Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Genocide on Trial, Day 6: "What I came here to share, I felt it in the living flesh, in my bones."

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 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 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 Jazmin 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 Gonzalez
"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.

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.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Genocide on Trial, Days 4 & 5: "This is how my heart feels, thank you for asking me."

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 1, Day 2, Day 3 and full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

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

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 Maton (read rush transcript from his 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 Lopez 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 Lopez 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 Gonzalez
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, Maria 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

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.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Juan Raymundo Maton: "...they destroyed everything, not just our crops but our culture."

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. Our live updates were interrupted today as witness Juan Raymundo Maton completed his moving testimony. We offer here a rush transcript of his concluding statements. Any errors in transcription or translation are our own.

Edgar Perez, AJR Lawyer:

What does it mean to tell your story?

Juan Raymundo Maton:

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. Sorry, I didn't finish explaining something. After the massacres, my father died May 25, 1983, they bombed the place and he died.

What they wanted to do was to disappear us but thanks to God the mountains protected us, mother nature saved us. My father died and stayed in the mountains. As indigenous people we have rituals  days to celebrate our dead, but on that day I can’t go to my father because he is in the mountains. I’m not at peace like before, my father does not appear. They were killed and I can’t see them any more. This pain, this sadness, I never forget it. I felt it in the flesh. There is no peace. We lost everything, our land, our animals, our clothes, but no one has replaced it. The government did it, the government is here but don’t do anything. On the contrary, they look down on us. Excuse my expression. The pain will only end when I die.

[He breaks down and Edgar Perez pauses to give him a moment.]

Edgar Perez:

I’m sorry I keep asking. You mentioned your culture, customs. Today, can you practice your culture, your customs?

Juan Raymundo Maton:

We had the custom of going on All Saint’s Day to put candles and flowers where our family members are buried. But as I said, we can’t do that because we don’t have a place to do that. Our ancestors have customs. All of this was destroyed when the military initiated their plan of scorched earth, all of it was destroyed.

During this policy of scorched earth, they destroyed everything, not just our crops but our culture. People couldn't even speak in their own languages. No one wanted to leave their culture, their customs; it was only because of this situation. It’s hard. I came to give my testimony, they ask who made you testify but I came because of my own pain, my sadness. Maybe I didn't express myself well enough but all the people who came to do this to us, I saw it with my own eyes. Many neighbors were shot to death, I went with them to bury them. Some could only be buried in a hole like animals. At that moment there was only time to open up a hole and bury them. Or sometimes the poor people only had time to throw them in a river.

Edgar Perez:

What do you want from this trial?

Juan Raymundo Maton:

What I hope for, what I want is that this situation that many communities in the Ixil region experienced, and also in other municipalities and department, now that I have children, I do not want this to happen again to our children. What I demand, what I want is justice. I’m not saying kill them. That is not what God wants. They looked down at us, like animals, they killed us, they made the decision. I ask for justice so that this never happens to our children. On the day I die, I want my children to never suffer what I lived, what I suffered. I ask that the authorities judge. Many people know, even on the international level, what happened but there are people who still say that we lie, that we are making it up, but this happened. Something must be done so that our country can change. This is a great pain for me, if they hadn't done this I would have my family. Justice must be done.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Genocide on Trial in Guatemala, Day 3: "...justice for everything we lived through."

Read our previous summaries: Day 1, Day 2, and full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

Survivor testimony continued on the third day of former dictator Efraín Rios Montt and intelligence chief Rodriguez Sánchez's trial for genocide and crimes against humanity. 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.

Francisco Raymundo Cobo offers his testimony before the tribunal.

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.

In marked contrast, AJR lawyer Edgar Pérez's soft tone and sensitive questions gave the witnesses an important chance to express their feelings regarding their experiences, as well as their hopes for justice. Literally interpreting the Maya idiom for emotion, he asked the witnesses at various moments of their testimony, "How did that make your heart feel?"

"Since the day that the soldiers came, I have been ill all the time," said Jacinta Rivera, whose husband was killed during an incursion by the Guatemalan army in the village of Sumal Grande.

At Tuchabuc in May of 1982, Miguel Raymundo Cobo saw soldiers kill his three children, Ana, Maria and Gaspar, between the ages of 3 months a 6 years; his wife Magdalena de León was also killed in the massacre.

