Born in 1952, Helen Mack Chang is a business administrator who has dedicated a large portion of her life to socially-oriented, non-profit educational and housing projects in Guatemala. Her life suddenly changed in September 1990 when her sister, Myrna Mack, a social anthropologist who studied the problems of people displaced by the internal armed conflict in the country, was brutally assassinated by a military commando.
Certain that her sister's death was a political crime, Helen Mack insisted on investigating and seeking to bring to justice those responsible, even though impunity for this type of crime was - and continues to be - the norm in Guatemala. The case went before 12 different judges, many of whom were threatened or corrupted, but after overcoming numerous obstacles the soldier convicted of direct responsibility for the murder was sentenced to 30 years in prison. During the trial, the police investigator who provided the main evidence for the prosecution was himself assassinated.
The judicial process led to much harassment, persecution and many death threats for Helen Mack. Despite this she has persevered in seeking to bring to justice those who gave the orders for her sister's assassination. Three high-ranking military officers - a General and two Colonels, were indicted and were put on trial in September 2002.
On October 3, 2002, a three-judge panel convicted and sentenced one of the officers - Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio - to 30 years in prison and acquitted the other two - General Edgar Augusto Godoy Gaitán (Col. Valencia’s superior officer) and Colonel Juan Guillermo Oliva Carrera (Col. Valencia’s deputy) - on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence that they were directly involved in ordering the murder. Upon appeal, the Guatemalan Fourth Appeals Court overturned the verdict against Col. Valencia and upheld the acquittals of the other two defendants. The prosecution then appealed the Appeals Court’s decision to the Guatemalan Supreme Court. On January 20, 2004, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the conviction of Col. Valencia as an “intellectual author” of the assassination of Myrna Mack and to confirm his 30-year prison sentence.
Regrettably, this did not happen because Col. Valencia eluded authorities and went into hiding. He remains a free man. Nevertheless, it is only due to Helen Mack's relentless efforts that the "intellectual authors" of such a crime were brought to court and tried.
Mack's extraordinary courage in the fight against impunity has brought her wide renown. Her struggle has been supported by a wide spectrum of Guatemalan society and by thousands of citizens who are following in her footsteps in the search for justice. After receiving the Right Livelihood Award, she created the Myrna Mack Foundation to pursue research, analysis, training and other activities to defeat impunity and defend human rights. The Foundation provides training programmes for judges, lawyers, academics and community leaders.
According to Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, executive director of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights in New York: "Helen has become a symbol of the struggle against impunity in Guatemala. Many Guatemalans now have the faith to challenge the impunity of perpetrators of political crimes and admire Helen for her brave and persistent efforts to promote justice and human rights."
In addition to presiding over the Myrna Mack Foundation and acting as the accuser in the trial against the military officers, Helen Mack has been a member of the Commission for the Strengthening of Justice, which makes recommendations for reform of the judicial system including measures against impunity. She has participated as an expert witness in cases of human rights violations before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the Organisation of American States, among other charges. She has also been a promoter of the strategic planning projects "Guatemalan Vision" and "Visualising a Guatemala of the 21st century". As of 2011, she is coordinator of the Commission for the Police Reform.
Helen Mack Chans received the Notre Dame Award by Public Service in Latin America in 2005, the Human Rights Award from the King of Spain in 2006, and several other significant recognitions.
Fundación Myrna Mack
6A Calle 1-36, Zona 10
Edificio Valsari, Of. 504 5to nivel.