NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) filed the following Days 15-16 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 Rodríguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity. Read our previous summaries: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4/5, Day 6, Day 7, Day 8, Day 9, Day 10, Day 12, Days 13/14 and full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.
The proceedings on April 11, day 15 of the genocide trial, started with a formal protest by the prosecution, with Edgar Pérez filing a formal protest that entrance to the courtroom and public bathroom access has been limited to the indigenous survivors coming to witness the historic trial against Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.
The defense also started their day off with a motion, requesting the trial be suspended for two days so that José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez could visit a doctor only available weekdays. Opting not to suspend the trial, Judge Jazmin Barrios ruled he could be absent from the trial on April 12 until 2PM.
The day continued with extensive testimony by expert witnesses, most notably that of political analyst Marco Tulio Álvarez Bobadilla, former director of the Peace Archives, and Ramón Cadena, President of the International Commission of Jurists.
Álvarez submitted a report on the displacement of children in the Ixil region analyzing the military plans Victoria ’82, Firmeza ’83 and Operation Sofia. He highlighted the broader guidelines established by the military, which translated into operations and actions in the field.
The displacement of children was not an isolated act but a policy followed by the military institution…children were included as an internal enemy [of the state]. … Children are identified in the army manual, which includes enemies that were not participants in the subversion but supporters. This broadened the definition of internal enemy.
In a particularly disturbing example of children as targets, Álvarez read a military report from the field included in Plan Sofia. A woman was hiding and upon discovery soldiers killed her, “eliminating her and two chocolates”. Chocolates, said Álvarez, were the military’s designation for children.
Álvarez also named the military strategy targeting children as an attack against the Maya Ixil culture, an element of genocide.
In many cases the transfer of children meant forced disappearance, with family members unable to locate them afterwards. …These children were denied their identity…the social fabric was destroyed in the attack against the Ixil culture.
Lawyer Ramón Cadena followed Álvarez to testify on human rights violations of the Ixil civil population. Cadena, President of the International Commission of Jurists and an expert in international law, explained Guatemala’s responsibility to comply with international law.
The Guatemalan state has certain obligations and commitments to fulfill under international human rights laws. The civil population is protected in armed conflicts by international law and customs of the international community. The Martens Clause, (ratified by the Hague in 1899), says that civil persons and combatants are protected by principles of human right, the principles of humanity and the demands of public conscience. Guatemala has ratified international human rights conventions – Geneva, Hague & Genocide conventions which all have relevance to the violations committed against Ixil people.
Using key passages from military plans, Cadena illustrated not only the military’s intention to dismiss international standards of protecting the civil population but also their blatant violation of civilians’ rights.
The military Plan Victoria 82 says, “The great masses of indigenous in the highlands of the nation have found an echo in the proclamations of subversives.” Plan Operation Sofia names 100% of the Ixil population as supporters of the subversives.The military doctrine allows justification of cruel attacks against the civil population and genocide against the Ixil population. Plan Firmeza 83 establish on pages 5-8, “The principal objective is to reach their physical and psychological control of the population.”
By 1981, an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) document concluded, “a situation has been created in Guatemala in which a lack of respect for human life and the laws that protect them predominate… The application of physical and psychological constraints of cruel and inhuman treatment has transgressed the limits of being a method of obtaining information or inflicting punishment, and has become a system of killing citizens.”
The military tried to achieve physical and psychological control of the population by using a number of tactics including massive attacks, torture, persecution, rape and forced displacement.
Some 40,000 refugees were displaced to Mexico and 200,000 were internally displaced. We have not yet measured the psychological impacts for the refugees. International human rights law prohibits forced displacement as a method of war and is also a method of genocide. In my opinion, forced displacement of the civil population should be considered an element of genocide.
Genocide is a crime defined by the intention to destroy a group either completely of partially. In Guatemala, Cadena concludes, “The state designed a system to kill its citizens and it was focused on the Ixil region.”
Day 16 included expert testimonies on a range of topics and featured experts: psychologist Nieves Gomez, historian Ángel Valdez Estrada, statistician Patrick Ball and specialist in woman’s law Paloma Soria. Nieves Gomez, a psychologist with Guatemala’s Community Studies and Psychosocial Support Team (ECAP), testified on the lasting effects of trauma suffered during conflict describing what is known about the psychological impacts of the victims which Cadena referred to.
