Efraín Ríos Montt Found Guilty of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

Guatemalan de facto dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was declared guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity. After organizing and fighting in courts for years, Guatemala's Ixil Maya indigenous achieved justice.

The verdict was live-tweeted and streamed [es].

While Ríos Montt was declared guilty and sentenced to 80 years in prison, former Intelligence Director José Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez was declared innocent.

Rios Montt ruled Guatemala from March 1982 to August 1983 during the country's 36-year civil war. As Xeni Jardin explains in BoingBoing: “The 86-year-old former General and head of state was charged with the crimes over a counterinsurgency campaign in 1982-1983 that resulted in the deaths of 1,771 Maya Ixil.”

Rios Montt Genocide Trial Day 26

Rios Montt Genocide Trial Day 26. Photo by James Rodriguez of MiMundo.org, used with permission.

Guatemala's indigenous were severely impacted by the war; they lost land, houses, animals, crops, and had to live in hiding in the mountains. After the war the country offered little opportunities.

Today, the Ixil communities are among the poorest in the country, with up to 77% living in poverty [es]. In Guatemala, where up to 40% of the population is indigenous, eight out of 10 indigenous peoples are poor. Furthermore, racism impacts their education and employment opportunities.

In spite of their poverty, the survivors were not asking for reparations -they were asking for justice, as Mr. Benjamín Jerónimo, plaintiff of the genocide case, told the tribunal in the closing arguments of a very complex trial which Amnesty International summarized in ten facts:

Genocide was committed, crimes against humanity were committed and today, 100 witnesses came to tell the truth, to ask for justice for all that we suffered, publicly… We are not looking for vengeance, we are looking for a true peace with justice, with respect, with equality, with dignity, that is why we are here.

It takes more than ten hours to travel in public transport from the Ixil region to Guatemala City, where the trial took place. In spite of their modest income and the distance, members of the Ixil community were present in the courtroom every day, as photo records by James Rodriguez of MiMundo.org and the coverage by Xeni Jardin in Boing Boing show. Xeni live tweeted the final verdict from the courtroom.

Picture by James Rodríguez, Mimundo.org used with permission.

Picture by James Rodríguez, Mimundo.org used with permission.

A video explaining all the evidence leading to the charges was aired this week by PBS in the United States, generating debate about president Reagan's involvement. The article “The Final Battle: Rios Montt's Counterinsurgency Campaign: U.S. and Guatemalan Documents Describe the Strategy Behind Scorched Earth” by The National Security Archive adds:

Ríos Montt's scorched earth tactics are documented in a collection of Guatemalan army records created in July and August 1982, connected to Operation Sofía — a series of counterinsurgency sweeps through the Ixil region to kill EGP combatants and destroy their “base of support” (the Maya Ixil population). The Operation Sofía documents were given to the National Security Archive in 2009 and the Archive in turn provided them as criminal evidence to the prosecutors in the genocide case.

The trial has been an example of open justice, with translation available for the Ixil peoples during the entire trial, unrestricted access to press and a strong interaction in social media.

Parallel to the debate in court, a conversation -a battle of ideas and facts- took place online.

Netizens used the hashtags #riosmontt, #genocidegt and #sihubogenocidio (“yes, it was genocide”), and there were livestreams here (audio), here (audio) and here.

There are also netizens who deny that there was a genocide, and they are using the hashtag #nohubogenocidio (“there was no genocide”) to share their views.

During the trial citizens all over the world took a pledge and shared a photo showing their support for justice.

International volunteers from NISGUA, Peace Brigades International, Collectif Guatemala and other NGOs worked and supported families of survivors during the trial. They also produced content in English and French to share with the world.

After thirty years, this landmark verdict materializing the spirit of the Genocide Convention and the enforcement of crimes against humanity is an insurance for each and every human being, as it sets a precedent for current conflicts around the world. It is a ray of hope for entire villages labelled as “the enemy” in Syria, for the suffering of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and for all the conflicts to come.

Furthermore, it also marks a new beginning for an inclusive Guatemala, embracing and learning from the values and differences of 24 nations, starting with the lessons of courage, patience and non-violent struggle for justice taught by the Ixil. As Salvadoran digital journal El Faro said, the Ixil peoples already achieved a victory [es].

Photo via @xeni: "Juana Sanchez Toma, Ixil rape victim whom we interviewed for @newshour. 'I dreamed of justice. And now here it is.'"

Photo via @xeni: “Juana Sanchez Toma, Ixil rape victim whom we interviewed for @newshour. ‘I dreamed of justice. And now here it is.'”


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