Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú delivered a call for social action to young people attending an interactive weekend about creating a more peaceful world. We humans live a short period of time, shorter than a river, a tree, an insect, or a stone. We must leave something positive behind, she urged participants at a PeaceJam conference held in Brussels at the VUB. I do not accept youth people saying I cannot do it’”, she emphasized.

Text: Alejandro Vivancos / Photo: Thierry Geenen

What is your message to the young people of PeaceJam?

PeaceJam is a peace programme supported by 14 Nobel Prize laureates, among them Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Our goal is to give them a message that they can carry with them all their lives. I am here to support their self-confidence so that they can trust their own work, their own contribution. For example, some may want to draw for peace, some will write poems for peace, some will build up a village for peace, and some will carry out political actions for peace.

Currently, the world is facing many challenges. Some of them are linked to migration. Why do you think people oppose the arrival of migrants?

They were taught to approach the world in an egotistical way. My neighbourhood is my world, so if migrants come, they are invading my neighbourhood, my culture, my language. But this egotistical world is losing control of its borders.


The young leaders of PeaceJam have an impact arount the world, the are peacemakers.

The idea is turning egotism into solidarity. Today the migrant is the Other, but maybe one day it will be the Belgians who are the ones who are forced to migrate and they will not want to suffer from racism. To migrate is a universal right. The way to resolve the issue of migration is to offer a comprehensive development model that allows people to have a decent life, wherever they are.

Another world challenge is climate change. And you have been personally involved in this cause at home and abroad. Are we getting somewhere? 

We have been very brave to fight mining corporations, some of them criminals who destroyed mother Earth. In Guatemala, this is the main source of violence, although I hope that it does not provoke new armed conflicts.

On climate change, governments do nothing. International organisations only make statements. There is no international action aimed at halting the threat of climate change or stopping the global destruction of the planet.


The goal is that the young people of PeaceJam become more supportive, more receptive, solutions-seekers.

Are we losing the struggle for human rights?

Some international institutions, such as the UN, the Organization of American States or the International Labour Organization, are so politicised that they no longer fulfill their goal of protecting human rights. We know that much. Democracy is a simulation of participation. In Latin America, in Guatemala, a political party is the tool of a corporation. Vote-buying is what really works.

Despite all this, do you still think that change is possible?

I think that only people can bring about change. People need to become aware, to be more committed. The day people dignify themselves, then change is possible.


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Rigoberta Menchú was born into a poor, indigenous family from Guatemala. When she was twenty, her brother and father were kidnapped, tortured and murdered by the Guatemalan army. In 1992, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her continuing commitment to the rights of the indigenous peoples of Guatemala.