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Rigoberta Menchú Tum
Rigoberta Menchu.jpg
Menchú in 1998
Rigoberta Menchú Tum

(1959-01-09) 9 January 1959 (age 65)
Laj Chimel, Quiché, Guatemala
Nationality Guatemalan
Occupation Activist, politician
Political party Winaq (founder)
Ángel Canil
(m. 1995)
Children 2 (1 deceased)
Parent(s) Juana Tum Kótoja
Vicente Menchú Pérez
Awards Nobel Peace Prize in 1992
Prince of Asturias Awards in 1998
Order of the Aztec Eagle in 2010.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Spanish: [riɣoˈβeɾta menˈtʃu]; born 9 January 1959) is a K'iche' Guatemalan human rights activist, feminist, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the rights of Guatemala's Indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting Indigenous rights internationally.

She received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and the Princess of Asturias Award in 1998, in addition to other prestigious awards. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders (1998), among other works. Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She ran for president of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011, having founded the country's first Indigenous political party, Winaq.

Rigoberta Menchu with husband and son
Menchú with her husband and son

Personal life

Rigoberta Menchú was born to a poor Indigenous family of K'iche' Maya descent in Laj Chimel, a rural area in the north-central Guatemalan province of El Quiché. Her family was one of many Indigenous families who could not sustain themselves on the small pieces of land they were left with after the Spanish conquest of Guatemala. Menchú's mother began her career as a midwife at age sixteen, and continued to practice using traditional medicinal plants until she was murdered at age 43. Her father was a prominent activist for the rights of Indigenous farmers in Guatemala. Both of her parents regularly attended Catholic church, and her mother remained connected to her Maya spirituality and identity. Menchú considers herself to be the perfect mix of both her parents. She believes in many teachings of the Catholic Church, but her mother's Maya influence also taught Menchú the importance of living in harmony with nature and retaining her Maya culture.

In 1979-80 her brother, Patrocinio, and her mother, Juana Tum Kótoja, were kidnapped, brutally tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan Army. Her father, Vicente Menchú Perez, died in the 1980 Burning of the Spanish Embassy, which occurred after urban guerrillas took hostages and were attacked by government security forces. In January 2015, Pedro García Arredondo, a former police commander of the Guatemalan Army who later served as the chief of the now defunct National Police (Policía Nacional, PN), was convicted of attempted murder and crimes against humanity for his role in the embassy attack; Arrendondo was also previously convicted in 2012 of ordering the enforced disappearance of agronomy student Édgar Enrique Sáenz Calito during the country’s long-running internal armed conflict.

In 1984, Menchú's other brother, Victor, was shot to death after he surrendered to the Guatemalan Army, was threatened by soldiers, and tried to escape.

In 1995, Menchú married Ángel Canil, a Guatemalan, in a Mayan ceremony. They had a Catholic wedding in January 1998; at that time they also buried their son Tz'unun ("hummingbird" in Mayan), who had died after being born prematurely in December. They adopted a son, Mash Nahual Ja' ("Spirit of Water").

She lives with her family in the municipality of San Pedro Jocopilas, Quiché Department, northwest of Guatemala City, in the heartland of the Kʼicheʼ people.

Guatemalan activism

From a young age, Menchú was active alongside her father, advocating for the rights of Indigenous farmers through the Committee for Peasant Unity. Menchú often faced discrimination for wanting to join her male family members in the fight for justice, but she was inspired by her mother to continue making space for herself. She believes that the roots of Indigenous oppression in Guatemala stem from issues of exploitation and colonial land ownership. Her early activism focused on defending her people from colonial exploitation.

After leaving school, Menchú worked as an activist campaigning against human rights violations committed by the Guatemalan Army during the country's civil war, which lasted from 1960 to 1996. Many of the human rights violations that occurred during the war targeted Indigenous peoples. .....

In 1981, Menchú was exiled and escaped to Mexico where she found refuge in the home of a Catholic bishop in Chiapas.' Menchú continued to organize resistance to oppression in Guatemala and organize the struggle for Indigenous rights by co-founding the United Republic of Guatemalan Opposition. Tens of thousands of people, mostly Mayan Indians, fled to Mexico from 1982 to 1984 at the height of Guatemala's 36-year civil war.

A year later, in 1982, she narrated a book about her life, titled Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así me nació la conciencia (My Name is Rigoberta Menchú, and this is how my Awareness was Born), to Venezuelan author and anthropologist Elizabeth Burgos, which was translated into five other languages including English and French. The book made her an international icon at the time of the ongoing conflict in Guatemala and brought attention to the suffering of Indigenous peoples under an oppressive government regime.

Menchú served as the Presidential Goodwill Ambassador for the 1996 Peace Accords in Guatemala. That same year she received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award in Boston.

