People First - She struggles for reconciliation

Photo: Alva Azócar

People First

Aura Elena Farfán in Guatemala

Updated: 5 June 2015

Ruben Amilcar Farfán has been missing for 28 years. On 15 May 1984, he disappeared from the University of San Carlos in Guatemala City. Four unidentified men beat him and then abducted him. He has never been seen since.

"It was a big loss, unjust and inhumane," says Aura Elena Farfán, Ruben's older sister.

We are standing in La Verbena, a cemetery in Guatemala City. Behind Aura Elena there is a large round hole that is cordoned off. At the bottom lie pieces of clothing and parts of a skeleton. This place was used during the 36 year internal armed conflict as a mass grave.

"Maybe Ruben ended up here. Now and then we come here to see if there is any news," she says. The search for her brother has taken Aura Elena to the city's morgue, hospital and police stations. There she met other women also searching for their loved ones, without success.

"Since none of the authorities had any answers we decided to organise ourselves to demand the restitution of our loved ones," she says.

Today, 28 years later, Aura Elena continues to search for answers and seek justice through the organisation Familiares de Detenidos-Desaparecidos de Guatemala (Famdegua). Not just for Ruben's disappearance, but for the large number of Guatemalans who disappeared during the conflict. Famdegua has, in collaboration with forensic anthropologists, conducted over a hundred excavations of mass graves and uncovered more than a thousand skeletons belonging to men, women and children in different parts of the country.

"We have done all we can to uncover the truth and to bring the perpetrators who harmed us to justice. We are not driven by revenge, but the desire that history never repeats itself," says Aura Elena.

In August 2011, four former soldiers were sentenced to 6,060 years imprisonment each for the massacre in the community of Las Dos Erres in 1982, where 252 people were murdered. Aura Elena and Famdegua acted as legal advisors in the case. Famdegua is currently bringing an indictment of genocide against ex-dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt for the part he played in the massacre as the country's former leader.

In a country where there is almost total impunity for crimes committed during the civil war, the efforts of Aura Elena are invaluable for achieving reconciliation. However, this also carries risks for her personal safety.

"Those who we singled out as being responsible would prefer that silence prevails in these matters, that voices are not raised," she says.

Aura Elena says that she has been kidnapped and threatened at gunpoint by the military. During the trial of Las Dos Erres more people were subjected to threats and intimidation. Several forensic anthropologists that had collaborated with Famdegua and stood as witnesses in the case received death threats.

"When we leave our offices or homes, we do not know if we will return."

For just over ten years, Aura Elena has had the assistance of peace observers from the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation. The peace observers join Aura Elena at the excavations of mass graves, court trials and other activities.

"Their work has been of great value as observers and witnesses to the things that have taken place. If it had not been for the international attending organisations, we would not have had the strength to continue the search for those missing," she says.

Page owner: Communication Unit

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