Truth Delayed: Accounting for Human Rights Abuses in Guatemala and Spain


Location: Hesburgh Center, Room C103


Teresa Godwin Phelps

Professor of Law, Washington College of Law, American University

In the late 20th century, “No peace without accounting for the past” became the rallying cry that spawned more than 30 truth commissions. Ever since the phenomenon of truth commissions and truth reports appeared in the 1980s, many scholars, human rights activists, and politicians have argued that a country emerging from a violent past must account for that past by engaging in some form of truth-telling, whether investigations, trials, truth commissions and reports, or opening secret files.

Numerous countries worldwide, however, have not undergone this type of scrutiny. The most commonly cited counter-example is Spain, with its silence about the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. Another is less well known, but no less problematic, is the strange silence and misinformation within Guatemala about the overthrow of the progressive president Jacobo Arbenz in the 1950s. Recently, however, the silence surrounding these two situations has been broken in quite different but dramatic ways.

In this talk, Phelps will analyze the consequences of truth delayed in Guatemala and Spain.

Before joining the faculty at American University, Phelps was on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame Law School, where she taught and directed legal writing. She holds three degrees from Notre Dame, including a Ph.D. in English, and one degree from Yale Law School. At Notre Dame she was also a Fellow of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. She has published more than 30 articles and three books, most recently Shattered Voices: Language, Violence, and the Work of Truth Commissions.