There’s a moment when a room packed with people including human rights activists, philanthropists, artists, government officials and journalists, goes completely quiet, all eyes on a screen and a stage, tears streaming down many people’s eyes. Few things can have that effect. Yet that is exactly what happened at WOLA’s Human Rights Awards and Benefit Gala on September 21, as Máxima Emiliana García Valey and Demecia Yat shared their stories of bravery and courage.
Máxima and Demecia were honoured in representation of the Maya Achi women of Rabinal and the Maya Q’eqchi’ women of Sepur Zarco. WOLA celebrated their bravery and strength in the face of immense obstacles over several decades to ensure those responsible for their sexual violence faced justice.
WOLA also honoured Salvadoran lawyer David Morales for his ongoing fight for justice for human rights in El Salvador, in particular for the victims of the El Mozote massacre, and Representative Joaquin Castro, for his unwavering commitment to upholding human rights across Latin America.
“This is a time when we face enormous challenges in the Americas. It no longer makes sense to speak about setbacks to democracy. What we are witnessing is the advance and consolidation of authoritarianism in many countries and extremist threats here in the United States,” Carolina Jiménez Sandoval, President of WOLA, said. “But we take inspiration from the people we honor tonight. Their courage and their persistence against the incredible odds.”
The Maya Achi women of Rabinal and the Maya Q’eqchi’ women of Sepur Zarco have shown exemplary determination to bring to justice the paramilitary and military officials responsible for sexual violence against them during the Guatemalan internal armed conflict in the early 1980s. These women fought endless obstacles over the course of decades for government prosecutors to bring charges and for the courts to hear their cases. Today, they are an inspiration to millions of women and girls around the world who are seeking justice for wartime rape and other forms of gender-based violence.
“Thank you to WOLA and thanks to all of you. We will never be silenced again, our communities and our people will never be defeated,” Máxima Emiliana García Valey. said
“For me, it was very important to open a path for other women, to provide a space and strength to other women to fight for justice. We are very grateful for this award and for being able to enjoy it while we can,” Demecia Yat said.
Salvadoran human rights lawyer at Cristosal, David Morales, is the lead prosecuting lawyer representing the victims of the massacre of El Mozote, where hundreds of people were killed by members of a U.S.-trained elite force during El Salvador’s civil war in the early 1980s. His uphill battle for justice continues to this day, as he fights the attacks of President Nayib Bukele who is leading a campaign to suspend human rights.
“It is an honor for me to receive the WOLA Human Rights Award. I receive it as a personal recognition but also as a recognition of the work of everybody at Cristosal, who have supported relatives of victims of the El Mozote massacre in their long search for justice,” David Morales said. “This year the award is focusing on Central America at a very opportune time given the deep human rights crisis taking place in the region.”
WOLA also honored Representative Joaquín Castro (D – TX) for his unwavering commitment to human rights at the U.S.-Mexico border and in U.S. policy towards Latin America. Castro has worked to promote policies that protect vulnerable migrants at the border and regionally and has consistently uplifted human rights concerns in Mexico, Central America, Colombia, Brazil and elsewhere in Latin America.
“I am deeply honored to be acknowledged among the dedicated and inspirational nominees at this year’s WOLA Human Rights Awards and Benefit Gala,” Congressman Joaquin Castro said. “For years, I’ve worked closely with foreign and domestic leaders to strengthen democracy, promote human rights, and create inclusive economic opportunities across the Americas. As we continue to make progress on human rights, I look forward to working with my fellow nominees to uplift the voices of marginalized communities and local organizations and push for equality and justice for all.”
The Emcee of the 2022 ceremony was musician and singer songwriter Gina Chavez. Award presenters included José Luis Sanz, author and award-winning investigative journalist at El Faro, María Otero, former Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, and Representative Jamie Raskin.
Since 2006, WOLA’s Human Rights Award has recognized organizations or individuals who exemplify a commitment to WOLA’s vision of the future, where human rights and social justice are the foundation for public policy. Previous honorees include the Ethnic Working Group of Colombia’s Truth Commission, Fundación Mi Sangre, the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Center, Efecto Cocuyo, Rep. Norma Torres (D-CA), Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, Salvadoran online newspaper El Faro, Commissioner Iván Velásquez Gómez of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and former President of Chile Michelle Bachelet.