Day 3 Report from the Genocide Trial of Guatemalan Ex-Dictator Efraín Ríos Montt

Beisdes the coverage from the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) is also filing reports and live tweeting from the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and ex-intelligence chief Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.

Here is an excerpt of NISGUA’s Day 3 report, along with some tweets from one witness’ testimony. You can read the entire report here.

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Testimony of Ixil survivor Francisco Raymundo Chávez. CREDIT: NISGUA

Hours of intense first-person accounts of violence and endurance left impressions of profound grief: “They killed our fathers, our mothers, and everything we loved,” said one witness; as well as resolute purpose: “I am one of the few survivors. Perhaps I was sent to be the messenger of the story here.”

In all 12 witnesses were called to the stand to be questioned by lawyers for the prosecution and the accused. Most spoke with the aid of court-appointed Ixil Maya translators; one witness, Alberto López, was unable to deliver his testimony due to the lack of a K’iche’ Maya translator and will be given another opportunity to take the stand in a future hearing. Among the witnesses were leaders of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, the survivors’ organization which first opened the genocide case more than a decade ago, including current AJR board member Domingo Raymundo Cobo and former board members Francisco Raymundo Chavez and Gaspár Velasco.

Echoed details in the survivors’ stories made clear the systematic nature of the Guatemalan military’s scorched earth campaigns, as one after another witness told of the soldiers’ extreme and indiscriminate cruelty; of the deliberate destruction of food, crops, animals, homes, and everything necessary for survival; of the violation of women’s bodies and traditional clothing. They also told of the conditions of internal displacement in “la montaña“, in the forests and hills of Quiché, as massacre survivors hid from army patrols and endured exposure and starvation. Gaspar Velasco said that he remained in the mountains from 1982 until the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996—”But there is still no peace,” he emphasized.

The defense of the accused Generals attempted to take advantage of these coinciding stories, with lawyer Francisco Palomo asking if one witness had been paid for his testimony, saying, “all the testimonies have said the same thing, did they take a class?” At another point, Palomo was quoted as having questioned a witness how much the blood of her husband was worth, before being stopped by an objection. The defense’s overall strategy seemed to focus on implying association between the witnesses and guerrilla forces.

Witnesses were questioned repeatedly as to whether they were members of the guerrilla or if they had seen or spoken with members of the guerrilla. As a commentator on Twitter pointed out, these are the exact questions that the population was subjected to in military interrogations during the 1980s. Again, the survivors were forced to repeatedly insist that their answers were truthful—but today it was the Generals who were on trial in a court of law, not frightened civilians in the sights of a soldier’s rifle.

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