Nobel Laureates Urge Guatemala to Restart Genocide Trial By Adam Williams 25 April 2013
(SAN JOSE, COSTA RICA) – Seven Nobel Peace Prize laureates including Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged Guatemala’s judicial system to continue the genocide trial of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt after his case was halted last week.
Rios Montt, 86, is being prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity during the Central American country’s 36-year civil war. The former dictator held de facto military power in Guatemala for 17 months from 1982-1983 and is accused of overseeing the killing of more than 1,700 indigenous Ixil Mayans while in power. Rios Montt denies the charges.
The court was preparing to hear closing arguments last week when Judge Carol Patricia Flores, who was removed from the case in 2011 and reinstated this month after an appeal, said the case should be annulled and returned to the stage it was at when she was removed.
“The dark forces in the country that orchestrated the genocide are united and strong,” said Guatemalan Rigoberta Menchu, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, on a conference call organized by the Nobel Women’s Initiative. “Justice is the only way that we can dignify the victims, but currently we are facing a very complicated situation.”
During the trial, which began on March 19, dozens of Ixil Mayans testified against the former president, recounting stories of murder and rape, according to Kate Doyle, a senior analyst of U.S. policy in Latin America at the National Security Archive in Washington.
Flores’s ruling to vacate the trial is “a transparent effort to sabotage a case that was two or three days away from its conclusion,” Doyle said on the conference call.
The trial is stalled as Guatemala’s constitutional court rules on 12 legal challenges presented by civil parties and defense attorneys. A decision on the trial is expected in the coming days, Doyle said.
Other Nobel winners supporting the continuation of the trial are Jody Williams, Jose Ramos-Horta, Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee.
In Effort to Try Dictator, Guatemala Shows New Judicial Might.
By ELISABETH MALKIN
March 16, 2013
XIX, Guatemala — Tiburcio Utuy thought he saw fear cross the former dictator’s face.
A judge had just ruled that the military dictator, Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, now 86, should stand trial for genocide and crimes against humanity committed under his rule in the 1980s, a decision Mr. Utuy and other Maya survivors of Guatemala’s 34-year civil war had gathered in the courtroom to hear in person.
“He won’t suffer the same way we suffered — but he will be scared,” Mr. Utuy said in his mountaintop village a few days after the ruling in late January. “And maybe he will spend a little bit of time in prison.” (read more)
A GRIM TASK team from the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation exhumed the body of a civil war victim near the Ixil village of Xecotz in El Quiché Department.
Ex-Dictator Is Ordered to Trial in Guatemalan War Crimes Case.
By ELISABETH MALKIN
January 28, 2013
MEXICO CITY — A Guatemalan judge on Monday ordered Efraín Rios Montt, the former dictator, and his intelligence chief to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with the massacres of villagers in remote highlands three decades ago.
The ruling clears the way for a public trial for Mr. Rios Montt, a former general who ruled Guatemala for 17 months in 1982 and 1983 during the bloodiest period of the country’s long-running civil war. It is a stunning decision for Guatemala, where the military still wields significant power behind the scenes and the country’s elected governments have struggled to build democratic institutions. (read more)
Guatemala has a long history of a military dictatorship and domination by its Europeanized power elite. Racism against Mayans and other indigenous Indian groups, as well as class divisions triggered a 36 year civil war that eventually turned into outright genocide against Mayans. Guatemala’s transition to democracy in the1990’s was followed by human rights commissions of inquiry into the genocide, but no one has ever been prosecuted as a result. Indeed the priest who led the Roman Catholic Commission of Inquiry was murdered on the day of its publication. The International Alliance to End Genocide has a member organization in Guatemala, CALDH, and contacts with many other experts on the country.
In the past twenty years there has been a spillover from the drug trade from Colombia and Mexico, which has made the country very dangerous.
Guatemala’s monocultural agricultural economy, and concentration of wealth in the Europeanized elite, many of whom are large landowners, and small middle class, has left the majority of its people in poverty. Poor Indians have rebelled against the oppressive system, have joined Marxist movements, and initiated the long civil war, followed by the genocide.
In the early1950’s, Colonel Jacobo Arbenz was elected President. Arbenz wanted to embark on a program of agrarian reform to strengthen the local private sector. This reform redistributed 1.5 million acres to some 100,000 families, although there was still racism against indigenous communities. However, Arbenz faced opposition from the United Fruit Company (UFCO) and from the U.S government. UFCO owns an enormous amount of land in Guatemala, and 85 percent was unused. The Guatemalan government offered UFCO $627,572 in bonds as compensation for the property, but the U.S State Department, acting on UFCO’s behalf, countered with a demand of $15,854,849.