The witnesses were also asked what their intentions were in presenting their stories before the court, and they offered various perspectives on the possible outcomes of the trial. "What I want is justice; I never want to see a war again, I don't want my children to experience war," said Juana Bernal Velasco, whose husband was killed. Nearly every member of Domingo Raymundo Cobo's family was killed in a massacre of 30 people. "I am looking for justice for those responsible for the massacres," he said.

AJR member Francisco Raymundo Chavez, who told of his survival of the massacre of Chajúl at the age of 6, his capture and detention at a military base, and later his time in an orphanage with other young survivors, was emphatic regarding his reasons for testifying:

Genocide on Trial in Guatemala, Day 2: Ixil Voices in the Halls of Justice

Read our coverage on the first day of the trial.

The second day of proceedings in the Guatemala genocide case trial opened with unresolved tensions around accused former general Efraín Ríos Montt's legal representation. He started the day once again without any of his previously designated lawyers. Francisco Palomo, who has defended Ríos Montt for over a year in the genocide case as well as other cases, was present in court. However, he made clear he was there to represent co-defendant former general José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez and would not defend Ríos Montt. In fact, Palomo stated he plans to submit a challenge to the judicial process on the point of Ríos Montt's representation, suggesting that the changes to Ríos Montt's defense team the first two days of the trial were undertaken with this goal in mind.

The powerful testimonies of 13 Ixil witnesses in their Mayan language characterized the second day of the proceedings. One after another, witnesses shared their stories of the brutal murders of their loved ones at the hands of the military, as well as the burning of their homes and crops.

The day concluded with the moving testimony of Pedro Chavez Brito about the events of November 4, 1982. The military arrived in his community of Nebaj and killed Chavez Brito's mother. Chavez Brito, approx. 6 or 7 years old at the time, hid with his siblings in the temascal (traditional sauna). His siblings included his older sister, who had just given birth a few days before and was also hiding her newborn child.

The soldiers opened the door of the temascal and found my sister with her baby.
They asked us, "Where is the guerrilla?"
"Please don't kill us," my sister replied. The house was already on fire around us.
"You are a guerrillera, you gave food to the guerrilla," they said to my sister. They took my sister to over to the fire...

I don't know what I did, I managed to get out. They set fire to the house. I hid beneath a tree trunk. For 8 days I was beneath that trunk. I came out once in a while, I could hear them walking. I hid like an animal for 8 days, without food, without a blanket, I didn't have any clothes, I was naked.

...I don't know how many they [soldiers] were, they were like ants.

As an organization with 12 years of experience accompanying the AJR, NISGUA is moved by the long-awaited opportunity for this testimony to be heard in the courts and saddened by the similiarities between these testimonies and that of the hundreds of witnesses we have accompanied in the five regions of the AJR since 2000.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Genocide trial opens amidst attacks against community leaders

"The past is still present."

-- Independent journalist, commenting on recent attacks against activistson the eve of the Ríos Montt trial

On Sunday, March 17, the President of the Xinca Indigenous Parliament and three other Xinca leaders were abducted by a group of heavily armed men. While two of the kidnapped men escaped, Exaltación Marcos Ucelo was found dead early Monday morning. After more than 24 hours missing, Roberto Gonzalez Ucelo, President of the Xinca Parliament was found alive.

TAKE ACTION: Call for an investigation and the departure of Tahoe Resources in response to recurring violence

The four Xinca leaders were on their way home from observing a community consultation in El Volcancito, San Rafael Las Flores when they were attacked. The community consultation is the third in a series of 26 referenda planned in the municipality. Read more about the ongoing consultation process.

El Volcancito holds a community consultation on March 17 (credit: NISGUA)
In response, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla made statements in the press conflating the non-violent community organizing in the municipalities of Mataquescuintla and San Rafael Las Flores with this and other recent violence. His comments are further evidence of ongoing stigmatization and criminalization of human rights defenders in Guatemala, an issue that was raised specifically with regard to the situation in San Rafael Las Flores in the UN’s report on Guatemala delivered this January.

