Podcast: Believing in Guatemalan women, with Brisna Caxaj and Marlies Stappers

April 5, 2022: Earlier this year, in a landmark verdict, Guatemala’s highest court sentenced five former paramilitaries to 30 years in prison for raping indigenous Mayan Achi women during the country's civil war in the 1980s. 


The journey of these 36 women fighting for justice is not only extraordinary but also telling of the various challenges, including legal and societal, that impede efforts against impunity during conflicts.


In their latest podcast, Asymmetrical Haircuts in partnership with JusticeInfo, speak to Marlies Stappers and Brisna Caxaj of Impunity Watch about how deep-seated racism and discrimination in Guatemala prevented women from being able to get justice. 


The episode not only covers the impact of conflict on transitional justice and long-silenced gender violence but also looks at how the case provides lessons for strategic litigation and support for discriminated groups at large. 


This is a story of victims in the role of protagonists.


“Guatemala allows victims to become plaintiffs and this way become their own representatives. To be acknowledged is fundamental for justice. The Mayan Achi case set an example for indigenous women that it is possible for women to take the floor and demand justice. They are the protagonists” - Marlies Stappers


The discussion also covered recommendations for successful litigation and inclusion on impunity matters. The lawyers representing the Maya Achi lawsuit (or Caso Mujeres Achi), which started in 2011, were also indigenous women.


“We had three indigenous female judges dressed traditionally, speaking up for these women is a push for transformation. This is inclusionary for a society that is so deep-rooted in discrimination and violence. The international community should look at this as an example of strategic litigation” -

Marlies Stappers


“They [Mayan Achi women] don’t want this to happen again. Recommendations from the case include transformative repatriations, creating health centres that can see and receive victims of sexual violence, and creating opportunities for children and grandchildren of victims. They want to ensure community life is not interrupted” - Brisna Caxaj


For the Achi Women, this guilty verdict is a form of dignity and reparation, as it recognises that their suffering matters. Now, the Achi women must await reparation for the suffering they have experienced.


The discussion concluded that the fight for transitional justice and violence against women is far from over.


“We can have a conviction or huge results today. Tomorrow these sentences can be overhauled in a context of impunity. We must ensure that the fight for justice for dignity against impunity remains on the agenda” - Marlies Stappers


“The Maya Achi women are aware there are still other perpetrators that should be facing trials. The survivors want to share their strength and determination with other women fighting for justice" - Brisna Caxaj


Listen to the full podcast here.

Marlies Stappers is the founder and Executive Director of Impunity Watch. As director, she has been deeply involved in research and policy work related to the fields of human rights, transitional justice, impunity reduction, and strengthening the role of civil society; and particularly victims and affected communities in countries such as Guatemala.


Brisna Caxaj is Gender Programme Director at Impunity Watch Guatemala, and has worked with the Maya Achi women during their legal struggle.