U.S. Clergy Visit Guatemala to Support Human Rights Advocates

Leaders from 10 states meet with activists on the frontlines of the fight for human rights in Guatemala

Fourteen influential Jewish  clergy are heading to synagogues and other organizations across the United States this week after traveling through Guatemala as fellows of the prestigious Global Justice Fellowship run by American Jewish World Service (AJWS), the leading Jewish organization supporting human rights and efforts to fight poverty in developing countries.

The rabbis and cantors will share their findings after meeting with leaders of nonprofit groups working to advance human rights in Guatemala, one of the Central American countries that residents are fleeing to seek asylum in the United States.

They also will advocate for human rights while visiting members of Congress and other officials in Washington, D.C. in March as part of the fellowship.

The fellows arrived in Guatemala for a week as the country faced widespread condemnation for clamping down on the human rights of indigenous people and rural farmers. The fellows met with advocates fighting for legal protections for human rights activists at risk of violence, forensic anthropologists working to identify remains from the decades of internal armed conflict, a council of indigenous elders, and an artists’ collective that uses street performance to reintegrate indigenous cultures into public spaces and help communities heal from decades of trauma.

The clergy also learned from local Guatemalan human rights advocates about how American Jews and others can support this work.

The fellows, who were joined on the trip by AJWS Global Ambassador Ruth Messinger, also met with top leadership at the U.S. Embassy.

The fellowship program empowers leading American rabbis and cantors to advocate in support of international policies that advance the human rights and well-being of some of the world’s poorest and most oppressed communities.

In addition to traveling to Guatemala, each participant in AJWS’s Global Justice Fellowship engages in six months of human rights education and action, including training with AJWS staff in the United States.

The fellows will travel to Washington, D.C. in March to educate members of Congress and other government officials about pressing international human rights issues. As Guatemala’s new president negotiates the Trump administration’s demand to accept asylum seekers who are being deported to Guatemala, these fellows will play a key role in educating the public and elected officials about the importance of U.S. leadership on the global stage in standing up for human rights and ending poverty.

Years after its internal armed conflict concluded, Guatemala grapples with tensions over land, ethnicity and economic inequality. Indigenous communities make up over half of the country, yet they have little power in government or in shaping decisions that affect their lives. They face intense discrimination and poverty—especially indigenous women, who are doubly disadvantaged. Guatemalan human rights activists and journalists who expose or speak out about these injustices often face harassment, criminalization and violence.

“These influential Jewish leaders are witnesses to the fact that human rights in Guatemala are under siege, in some cases forcing people to make the arduous journey to seek a new life in the U.S.,” said Robert Bank, President and CEO of AJWS. “Together, the fellows are issuing a powerful call to Americans to support human rights and end poverty in Guatemala and the rest of the developing world.”

About American Jewish World Service (AJWS)

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) is the leading Jewish organization working to pursue justice and fight poverty in the developing world. By supporting hundreds of social change organizations in 19 countries, we respond to the most pressing issues of our time—from disasters, genocide and hunger to the persecution of women and minorities worldwide. With Jewish values and a global reach, AJWS is making a difference in millions of lives and bringing a more just and equitable world closer for all. Learn more at www.ajws.org.

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