On Friday, March 15, human rights defender and member of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH), Rubén Herrera, was arrested for alleged crimes committed in relation to the Barillas case, a conflict stemming from the Guatemalan government's lack of respect for the community consultation process carried out in 2007. Despite a clear rejection of large-scale development projects in their territory, the government granted Hidro Santa Cruz S.A. permission for construction of the Cambalam hydroelectric dam.

In a hearing held on Tuesday, March 19, Herrera was denied bail and accused of 12 crimes, including kidnapping and terrorism. Despite arguments from the defense team and the Public Prosecutor's office demonstrating the lack of evidence linking him to these crimes, the judge denied Herrera's bail and ordered the case to move to pretrial proceedings on May 30. Read the ADH urgent communique here.
Rubén Herrera of the ADH (credit: James Rodríguez, mimundo.org)

NISGUA stands in solidarity with the Rubén Herrera and the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango in denouncing the systematic criminalization and persecution of community leaders and human rights defenders.

These incidents come on the heels of the Constitutional Court decision to uphold the 1997 Mining Law against a constitutional challenge presented by the Western Peoples’ Council (CPO) for lack of prior consultation with indigenous peoples. The current mining law fails to fulfill national and international mandates that require the State to consult with indigenous people regarding projects or policies that will significantly impact their territories.

NISGUA, together with the Coalition against Unjust Mining in Guatemala, submitted a press release critiquing the Guatemalan Government's denial of justice for indigenous peoples affected by mining.

“Not only is this ruling a negation of justice, it is a negation of the existence of indigenous peoples' right to participate as political actors,” said Francisco Mateo Rocael, representative of the Western Peoples' Council in response to the Court's ruling. Read NISGUA's full translation of the CPO statement.

NISGUA has accompanied communities and organizations resisting Tahoe's Escobal project since 2011. NISGUA also works closely with the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) in their efforts to promote self-determination and alternative visions of development in the highland department of Huehuetenango. The ADH receives international human rights accompaniment from NISGUA through the ACOGUATE project and participated in NISGUA's 2010 tour.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Genocide on Trial in Guatemala: Ixil witnesses speak

In the early hours of the morning, a crowd had already begun to form in Guatemala City's Plaza of Human Rights, outside the Supreme Court, where the country's historic first trial for genocide was about to commence. Survivors of genocide and human rights advocates arranged a ceremonial carpet of flowers, pine needles, and candles, burning fragrant incense, while supporters of the accused former dictator Ríos Montt and retired intelligence official Rodriguez Sánchez held white banners with slogans denouncing the trial as a "lynching".

The opening of the trial was delayed an hour due to a last minute shake-up: immediately before the opening of the trial, Rios Montt announced that he had replaced his defense lawyers. Instead he would substitute Francisco García Gudiel, a lawyer with a long history of cases defending impunity, including a relative of Rios Montt for an assault against Rigoberta Menchú, and on behalf of 150 people arrested for the 2003 "Black Thursday" riots organized by Montt's FRG party in support of his illegal presidential bid. After unsuccessfully arguing that the trial should be delayed for 5 days so that Gudiel could familiarize himself with the case, Gudiel argued that his conflicts with Judge Yasmin Barrios in past litigation meant that the Judge should be removed from the proceeding, a potentially illegal and clearly premeditated maneuver also intended to delay the opening of the trial. In response, Judge Barrios ordered García Gudiel to leave the courtroom, and ordered that Rios Montt be represented by César Calderón, lawyer of co-defendant Rodriguez Sanchez. Judge Barrios proceeded to read the long list of charges against the two retired military officials who both declined to make a statement in response to the accusation. 

Following a recess for lunch, Judge Barrios immediately proceeded to call the prosecution's witnesses to the stand. Nicolás Bernal Brito was the first Ixil genocide survivor to detail his experience before the court, the audience of hundreds, and the accused. In Spanish and Ixil, with the help of an interpreter, he described the killing of his family members by uniformed soldiers in the massacre of 35 people in the village of Canaquil on March 5, 1982. After destruction of his village, Brito fled into the mountains of Quiché. Survivors collected and buried bodies burned by the soldiers, but were too terrorized to perform rituals for the dead. Later, while living under military control, Brito was obligated to participate in the Civil Defense Patrols (PAC) and ordered to destroy crops, alongside Ixil children as young as 12 years old who were also forced into the paramilitary patrols. He told of how people living in the Guatemalan military's Model Viollages were "punished" by soldiers who imprisoned them in a muddy pit. Brito was cross-examined by the defense lawyers, who among other questions asked if he understood what the term "exhumation" meant and if he had attended one; Brito answered affirmatively to both questions.