The U.S declared Guatemala to be under communist influence and decided to intervene using covert action. The CIA organized an exile invasion; a rebel column of a few hundred men was organized under an obscure Guatemalan colonel from Honduras. Arbenz lost his nerve and gave up; giving in to the CIA’s demand for mutual defense pact. Arbenz was then overthrown in a military coup.
Guatemala has had only political parties of the left and right. The right has kept control of parliament and key ministries since the Arbenz government. Individual leaders came and went but the system stayed the same. Exclusion of the Indian population is well established through racism and upper class domination. Indians are considered illiterate peasants unworthy of full respect as human beings. Guatemala has developed strong dehumanization of its Indian population. Laws legitimized suppression of Indian civil and political rights. In the name of defeating communism, the state increasingly used violence and terror in order to maintain social control. The Guatemalan armed forces took effective control of the country. They conducted a genocidal war against Mayans and other indigenous groups.
The Revolutionary National Unity of Guatemala ( URNG) started as a guerrilla movement in 1982. It was the umbrella organization for four other revolutionary groups, The Guerrilla Army of the poor (EGP), The Revolutionary Organization of People in Arms (ORPA), The Rebel armed Forces (FAR), and the National Directing Nucleus of PGT. All were Marxist in their ideology.
In 1980 General Efrain Rios Monte, allegedly backed by the CIA, took power. He was a brutal military dictator, who escalated the civil war with indigenous, especially Mayan, peasants. An estimated 200,000 people were murdered, often in massacres of entire Indian villages by the Guatemalan Army. The Guatemalan and US governments justified the war as a counter-insurgency against communism. In fact it was a genocide.
Genocide atrocities were part of the daily life of Guatemalan peasants. A scorched earth campaign destroyed entire villages. There were thousands of rapes. Mass graves all over Guatemala hold the remains of 200,000 victims. According to a United Nations report, nearly all of the killings were committed by the Guatemalan military and paramilitary forces. They persecuted indigenous communities, labor leaders, students, religious leaders and civil society leaders the regime considered enemies. According to the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, many victims were tortured before they were murdered. Torture and killing centers and mass grave sites were located all over Guatemala, but especially in places occupied by indigenous people. One of these places was Chimaltenango, Comalapa where remains of 220 victims have been discovered. According to the Guatemalan Commission of Historical Clarification, in Rabinal, Baja Verapaz 75 percent of Mayan women reported they had been sexually abused. A study by the Guatemalan Memory of Silence documented the deaths of 42,275 victims, including men, women and children. Of these 23,671 were victims of arbitrary execution and 6,159 were victims of forced disappearance. Eighty-three percent of fully identified victims were Mayan and seventeen percent were Ladino (mixed ethnicity Mestizo people.) In total, credible estimates are that the number of people killed or disappeared reached a total of over 200,000.
The worst period of this genocide is known as “The Silent Holocaust”. Between 1982 to 1983, under President Rios-Montt, the military and paramilitaries planned a campaign of genocide against Mayans. They wiped out approximately 430 villages, killing most of their inhabitants, stating that they were part of a communist plot against the government. The majority of the massacres where not just limited to mass execution, but also human rights violations such as torture, disappearances, rapes, mutilation of the corpses, and destruction of individual and public property, as well as spiritual and psychological trauma to the few survivors.
Rios-Montt’s genocidal campaign against the indigenous Mayan population was endorsed by US President Ronald Reagan -- who famously said that Ríos Montt was "getting a bum rap on human rights." In 1998, President Clinton “apologized” for US support for Rios-Montt’s coup, although not for Reagan's support of the genocide.
Some horror stories include: burning men alive in the kitchen of a church by slowly burning their feet and backs, then hanging them in front of the entire community and calling them guerrilleros. Sometimes the military would put a sign saying “EGP” or some other guerrilla group name to make communities think guerrillas had committed the crimes. Victims were selected and put on death lists. The killings were thus part of an intentional policy, one of the key requirements for proof of genocide.
According to Commision for Historical Clarification (CEH) , the military often mutilated the faces of their victims, by cutting off ears, tongues and eyes as well as sexual organs. They would hang victims by their testicles or gouge out their eyes with spoons. Such mutilation is strong evidence of genocidal dehumanization. The military would make civilians kill their neighbors and their own families. They would brutally crush the heads of small children against rocks or trees. Also, to prevent newborns among the indigenous groups they would take pregnant women and beat their wombs until they would involuntarily abort. Others would cut open the wombs of the pregnant women, take out the baby and then put a stick in the anus of the fetus that would come out of its mouth. The mothers always died after being cut open.
