José Luis Guerra Mayorga is the General Director of Protection at the Ecuadorian Office of the Ombudsman. He is an active member in programs organized by the Auschwitz Institute, having participated in the 2014 Global Raphael Lemkin Seminar for Genocide Prevention and the 2016 Lemkin Seminar Alumni Meeting, among others. Mr. Guerra also acts as the Ecuadorian Focal Point in the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention, having recently represented his country at the V and VI Focal Points Meetings of the Network.
What brought you to work in the field of genocide and mass atrocity prevention?
Since I was very young I have heard stories of unbelievable things, of torture and broken dreams, both in my country and in others in Latin America. It created a deep void within me that couldn’t be filled with indifference. Little by little, I became involved in different opportunities related to humanitarian aid and human rights, where I was able to start learning about the marvelous diversity of my culture but also the sad reality of exclusion and forgetting, that, in this diversity, causes many groups to suffer, for example: people of African descent, indigenous communities, people in transient situations, LBGTI collectives, amongst others.
The sole idea of thinking of societies that exclude human beings fills me with the certainty that the commission of genocide and other atrocities crimes is not something that can only come about in remote locations or those far from my reality but instead something that can happen anywhere, should we fail to activate the proper prevention mechanisms. Our continent has suffered the consequences of colonial domination, atrocities by authoritarian governments and other events that, sadly, remind us of the crude reality that nothing excludes us from this grand risk.
Considering this, among other views, my motivation for working on the prevention of these crimes is the profound necessity of creating better spaces to ensure, by any means, that this doesn’t happen again.
What do you believe are the most effective long-term actions and/or policies in the prevention of mass atrocities?
I consider one of the most dangerous things that a society could take for granted is to assume that genocide and other atrocities are not a cause for concern. This sentiment, often wielded by politicians and agents of the State, can lead to forgetting, indifference and the misconception that this is something that does not need to be prevented.
Thus, for me, the most important thing is not forgetting what has happened and the institutionalizing, in the best possible manner, prevention through continued programs than are legally guaranteed and, furthermore, are thoroughly funded in order to generate citizen legitimacy. The challenge is related to the necessity of generating collective memory and implementing educational measures that democratize prevention in society.
What has made you the most proud in your work with the Latin American Network for Genocide and Mass Atrocity Prevention?
The Ombudsman’s Office of Ecuador has functioned as the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture for the past four years. For the previous year and a half, we have also worked to lead the administrative reparations process to the victims of grave human rights damages, conforming to a specific legal mandate. Raising awareness about these important processes at the international level has allowed me to understand other efforts and the important initiatives of other members of the Latin American Network, which complements the daily work that we do.
Our membership in the Latin American Network, which began last year, fills us with big expectations and commits us even more to the implementation of better processes to continue dedicatedly along the path towards the attainment of strengthened mechanisms for prevention. It’s the work of a team of highly committed people that makes me feel the most proud. Raising awareness about their work and their dedication is an honor.
What advice would you give to a new government official who has just entered the field of mass atrocity prevention?
That s/he should develop a detailed understanding of the history of his or her country in order to design the best mechanisms for prevention that are sensitive to generation of specific collective memory and locates the elements that have triggered severe impacts on human rights. I consider a detailed understanding of the past, including its significance to the present, to be the most important element of designing strategies for prevention.