In 1992 the Committee on Human Rights of the National Academy of Sciences and the Committee on Health and Human Rights of the Institute of Medicine undertook a fact-finding mission to Guatemala.1 The committees' report, Scientists and Human Rights in Guatemala (1992), describes the mission and its findings. It focuses especially on the September 11, 1990, murder of anthropologist Myrna Elizabeth Mack Chang. Myrna Mack researched and wrote about indigenous populations displaced or destroyed due to armed political-military conflict and military counterinsurgency practices.2 She was murdered outside her workplace in Guatemala City only two days after her research was published in English.
A portion of the 1992 report reviews the legal steps in the Mack case from the time of the murder to the end of the accusatory phase of the judicial proceeding against Noél de Jesús Beteta Alvarez. Beteta, formerly of the intelligence branch of the Presidential High Command (Estado Mayor Presidencial), was then under indictment as one of the killers, although it was widely believed that Beteta's military superiors were involved in planning the murder. This update provides a synopsis of the Myrna Mack case through 1997, with an overview and a descriptive chronology of the primary legal steps taken to prosecute the three military officers accused of ordering Myrna Mack's murder.
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.