The second prosecution witness called was Bernardo Bernal, also from Canaquil. He described how on March 25 1982, at the age of 9, soldiers came to his community and detained his family, shooting at him as he fled. Hiding in a stream, he witnessed the deaths of his father, mother, and siblings aged 5 and one. His testimony concluded the day's proceedings, without questions from the defense. Nicolás Bernal Brito and Bernabe Bernal were the first of more than 100 surviving witnesses who will give their testimony in the coming days.

NISGUA's coverage of the trial will continue tomorrow. Follow our live coverage via Twitter @NISGUA_Guate and join the campaign in support of justice for genocide in Guatemala!

Other resources:

Monday, March 18, 2013

Genocide trial opens tomorrow - NISGUA's coverage and actions

For more than a decade, members of the Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala have had the honor to walk alongside survivors of genocide in their long struggle for justice. Tomorrow, we will accompany them in the next step on the path of memory, as they stand as witnesses in the Guatemalan courts, where the Generals Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Join us in our live coverage of the trial, which will be shared via our Twitter feed @NISGUA_Guate, using the hashtags #GenocideGT, #GenocidioGT, and #RMTrial. A video livestream from the courtroom will be broadcast via paraqueseconozca.blogspot.com starting at 8:30am CST.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has also debuted a website dedicated to live coverage of the trials, www.riosmontt-trial.org, which will serve as a clearinghouse for up to the minute information on the proceedings.

You can personally show your support by signing our Pledge in Support of Justice for Genocide (via Facebook Causes or NISGUA's website) and joining our photo solidarity campaign, both actions which we will share with the witnesses and activists who have made the trial possible.

"I pledge to follow the Guatemalan genocide trial; remain attentive to the monitoring and reporting carried out by Guatemalan human rights defenders and international observers; take action in the event of obstruction of justice or threats to witnesses, lawyers or experts involved in the case; and remain vigilant following the verdict."

How to create your photo for justice:

1. Print out one of these signs: JUSTICIA por GENOCIDIO en Guatemala

...or make your own with the hashtags we'll be using throughout the trial: #GenocidioGT/#GenocideGT.

2. Add your own detail. For example, hand write a personal message or sign with your twitter handle, or use NISGUA's: @NISGUA_Guate!

3. Upload your photo to Facebook and tag us in your photo, or send your photo to communications[at]nisgua[dot]org.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rubén Herrera, member of the Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH), Arrested in Barillas Case

*Official Translation by NISGUA
Spanish below

It is with great concern that we share the unfortunate news that today, March 15, at 7:30 in the morning, Rubén Herrera, a member of the coordination of the ADH, was arrested while leaving his home. Rubén Herrera has been linked to the Barillas case, along with 22 people who continue to have arrest warrants against them.

It is inconceivable that the legal persecution of leaders [continues] despite the fact that the court released and declared innocent the 11 political prisoners who were detained for eight months on the same charges.

We call on national and international social organizations to express their solidarity in order to halt this systematic violation of fundamental rights and to denounce the criminal and hostile role of the company, Hidro Santa Cruz, in causing this tragedy, which began three years ago.

We express our deep support and solidarity with the family of Rubén Herrera and demand his liberation as soon as possible.





Huehuetenango, Friday March 15, 2013


COMUNICADO URGENTE de la Asamblea de Pueblos de Huehuetenango por la Defensa del Territorio

Con mucha preocupación queremos  manifestar la noticia lamentable  que el día hoy 15 de marzo a  las 7:30 de la mañana fue capturado el compañero Rubén Herrera, miembro de la coordinación de ADH, cuando estaba saliendo de su casa.  El compañero Rubén Herrera lo vinculan con el caso de Barillas junto con 22 personas que aun tienen orden de captura.

Es inconcebible la persecución legal contra los lideres y lideresas cuando el juzgado ya declaro inocentes y  en libertad a los 11 presos políticos detenidos durante 8 meses por los mismos casos.

