Helen Mack Chang (1992 Laureate)

Country: Guatemala

Current status: Death threats

Helen Mack Chang is a human rights activist fighting impunity and corruption in Guatemala. Her work began in 1990 when her sister, the social anthropologist Myrna Mack, was brutally assassinated by a member of the Guatemalan Presidential General Staff to prevent her from exposing corrupt government practices. A few years later, Mack founded the Myrna Mack Foundation, with the aim of ensuring accountability for the Guatemalan corrupt system of power, which thrives through an alliance among politicians, the military, and the business sector. She has dedicated her past 30 years to seeking justice for her sister, documenting and exposing the government corruption, human rights violations and impunity that pervade Guatemala. As a consequence, Mack has been, and continues to be, subjected to regular threats both offline and online.

  • September 11, 1990: Mack’s sister Myrna was stabbed multiple times by a military commando because she had exposed corrupt government practices that had displaced and killed thousands of indigenous peoples. Her case is only one of the countless crimes the Guatemalan military state has carried out during the country’s civil war (1960-1996).
  • October 10, 1990: Mack files charges against all those suspected of murdering her sister Myrna. The subsequent judicial process led to harassment, persecution and death threats directed at Mack.
  • 1993: Mack founded the Myrna Mack Foundation to fight impunity and contribute to the modernisation and democratisation of the administration of justice in Guatemala. The organisation was financed with funds from the Right Livelihood Award.
  • 1996 – 1999: Mack participated in the founding of the movement Alliance against Impunity, she was named to the Commission for the strengthening of justice (Comisión Nacional para el Seguimiento y Apoyo al Fortalecimiento de la Justicia), and promoted the creation of the Movement for Justice, made up of several organisations fighting for the same cause.
  • August 26, 2002: The Inter-American Court on Human Rights issued the first of many Provisional Measure decisions, in which it ordered the State of Guatemala to take all necessary measures to protect the life and safety of Mack and other members of the Myrna Mack Foundation.
  • October 3, 2002 : Thanks to Mack’s perseverance in seeking justice for her sister, a three-judge panel convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison one of the three officers involved in Myrna Mack’s murder. However, he managed to escape from police custody and turned himself into a fugitive. The other two were acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence.
  • 2000 – 2001: Mack participated as a founder in the Guatemala Forum, a body that brings together 19 organisations from various national sectors.
  • November 2003: The Inter-American Court of Human Rights condemned the State of Guatemala for the extrajudicial execution of Myrna Mack.

Protection and Advocacy

January 2021: The Right Livelihood Foundation provided a holistic Protection Program to Helen Mack Chang, carried out by the organisation Open Briefing.

November 2020: The Right Livelihood Foundation provided Helen Mack Chang with digital security training, carried out by the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

September 2019: The Right Livelihood Foundation delivered a statement at the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, denouncing that Helen Mack Chang has been subjected to attacks and legal actions by the Guatemalan government, due to her cooperation with CICIG.

March 6, 2019: The Right Livelihood Foundation organised the side event “Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs): Local realities and shared global challenges”, at the margins of the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council. Helen Mack Chang came to Geneva to highlight how corruption and impunity, in Guatemala and elsewhere, affect the work of WHRDs.

September 14, 2018: The Right Livelihood Foundation delivered a statement on behalf of the Myrna Mack Foundation and Helen Mack Chang at the 39th session of the UN Human Rights Council, on the occasion of the presentation of the report by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.