Rights Action as an organization developed from a merger between two NGOs who had traditionally worked with Guatemalan refugees who had fled to Mexico: Guatemala Health Rights Support Project and Peace for Guatemala, both US-based. These two organizations had worked independently from each other beginning in 1983 and decided to merge in 1994 to form Guatemala Partners, which later became Rights Action in 1998.
The reason for the merger was to respond to the needs of the refugees who were returning to Guatemala as the country took steps towards a peace process, as well as work in new areas opening up as a result of this peace process.
In 1995, Guatemala Partners went through a crisis of deciding whether to shut down or not. They decided to hire Graham and Annie to work in DC, and as work grew, sent Annie to open a Guatemalan office in 1996 and Graham to open a Canadian office in 2000.
In 1998, Guatemala Partners changed its name to Rights Action, as they wanted to identify themselves more with human rights development in Central America and not restrict themselves solely to refugee work in Guatemala. Although Rights Action is legally registered in the US, most of the work done is out of the Guatemala office.
The objective of RA is to support community-based organizations in Central America with funding, advocacy and technical support to promote human rights based initiatives. Currently in Guatemala, there are 4 full time employees: Annie, Jane, Rubén and Tono. In addition to the core staff, there are 2 long-term paid volunteers working out in the communities and 3 consultants hired on a project-specific basis. RA’s work can be divided into 6 program areas:
1. Access to Justice – supporting judicial organizations that represent the interests of local communities and give judicial advice
2. Land and Natural Resources – e.g. the current project involving Chixoy Dam, land disputes, reparations
3. Marginalized Economies – fair trade and micro loan funds, local economies, e.g. funding coffee cooperatives which allow them to hire technicians to evaluate their coffee in order to obtain a health license, have labels and sell publicly, or facilitate loans to buy coffee; allow communities to get to a more international level by providing necessary intermediate steps
4. Education – support schools, e.g. a bilingual (Spanish-Achi) school initiative in Rabinal
5. Health – support health institutions, e.g. organizations working with local women who use natural medicinal plants
6. Immigration – not funding projects, but technical support, e.g. give advice to people involved in immigration disputes and facilitate communication with appropriate parties
The current project I am working on regarding Chixoy Dam requires RA to get more directly involved, as there are international actors involved (World Bank and IDB). In these types of cases, RA works to have international actors take more responsibility for human rights abuses. Traditionally these violations have been seen as a nation-state affair, but RA believes it is also the responsibility of private companies and international institutions.
Posted By Carmen Morcos (Guatemala)
Posted Jul 4th, 2004