On December 29, 1996, a peace agreement was signed by the government and the URNG and it became a legal political party in 1998 after the peace process.
Guatemala has since become a failed state. It is a narcotics transit zone between Colombia and Mexico, with homicide rates that are higher now than they were during the civil war. It is impossible to compare the tragedies inflicted on the populations of Latin America in the name of so-called national security doctrines, but Guatemala's war took more civilian lives than any other in Latin America, almost all at the hands of the army and their proxies.
Rios Montt, who took power in a 1982 coup and was toppled the following year, was actually elected to a seat in the legislature, which he held for 15 years. In January he became the first former president to be charged with genocide by a Latin American court. He had held immunity from prosecution while a member of Congress, but after losing his seat he was put under house arrest, where he remains.
In 1990, the US Congress passed restrictions on military aid to Guatemala, long after most of the killings. However assistance was partially restored in 2007 to provide parts and equipment for drug interdiction and disaster preparedness.
Today the president is Perez Molina, an ex-general during Efrain Rios-Montt’s regime and a graduate of the infamous School of the Americas, where Latin American military leaders were actually taught specific torture techniques. President Perez Molina has asked to have US restrictions on military aid dropped completely in order to combat drug trafficking.
Impunity for human rights abuses continues, failure to publicly disclose military information pertaining to the internal conflict continues, and the military continues to be involved in law enforcement. No one has ever been convicted for participating in the Guatemalan genocide.
However, in 2009 , the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled that Guatemala must pay $3 million to compensate victims of civil war-era massacres.
More recently, according to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), there is evidence that the military is taking over lands of indigenous villages. In Polochic in 2011, the military evicted over 800 indigenous Q’eqchi families and killed one member of the community. WOLA claims that a power elite in Guatemala, benefits economically from illegal activities and avoids prosecution from any crimes. This “mafia” like organization consists of private citizens and government officials. Some of their illegal activities include: drugs and arms trafficking, money laundering, car theft rings, the adoption racket, kidnapping for ransom, illegal logging and other proscribed use of state protected lands. Many groups such as “ La Cofradia”, self-defense civil patrol, Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG), The Association of Guatemalan military veterans (AVEMILGUA), and Estado Mayor Presidencial (EMP) are part of this crime syndicate.
As in Mexico murders of women in Guatemala are prevalent. 685 women were murdered in Guatemala in 2010, compared to 213 in 2000. Women human rights defenders, especially indigenous women defending land rights and natural resources, face threats and attacks. In the genocide women suffered from mass rape and murder. Today’s intent in rapes and murders appears to be to force indigenous communities out of areas where mineral and other resources are coveted. But the methods are very similar: rape, murder, imprisonment, and harassment. The Guatemalan Public Ministry received more than 40,000 complaints of violence against women in 2010. Guatemala ranks seventh in the world in violent deaths, with targeted attacks against women increasing.
Attacks on human rights activists
Every day, on average, there is at least one attack on human rights defenders in Guatemala. Eighty-three percent are activists working to protect the lands and natural resources of indigenous peoples.
Since the Guatemalan genocide, there have been no trials of the perpetrators. Denial is the pattern among the Guatemalan elite, who use the usual tactics of denial. (See “Twelve Ways to Deny a Genocide “ on the Genocide Watch website at http://www.genocidewatch.org/genocide/12waystodenygenocide.html. )
Genocide Watch declares Guatemala to be in stage 8: Denial.
Genocide Watch recommends the following:
Investigations should be initiated of the crime syndicates in Guatemala.
Deny US visas to those involved in crimes against humanity or genocide.
Cut off US military assistance to the Guatemalan military.
Protect human rights defenders by paying for protection by private security guards.
Increase investigations of crimes against women.
Enforce Guatemalan and international laws against crimes against humanity, murder and genocide by prosecuting those responsible for the 1980’s genocide against Mayans.
Please send further information to Guatemala@genocidewatch.org
On 26 January 2012, prosecutors charged Efraín Ríos Montt, former Guatemalan dictator, with genocide and crimes against humanity. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company)
Genocide in Guatemala
Guatemala court convicts paramilitaries over 1982 massacre
By Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher at Amnesty International
21 March 2012
Five Guatemalan men have each been sentenced to nearly 8,000 years in prison for their role in the massacre of indigenous villagers in 1982 in a ruling hailed by Amnesty International as a victory for the victims. The men formed part of a military-trained civilian patrol that rounded up and killed 268 Maya-Achí indigenous villagers in Plan de Sánchez near the market town of Rabinal – 100 km north of the capital – in July 1982. (read more)