Day 6 of Ríos Montt Genocide Trial: “What I Came Here to Share, I Felt It in the Living Flesh, in My Bones”

NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) filed the following Day 6 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.

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 3Day 4/5 and full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

The first hour and a half of court proceedings this morning were spent deliberating a number of motions filed by the defense. Danilo Rodríguez, who rejoined the defense team yesterday after a no-show on the first day of the trial, made several attempts to remove the judge and halt the process, all of which were denied. “I understand these motions filed against me as a strategy to suspend the process,” stated Judge Jazmín Barrios, “We are impartial judges and we don’t accept threats of any kind.”

Once testimonies began at 10am, eyewitnesses continued to share accounts of acts perpetrated by the military, led by former de facto President Efraín Ríos Montt and former intelligence chief José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. Their testimony included vivid descriptions of massacres, life in the military’s model villages, and survival in the mountains fleeing from the persecution of the military. By the end of the day the total number of witnesses to have testified in the trial would reach 62, including the first witnesses to benefit from the assistance of a K’iche’ Maya translator. The majority of witnesses have testified in Ixil or Spanish, with native K’iche’ speaker Alberto Lopez offering testimony in Spanish during the first week of the trial due to the lack of a court-appointed K’iche’ translator.

A line of questioning has been put forth by the defense since the beginning of the trial implying manipulation or coercion of witnesses, or attempting to misconstrue the survivors’ legitimate concern for reparations. Witnesses have been asked, “Were you paid to be here today?”, “Why did you come today? Did they bring you? Did they tell you to come?”, “No one told you to come testify here today?” This is not the first time eyewitness testimony from the internal armed conflict has been questioned by a dominant society which disqualifies the voices of rural and indigenous people. Whether in response to questions from the defense or a long history of having their stories denied, witnesses have continually addressed this during their testimonies, as in these examples from our live Twitter coverage and courtroom transcription:

Pedro del Barrio Caba:
“We want…the authorities [to] realize that we are not lying.”
(3/22, witness #10)

Francisco Oxlaj González
“I came here to tell the truth. What I saw, I’m not inventing things. What I came here to share, I felt it in the living flesh, in my bones.”
(3/25, witness #42)

Francisco Pablo Carrillo
“They say we are here to lie, but we saw it with our own eyes.”
(3/25, witness #47)

Elena Caba Ijom
“I’m here to speak about what happened, I’m not here to lie.”
(3/25, witness #48)

Defense lawyer Cornejo: “Who told you to come here to declare?”
Juana Ramírez: I came here on my own.
(3/26, witness #57)

Defense lawyer Palomo: “How much do you want them to pay you?”
Prosecution objects.
Francisca Cecilia Barrera Mendez: “We want to be paid. Before we were well off, now we are poor.”
(3/26, witness #60)

Witness Domingo Santiago Cedillo sits before the court accompanied by an interpreter but he chose to give his testimony in Spanish, interrupted only by tears.

Witness Domingo Santiago Cedillo sits before the court accompanied by an interpreter but he chose to give his testimony in Spanish, interrupted only by tears.

One of the final testimonies today was a moving and emotionally charged account by Diego Santiago Cedillo, 33, who shared what he experienced as a little boy. Again, the witness insisted in the veracity of his truth:

I thought they would kill me but they didn’t, they took me. They took us to Finca La Perla. My uncle told me not to cry.

My mother came back but I didn’t want to go with her, I didn’t recognize her, she didn’t have clothes, she was crying.

My mother scolded us because we cried. Sometimes she covered our mouths so that we wouldn’t be found. Some died because their mouths were covered.

The soldiers came again and killed my brother and grandfather. I saw the bodies, crying, shaking. I didn’t have any desire to eat.

My brother was crying, my mother came back, my mother hugged me but I didn’t recognize her, she didn’t have any clothes, she was crying. I’ll always remember when I found my mother, my mother told me, I didn’t lose you because I was lazy, but because of the military. She said she loved me and she cried. My mother loved me. I’m not lying because I remember clearly.

She gave me food, only wild grasses, I remember, I’ll never forget, I’m not lying. 

I will never forget what they did to my family. When I saw my mother she said, let’s go earn some pennies because we don’t have any money to eat. I didn’t have a father.

Every time I am in the fields I remember my father. I don’t remember him well, it’s like a dream, I remember a little. I’m not lying, that is what I am here to tell.

What does it mean for you to come here before these judges, before the people, to tell your story?

I’m here to testify so that we never experience this again in this life. I’m here to say, sometimes I can’t take the tears, the blood we’ve seen.

The trial will resume on April 1, after the Holy Week holiday is celebrated in Guatemala.

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.

You can take action to support these brave witnesses! Sign our pledge to commit to following the genocide trial and take a photo for justice with your friends.

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