After the Guatemalan Civil War ended, Menchú campaigned to have Guatemalan political and military establishment members tried in Spanish courts. In 1999, she filed a complaint before a court in Spain because prosecutions of civil-war era crimes in Guatemala was practically impossible. These attempts stalled as the Spanish courts determined that the plaintiffs had not yet exhausted all possibilities of seeking justice through the legal system of Guatemala. On 23 December 2006, Spain called for the extradition from Guatemala of seven former members of Guatemala's government, including Efraín Ríos Montt and Óscar Mejía, on charges of genocide and torture. Spain's highest court ruled that cases of genocide committed abroad could be judged in Spain, even if no Spanish citizens were involved. In addition to the deaths of Spanish citizens, the most serious charges include genocide against the Maya people of Guatemala.


Rigoberta Menchu 2009
Menchú commemorating the Treaty on Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2009

In 2005, Menchú joined the Guatemalan federal government as goodwill ambassador for the National Peace Accords. In April 2005, five Guatemalan politicians would be convicted for hurling racial epithets at her and also at court rulings which upheld the right to wear indigenous dress and practice Mayan spirituality.

On 12 February 2007, Menchú announced that she would form an Indigenous political party called Encuentro por Guatemala and that she would stand in the 2007 presidential election. She was the first Maya, Indigenous woman to ever run in a Guatemalan election. In the 2007 election, Menchú was defeated in the first round, receiving three percent of the vote.

In 2009, Menchú became involved in the newly founded party Winaq. Menchú was a candidate for the 2011 presidential election, but lost in the first round, winning three percent of the vote again. Although Menchú was not elected, Winaq succeeded in becoming the first Indigenous political party of Guatemala.

International activism

In 1996, Menchú was appointed as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in recognition of her activism for the rights of Indigenous people. In this capacity, she acted as a spokesperson for the first International Decade of the World's Indigenous Peoples (1995–2004), where she worked to improve international collaboration on issues such as environment, education, health care, and human rights for Indigenous peoples. In 2015, Menchú met with the general director of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, in order to solidify relations between Guatemala and the organization.

Since 2003, Menchú has become involved in the Indigenous pharmaceutical industry as president of "Salud para Todos" ("Health for All") and the company "Farmacias Similares," with the goal of offering low-cost generic medicines. As president of this organization, Menchú has received pushback from large pharmaceutical companies due to her desire to shorten the patent life of certain AIDS and cancer drugs to increase their availability and affordability.

In 2006, Menchú was one of the founders of the Nobel Women's Initiative along with sister Nobel Peace Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire. These six women, representing North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, decided to bring together their experiences in a united effort for peace, justice and equality. It is the goal of the Nobel Women's Initiative to help strengthen women's rights around the world.

Menchú is a member of PeaceJam, an organization whose mission is to use Nobel Peace Laureates as mentors and models for young people and provide a way for these Laureates to share their knowledge, passions, and experience. She travels around the world speaking to youth through PeaceJam conferences. She has also been a member of the Foundation Chirac's honor committee since the foundation was launched in 2008 by former French president Jacques Chirac in order to promote world peace.

Menchú has continued her activism by continuing to raise awareness for issues including political and economic inequality and climate change.


Awards and honors

Medal Nobel Peace Prize
The Nobel Peace Prize Medal awarded to Menchú is safeguarded in the Museo del Templo Mayor in Mexico City.
  • 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her advocacy and social justice work for the indigenous peoples of Latin America
  • 1992 UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador position for her advocacy for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala
    • Menchú became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize at the time, and its first Indigenous recipient.
  • 1996 Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for her authorship and advocacy for the indigenous peoples of Guatemala
  • 1998 Prince of Asturias Prize for improving the condition of women and the communities they serve. (Jointly with 6 other women.)
  • 1999 asteroid 9481 Menchú was named in her honor (M.P.C. 34354)
  • 2010 Order of the Aztec Eagle for services provided for Mexico
  • 2018 Spendlove Prize for her advocacy for minority groups
  • In 2022, the University of Bordeaux Montaigne, located in Pessac gave the name of its newly built library in her honor


  • I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983)'
    • This book, also titled My Name is Rigoberta Menchú and that's how my Conscience was Born, was dictated by Menchú and transcribed by Elizabeth Burgos
  • Crossing Borders (1998)'
  • Daughter of the Maya (1999)'
  • The Girl from Chimel (2005) with Dante Liano, illustrated by Domi '
  • The Honey Jar (2006) with Dante Liano, illustrated by Domi
  • The Secret Legacy (2008) with Dante Liano, illustrated by Domi '
  • K'aslemalil-Vivir. El caminar de Rigoberta Menchú Tum en el Tiempo (2012)

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Rigoberta Menchú para niños

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