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The Committee on Human Rights works to gain the release of imprisoned scientists, engineers, and health professionals worldwide whose basic human rights, as recognized by the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, have been violated by their governments. Most of the committee's cases involve colleagues who are in jail or who have recently disappeared and may still be alive. Since so many colleagues in Latin America in the 1980s were either killed outright or killed after abduction and torture for the peaceful expression of their ideas, the committee began to develop lists of such cases and to register protests in their behalf with the governments involved.

In the case of Myrna Mack, the murder was so egregious, the record of the Guatemalan military's impunity so flagrant, and the resulting cessation of virtually all anthropological research in Guatemala so unfortunate, that the committee decided to devote special attention to the development of the legal case and to persistently urge that all those responsible for Myrna Mack's death be brought to justice. The committee recognizes with deep respect the courageous, unselfish, and tireless efforts of Helen Beatriz Mack Chang, Myrna's sister and the self-appointed private prosecutor in the case.3 Without her initiative in leading the prosecution forward through institutional barriers and resistance, the legal proceedings would not have advanced as far as they have. Thanks primarily to her tireless insistence, this case has become a test of the justice system in Guatemala.


Guatemalan law permits a Guatemalan citizen to act independently as a private prosecutor, although the state still has the responsibility to appoint a state prosecutor. At the trial phase, the private and state prosecutors have equal rights to introduce evidence, questions, and witnesses.

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