Burden Of Peace


Reviewed by: Rebecca Naughten

Burden Of Peace
"What shines through in Burden of Peace is the personal bravery it takes to stick to your ideals and behave morally in the face of state power and implicit violence."

Towards the end of 2010, Claudia Paz y Paz became Guatemala's first female Attorney General. She was a surprise appointment, not simply as a woman given a top role in a male-dominated country, but because she was a human rights activist in a country that had yet to deal with abuses committed during the Guatemalan civil war and US-backed military dictatorships (effectively from the 1960s to the mid-1990s). Due to her commitment to transparency, Paz y Paz allowed cameras to follow her from the first day of her appointment. Burden Of Peace offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on how she tenaciously took on the challenge of shutting down the practices of violence and impunity blighting the lives of Guatemala's civilian population - and the obstructions placed in her way by vested interests.

Small and softly-spoken, Paz y Paz's appearance belies her firmness in tackling the impunity enjoyed by criminal gangs and the connected corruption of officials. In meetings with stoney-faced men who have been called to justify their inaction, this woman challenges them on the most basic of tasks - whether the inability to correctly record information (the national database has more than 50 different misspellings of the word 'unknown'), or the fact that certain police departments solved no murders the previous year. At the start of her term, the solve rate for murders stood at a pitiful five per cent - by the end of her first year in office it had risen to thirty per cent.

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Although dismissed by opponents as lacking legal experience, Paz y Paz is shown to bring a methodical and dogged mindset to the problems she encounters - she and her team are not content to arrest low level criminals, but want to dismantle the leadership structure. She applies the same process to ascertaining the historical military chain of command when she pursues those responsible for the deliberate murders of an estimated 200,000 civilians during the civil war and military dictatorships, specifically focussing on the events in the Ixil region between 1982-1983 (a truly horrific catalogue of events is recounted by survivors within the film). In the 1990s, a UN investigation ruled that the military's actions in the region amounted to genocide but a concurrent national report by Paz y Paz's human rights mentor Monsignor Gerardi went one step further and named the individuals responsible. Two days after delivering his report in 1998, Gerardi was beaten to death outside his home - Paz y Paz's determination to see justice delivered for the indigenous Mayans in the Ixil region has a personal resonance.

The sense that she may be pursuing justice at great personal risk is heightened when the emerging frontrunner in the presidential elections is none other than the former director of military intelligence, Otto Pérez Molina. Building a case in careful secrecy with her team, Paz y Paz goes for broke and puts former dictator Efrain Rios Montt on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity in relation to the events in the Ixil region. Guatemala becomes the first country to have a domestic court convict a former leader on these kinds of charges. But the triumph is short-lived and with growing disquiet Paz y Paz is outflanked by vested interests within and outside the government.

Although we see that indigenous groups and the poorer end of the civilian population support her, it would help to know a bit more about the people who we see attacking Paz y Paz on television (for example, in personal attacks her commitment to human rights is routinely conflated with "marxist ideology" - are these people in the mainstream national media or the Guatemalan equivalent of Fox News?). Similarly, the absence of a clear chronology sometimes makes events difficult to contextualise, and the manner in which Paz y Paz's cases are spread across her four-year term is not detailed. It's also curious - given that all onscreen conversations (including people behind the camera talking to Paz y Paz) are in Spanish - that the voiceover is in English, although presumably this was felt to make the film more accessible to international audiences.

What shines through in Burden of Peace is the personal bravery it takes to stick to your ideals and behave morally in the face of state power and implicit violence - and that, despite all accusations to the contrary, Claudia Paz y Paz put her country before herself during her time in office.

Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2015
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The four-year term of Guatemala's first female Attorney General, Claudia Paz y Paz, sees her battle against the impunity of organised criminal gangs and the country's former military rulers.

Director: Joey Boink, Sander Wirken

Writer: Joey Boink, Sander Wirken

Year: 2014

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: Netherlands, Guatemala, Spain


Human Rights 2015

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