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Human shield by choice.

Byline: Karen McCowan The Register-Guard

A year ago, Greg Krupa spent the summer before his senior year at the University of Oregon riding a bicycle to Guatemala, raising more than $25,000 to purchase prosthetic devices for amputees in the impoverished country.

Now, after graduating from the UO, he is heading back to Guatemala in the fall, this time to work with local residents pressing war crimes lawsuits over the murders of thousands of mostly native Guatemalans during a decades-long civil war.

That was not his original plan for the coming year.

Krupa, who majored in political science with a minor in public policy and management, had been accepted into Teach for America, a program that places top college graduates as teachers in urban and rural schools.

But that was before his UO public policy professor, Guatemala native Gerardo Sandoval, had a conversation with UO Law School professor Michelle McKinley.

McKinley teaches international criminal law, human rights law, immigration law, and refugee and asylum law. She had just taken part in a human rights delegation to the Central American country, where more than 200,000 people, mostly native Mayan Indians, died in a 36-year civil war.

She and other international lawyers went to Guatemala at the request of Jennifer Harbury, a U.S.-born Harvard law graduate whose Guatemalan husband was among those who disappeared, many of them tortured and murdered.

Harbury and others intend to present evidence that members of the country's military committed the atrocities.

McKinley saw the horrors of those years with her own eyes. She first went to Guatemala as a human rights worker in 1988, and accompanied local justices of the peace as they retrieved dismembered bodies. During a recent interview, she used her laptop to display photographs from her last trip showing stack after stack of cardboard boxes. Each of the 2,000 boxes contains human remains, and is labeled with the name of the mass grave from which it was exhumed - yet not one perpetrator has been convicted, she said.

She and other delegates pledged to return and recruit volunteers to help ensure that the legal process finally goes forward.

"We went to assure those pressing litigation over Guatemala war crimes that there would be international pressure and observers to see that the Guatemala judiciary fulfills its obligation under the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and that the perpetrators be brought to justice," McKinley said. The court, an arm of the Organization of American States, is composed of judges from seven countries.

McKinley said she told Sandoval she was hoping to interest a local lawyer or UO law student in spending a year in Guatemala as an international observer.

"He said to me, 'You know who this sounds like? Greg Krupa,' " she recalled. "He told me about this student who's already had a lot of involvement in Guatemala, and who did this bike ride."

Sandoval introduced the two, and McKinley agreed that Krupa was perfect for the role. He was enthusiastic, and obtained a rare deferral from Teach for America so he could take the assignment.

The post will be unpaid - Krupa is raising his own support - but is a great opportunity for "on the ground, front-line experience as a human rights worker," the law professor said.

As an observer, Krupa will be assigned to accompany and observe a lawyer, Edgar Perez, who is pressing the cases of 17 murdered fellow Guatemalans. He will work with two Canadian students sponsored by Lawyers Without Borders. They will serve as human shields, because harm to them would have international repercussions.

"I would not send just anybody to do this," McKinley said. "And I told Greg he's not going there to be a martyr. If it gets too dangerous, he has to come home."

Krupa, whose brother is an amputee who lives in Guatemala running a nonprofit program distributing prosthetic devices, has visited the country enough to appreciate the importance of his upcoming task.

"There's no witness protection program there," he said. Even prosecutors and attorneys representing atrocity victims "have no sense of safety," he said.

"The incredible injustice is that I have more safety in Guatemala than a Guatemalan does," he said.

Krupa's work will epitomize the UO's commitment to focus on the entire Western Hemisphere as part of The Americas in a Globalized World Initiative, McKinley said.

"This is an exciting time for those of us who teach and work at the intersection of international criminal law and human rights," she said. "Genocide atrocities, crimes against humanity and other war crimes, like those that unfolded in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, are most often prosecuted by the international community in specialized tribunals. Guatemalans are going ahead with prosecuting the masterminds of the massacres and genocide that took place during the civil war as a national effort to enforce international law."

Supporting lawyers, survivors and victims' families in bringing war criminals to justice shows "that the struggle against impunity is taken seriously," she said. "It's a real testament to the way that our university and our community can fulfill our larger mission in the Americas."

HOW TO HELP

Greg Krupa is raising funds to cover his travel and living expenses during his year as an observer in Guatemala. Checks can be made to Guatemala Human Rights Watch and mailed to Wells Fargo Bank, 99 E. Broadway, Eugene, OR 97401.
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Title Annotation:Courts
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Geographic Code:2GUAT
Date:Jul 6, 2011
Words:892
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