Days 4 and 5 of Ríos Montt Genocide Trial: “This is How My Heart Feels, Thank You for Asking Me”

NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) filed the following Days 4/5 report of the genocide trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt and ex-intelligence chief Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez in Guatemala City. They have given us permission to republish all their reports about this historic trial.

Witness testifies, with aid of court-appointed Nebaj Ixil interpreter

Witness testifies, with aid of court-appointed Nebaj Ixil interpreter

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez for genocide crimes against humanity. See our archive of live Twitter updates at @NISGUA_Guate. Read our previous summaries: Day 1Day 2Day 3 and full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

Survivor testimony continued on Friday and today, with a total of 25 witnesses going before the court over two days.

Military allies were absent in the plaza on Friday, while a small demonstration in support of the defendants took place this morning. Anti-communist and anti-foreigner sentiments were expressed on banners held by demonstrators. The gathering dispersed shortly after the proceedings began and participants, including Zury Ríos Montt and former FRG party members, entered the courtroom wearing white.

To date the prosecution’s witnesses have been primarily Ixil survivors, 51 since the start of the trial, with some utilizing the services of the Nebaj and Chajul Ixil court-appointed interpreters while others gave testimony in Spanish. The witnesses have shared testimonies on different acts committed by the military —massacres, disappearances, sexual violence, forced displacement, forced service in civil patrols— each sharing the horrors they experienced and the terrible moments in which loved ones were killed.

The defense team for Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez started today’s proceedings swearing in Danilo Rodríguez. Rodríguez was one of the lawyers for Ríos Montt who did not appear on the first day of the trial; for more details read our summary here. Questions about witnesses’ and their communities’ connections to the guerrilla or movements of the guerrilla, continued as they have since the start of the trial. No witnesses have answered affirmatively regarding their connections to the guerrilla. Defense lawyers appear to have re-tuned this line of questioning, adding inquiries about whether witnesses saw any dead soldiers during the events; witnesses answered no to these questions.

As lawyers clarify the events and facts, we wish to highlight the questions that added a more human element to the proceedings. We share some questions from Day 4 and Day 5 testimonies, primarily asked by Edgar Pérez, representative of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), that gave us a glimpse of the deep loss and hope felt by these genocide survivors.

What do you ask of the court?
Witness #5, Day 4, Francisco Cobo Raymundo: I’m here because of the pain I have in my heart from when they were killed. I want to ask for justice and that the people responsible be judged.

What does it mean to tell your story?
Witness #8, Day 4, Juan Raymundo Matón (read rush transcript of his full testimony here). No one asks us to tell our story, this is everything I suffered, in the flesh, no one can obligate me to come to tell the story, no one else knows what I lived.

How does your heart feel speaking to court?
Witness #10, Day 4, Pedro del Barrio Caba: It makes me sad because today we are poor but it’s because they obligated us to do things that were not part of our culture.

How do you feel telling your story?
Witness #10, Day 4, Pedro del Barrio Caba:

It’s necessary for me to be here, we want that everything we’ve lost be returned to us, our land, justice, that they are returned to our children.We want the law to be applied. Is there law for us as human beings, for the Maya people? May the authorities realize that we are not lying.

What does it mean for you to be here and tell your story to the court?
Witness #12, Day 4: Alberto López Pastor: I feel I suffered a tremendous sadness because I was left alone and the military are to blame.

What do you expect from this trial?
Witness #12, Day 4: Alberto López Pastor: We suffered from this situation but I hope this will never happen to the youth who are growing up today.

How did this affect you?
Witness #2, Day 5, Juan Sajiq Aguilar:

Today I feel free because I am speaking the truth before God, who has given us life. This is what I feel in my heart. The moment has come to speak the truth, to declare the truth, what happened to human beings. I am who is left of the massacre, of my loved ones whose blood has been spilled. They were guiltless. Those who we don’t know why they were killed. I don’t know why they were killed. They were treated like animals, not even like animals. If we kick a dog, afterwards we feel bad. We are not dogs. I am giving my testimony before God, may God bless this moment, this day. This is how my heart feels, thank you for asking me. The pain and nightmares of my heart are now free because I have gotten everything out that is in my mind, what I saw with my eyes, what I saw with my body.

What do you hope from the trial?
Witness #3, Day 5, Jacinto Correjo Raymundo: That justice be done. I’ve felt very bad, very impacted by all the fear. My sleep, I’ve dreamed about it, it’s been in my dreams. I will never forget this, not until I die. It was hard for me, this situation.

What does it mean for you to come to speak before tribunal?
Witness #4, Day 5, Francisco Oxlaj González

I want a trial and punishment. I’m not saying they have to be killed like we were, no, you can’t do that. What I want is justice. I’m here to explain what happened and if I die, the story of what I lived will never be forgotten. I’ve explained to the youth what I lived, I’ve explained, so that these things are not forgotten.

How does your heart feel to be sharing your story with this court, with the people of Guatemala?
Witness #5, Day 5, Rosa Caba Santiago: I’m sad because my mother & father left us, it hurts because we suffered a lot without them.

What does it mean for you to come here to tell your story?
Witness #6, Day 5, Pedro Brito: We have a lot of feelings about this, because why would we leave our homes? Without someone running us out we wouldn’t leave our homes. I live on the coast, but why? Because our land was taken.

What do you hope from this trial?
Witness #6, Day 5, Pedro Brito: That those responsible be punished.

What does your heart feel to come here to the court to tell your story?
Witness #7, Day 5, Gaspar Cobo Cedillo: What I feel, what I am here to say is, what was my father guilty of, to be killed? What I want is justice.

What does your heart feel, your mind, your emotions, now that you are in a court in Guatemala telling this story?
Witness #10, Day 5, Elena Caba Ijom: It hurts me, everything that happened to me, I don’t have parents, brothers and sisters, I’m basically alone. I hope for justice, it hurts me what has happened to me.

What do you ask of the court?
Witness #11, Day 5, María Bernal Morales: That the law be asked, Why did they come for us?

What does it mean to you to tell your story before the court and the republic of Guatemala?
Witness #12, Day 5, Antonio Cruz Gallego: What I want is that the law be applied so that this does not happen again, does not happen to my children. I have 3 daughters and 5 sons.

What does your heart, mind, emotions feel telling this story to the judges?
Witness #13, Day 5, Jacinto Velasco Corio: Sadness and pain because they killed our family. They said we were guerrilla but we didn’t have weapons.

What do you ask of the court in this trial? What do you hope for?
Witness #13, Day 5, Jacinto Velasco Corio: We hope to move forward.

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates.

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