(Also Rigoberta Menchu Tum) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
in recognition of her work for social justice and ethno-cultural reconciliation based on respect for the rights of indigenous people
Menchu was born into a poor Indian peasant family, and raised in the Quiche branch of the Mayan culture in Guatemala. As a teenager, she became involved in social reform programs of the Catholic Church and was active in the women's rights movement. Like her father, she joined the CUC (Committee of the Peasant Union) in 1979, after members of her family had suffered persecution.
During the 1970s and 1980s in Guatemala, military dictatorships became more and more ruthless. Under the guise of anti-Communism US funded troops slaughtered Mayan Indians in the thousands, drove them from their land, and forced survivors to convert to protestant religions and live in often brutal "model villages".
Around this time Menchu became active in large demonstrations, joined the radical 31st of January Popular Front, and encouraged the Indian peasant population to resist oppression.
In 1981, because of her activism, she had to leave Guatemala and flee to Mexico, where she organized peasants' resistance movements and was co-founder
of the United Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition (RUOG).
Through her autobiography, which was published as I, Rigoberta Menchu and a film entitled When the Mountains Tremble, which illustrates the struggles and
sufferings of the Maya people, Menchu also became well known in the Western world as an advocate of Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation.
There have recently been some allegations that she confabulated parts of her autobiography. For example, in it she describes her brother being horrifically murdered by having a burning tire tied around his neck. When a reporter later established that this hadn't happened: instead it had been a boy from her village who was murdured in this way, Guatemalan conservatives used this as an excuse to claim that all the reports of mass graves, tortures and executions were also false. (See also: denying the holocaust) Her supporters, however, maintain that a few novelistic changes can be forgiven in a book which is not only true on a deeper level, but whose publication brought the crisis in Guatemala into the world spotlight, an event which is generally credited with curbing and eventually ending the reign of terror.
Rigoberta Menchu accepted the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize in the name of all indigenous people.