Lasting effects include post-traumatic stress, living in state of anxiety, strong disorientation and disassociation and extreme continual stress, a lack of trust toward the state. In the case of rape, the lack of recognition of what happened, stigmatizes the victim and further polarizes society.
Fundamentally, “human beings have a desire to belong to a group – they need to feel pertinence and belonging. Humans need mutual support in order to grow…. Elements that identify a group can represent belonging for oneself- In the case of the Maya Ixil – dress, daily rituals, spirituality, daily use of home.” One of the most devastating effects of the conflict is the difficulty to preserve culture rituals creating a rupture in the very group that victims had once belonged to, creating a gap from one generation to another. In the conflict, “no one trusted anyone. Often silence was the most sure way to save one’s life.” Moreover, “Massacres weren’t punctual events, they took hours creating prolonged anxiety of death.”
However, on a positive note, the example of tribunals in Rwanda has demonstrated that the damage from conflict doesn’t have to be permanent or irreversible. “Survivors can overcome trauma.” Gomez affirmed that there is much work to be done in the recuperation of the Maya Ixil social fabric but she emphasized, “it’s important for the Maya Ixil community itself to decide how they want to achieve justice.” Finally, she concluded with this poignant quote from Mexican poet Javier Sicilia:
A victim is someone who has returned from death, to a world he no longer entirely belongs to. Being in this world I can understand joy, but I am not entirely here. I am carrying a bit of death inside of me. This is difficult to share with others, but nor am I sure that others are prepared to hear the scale of what I am carrying.
Ángel Valdez Estrada, historian and professor at the San Carlos University in Guatemala, testified on the systematic attack against the Maya Ixil people. He explained, the attack “required planning and intention…The military’s tactic was to use short but repeated attacks because that’s what helped them maintain constant fear and create distrust.” Valdez qualified Ramón Cadena’s observation of the military’s intent to control the Ixil, as explained in military plans.
Why would the military target the Ixil?
The Ixil culture is in direct conflict with the nation’s historical project of one singular culture. Cultural indicators like the dress, language & cosmovision, are relevant because they allowed the military to identify the Maya Ixil. If we all speak one language, then we have to share the same culture. Through the colors, the weaving, the Ixil’s dress identifies them as an object of war… Culture is an element of resistance in conflicts. It represents courage to not break or be divided. Some indigenous people don’t speak Spanish, they don’t want to and it’s a defense mechanism.
Was there intent to destroy the Ixil ethnicity?
Patrick Ball, a statistician and US citizen, gave quantitative support to earlier expert’s conclusions. Ball, in his technical analysis, concludes the Guatemalan military killed indigenous people 8 times more than non-indigenous. During the period of April 1982 – July 1983, a narrowed range of the full dates implicated in the trial (March 23, 1982 to August 8, 1983), Ball found that of all the deaths committed by the military, they killed 5.5% of the indigenous population while they killed only .7% of the non-indigenous population.
Ball’s objective as a statistician is to identify bias in testimony. While there is a small margin of error, he claims “statistics knows no bias.” Ball has spent more than twenty years conducting quantitative analysis for truth commissions, the UN, and international criminal tribunals. Read his full report, “State Violence in Guatemala 1960-1996” here.
Paloma Sorias, a specialist in international law and gender, rounded out day 16’s riveting expert testimonies. Sorias currently works at Women’s Link Worldwide in Madrid. Sorias’s expert testimony focused on the specificity of women victims in the conflict. Warning: this section might be triggering due to descriptions of extreme sexual violence.
Maya women were systematically raped. Practice of discrimination toward women is part of destroying the social fabric. While men can also be subject to sexual violence, certain aspects like forced pregnancy and forced abortion exclusively affect women. Of all victims of sexual violence, 99% of cases included women victims of which 35% were girls under the age of 18 and 3% elderly.
I had access to Plan Victoria 82, in it there were plans for sexual violence. A passage from Annex F determines that soldiers on military bases were guaranteed have free days in which they could “eat, clean, wash clothes, and have access to the opposite sex”. In other words it alluded to sexual slavery.
The definition of sexual violence however doesn’t include just rape. Soria explains, “threats of rape or the threat of having to witness family member be raped can be considered an act of sexual violence. I also consider denying access to sexual and reproductive health also as act of sexual violence.”
All in all, “sexual violence is way to impose power over another.” Soria concluded, “I think that all the acts to disrupt the reproduction of a group through sexual violence, provide proof of the intention to destroy the Maya Ixil people. There was intention to commit genocide.”
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 ourFacebook page and sign up for email updates.