Mayan spirituality behind peacemaking, says Niwano prize winner

Published May 11, 2012

Guatemalan human rights activist Rosalina Tuyuc Velasquez won this year’s Niwano Peace Prize for her “extraordinary and dogged work for peace.” Photo: YouTube video

Tokyo –An award-winning human rights activist from Guatemala has said that principles of Mayan indigenous spirituality — respecting people, nature and spiritual living — is behind her peacemaking efforts.

Rosalina Tuyuc Velasquez, a founder of the National Coordinating Organization of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA), received the 29th Niwano Peace Prize from the Buddhist-run Niwano Peace Foundation at a presentation ceremony in Tokyo on May 10. The prize included a certificate of merit, a medal of honor, and a prize of 20 million (US$250,000).

Born in 1956 in Guatemala’s Chimaltenango department, Tuyuc grew up in a poor agricultural family of the Mayan Kaqchikel indigenous people. Having grown up as a Catholic, she joined a Christian movement at the age of 15 and began her professional life as a teacher of Christian doctrine and became an auxiliary nurse when she was 23 years old.

Her father was kidnapped by the Guatemalan Army and disappeared in June 1982 and her husband suffered the same fate three years later in the civil war that killed over 250,000 people from 1960 to 1996. In 1988, she and other women founded CONAVIGUA to struggle against violence, promote full equity for women, and respect for human rights. Since the end of the civil war, she has also been involved in demanding reparations for their damages in the war.

Asked how her Christian background and indigenous spirituality can be compatible, she told journalists, “I respect all kinds of religious beliefs and practices. Religion is not an obstacle for peace.”

“The Niwano Prize recognizes Rosalina’s extraordinary and dogged work for peace,” said peace prize committee chair Katherine Marshall, describing Tuyuc as “a courageous human rights activist and leader” and adding that “she exemplifies the great potential that indigenous people and their wisdom have to mark paths towards peace.”

Niwano Peace Prize English website: http://www.npf.or.jp/english/index.html

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