developed departments of Guatemala.