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(Editor's note: Rigoberta Menchu Tum will be available to meet with members of the media in the Kirkwood Room (second floor) of the Iowa Memorial Union from 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 11)

Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum lectures at UI Nov. 12

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu Tum, who distinguished herself as a human rights advocate for Guatemala's indigenous peoples, will present a lecture, "The Universal Declaration and Human Rights," at 8 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 12 at Macbride Hall Auditorium at the University of Iowa.

Menchu was labeled a communist and several attempts on her life and her associates' lives were made by Guatemalan authorities when she began working through the Committee of Peasant Unity and speaking on behalf of her people nearly two decades ago. Menchu used political tactics and social work to lessen discrimination against Guatemalans of non-Spanish descent who were denied citizenship by the military-led government -- the same government that killed her brother, father and mother.

Menchu's brother Petrocinio, was kidnapped and burned by military soldiers in 1979 while the family watched. In 1980, Menchu's father, Vincente, was among 39 Indian leaders who died in a fire at Guatemala's Spanish embassy while protesting human rights violations. In a separate incident, her mother, Juana, also a human rights advocate, was raped, tortured and killed one year later.

Menchu was born in abject poverty in 1959. She grew up in the small village of Uspanadan, located in the western Guatemalan highlands, where most of the country's indigenous population lives. As a child without a formal education, she worked as a maid for a wealthy white family and as a teenager, she picked coffee beans at plantations along the Guatemalan coast. She taught herself Spanish so that she could tell the world about the depraved conditions and injustices imposed upon indigenous peoples.

"Rigoberta Menchu Tum has improved the lives, not only of indigenous peoples in Guatemala; she also has profoundly influenced the political discourse of the country as a whole. She is an important reason why democracy now has a foothold there," says Burns Weston, principal organizer of Menchu's UI visit.

In October, she attracted international attention when she charged Guatemala's judicial system with corruption and stated that the trial of 27 soldiers accused in the 1995 massacre of 11 people from the village of Xaman was moving too slowly. Menchu currently is acting as an advisor to the prosecution.

The Xaman case is the first in that nation in which members of Guatemalan armed forces face trial for any of the 424 massacres attributed to them during the nation's 36-year civil war.

Menchu, who penned her life story in "I, Rigoberta Menchu, An Indian Woman in Guatemala," published in 1983, has been a human rights activist for more than two decades and is a personal advisor to the UNESCO Director-General. She is the second Nobel Prize winner to visit the UI in two months as a Global Focus: Human Rights '98 lecturer in the UI's year-long commemoration of the 1948 signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Her visit is sponsored by the UI College of Law's International and Comparative Law Program and the UI International Programs.