Hacemos un llamado a las organizaciones sociales nacionales e internacionales su solidaridad para frenar esta sistemática violación a nuestros derechos fundamentales y denunciar el papel delincuencial y hostil de la empresa Hidro Santacruz, causante de esta tragedia que inicio hace 3 años.

Manifestamos nuestro profundo apoyo y solidaridad con la familia del compañero Rubén Herrera y exigimos su liberación lo más pronto posible.





 Huehuetenango, viernes 15 de marzo de 2013
The Departmental Assembly of Huehuetenango (ADH) works to promote self-determination and alternative visions of development in the highland department of Huehuetenango. The ADH receives international human rights accompaniment from NISGUA through the ACOGUATE project and participated in NISGUA's 2010 tour; you can find more information about their work here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Breaking Down the Wall of Impunity in Guatemala by Victoria Sanford

Victoria Sanford is the director of the Lehman College Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies in New York. She is the author of Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala. In 2012, she testified as an expert witness in the Spanish Tribunal’s genocide case against Guatemalan generals including Rios Montt. Breaking Down the Wall of Impunity was originally published as Rompiendo el muro de la impunidad, in El Faro, February 3, 2013. Translation by NISGUA with permission from the author.

On the first day of the historic genocide trial against former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt and General José Rodríguez Sánchez, his former chief of military intelligence (G-2), the judge spent nearly four hours reading aloud the names of the 1,771 Maya-Ixil who were victims of fifteen different massacres in Guatemala during Ríos Montt’s regime (March 1982 to August 1983). During the reading, Rodríguez Sánchez asked for permission to leave early, claiming dizziness. National and international observers and surviving family members of the victims stayed to listen and pay respect to the memory of the victims.

The fact that the names of the victims are even entered into the court’s official registry is a great step towards justice in Guatemala. The Public Ministry’s presentation of approximately 1,000 pieces of evidence, 68 experts and 165 witnesses, as well as Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez’s decision to try the two ex-military officials for genocide and crimes against humanity are all part of a long process in the struggle for justice in Guatemala.

The quantity and quality of the evidence presented reflect the hard work and dedication to truth and justice of a diverse group of witnesses and human rights defenders, who have been assembling evidence ever since the massacres were committed 30 years ago. While the plaintiffs in the case - the Center for Human Rights Legal Action and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation - delivered another hundred pieces of evidence, Ríos Montt’s and Rodríguez Sánchez’s defense attorneys submitted their own seven experts, two consultants, 14 documents, and 17 witnesses - the majority of whom have military ties.

When it comes to the crime of genocide in Guatemala, the army has always taken the position of denying its own actions. In 1993, when exhumations began in the clandestine cemeteries of massacre victims, the army said that the remains belonged to guerrillas or victims of cross-fire between guerrillas and civil patrols. In 1999, when the Historical Clarification Commission (CEH – Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico) reported that as a result of the internal armed conflict, some 200,000 individuals were dead; 50,000 had been disappeared; 626 massacres had taken place; 1.5 million people had been displaced; and 150,000 individuals were in refuge in Mexico, some military officials expressed to me that "both sides committed errors" or "both sides used excessive force." Problematically for the military, the CEH attributed 93% of the acts of violence to the military and 3% to the guerillas (the remaining 4% are unaccounted for).

Through analyzing a pattern in the massacres that took place in Quiché and Baja Verapaz during the last twelve months of Lucas García's regime (March 1981 to March 1982) and the first twelve months of Ríos Montt’s reign of terror (March 1982 through March 1983), I found that (1) the massacres were not just acts of out-of-control military officials; (2) the massacres were part of a strategic campaign by the military as an institution; (3) Ríos Montt not only continued the campaign of violence initiated by Lucas García, but he systematized it; and (4) the series of massacres, started by Lucas García and sustained and intensified by Ríos Montt, was the army’s first genocide campaign.

On June 9, 1982, General Efraín Ríos Montt announced an imminent state of siege against his own people effective July 1, 1982. This state of siege included an "amnesty" for guerrillas, but the key points were the implementation of "a vast counteroffensive" against the entire population and "the imposition of states of emergency in the departments of San Marcos, Quiché, Huehuetenango and Chimaltenango." On August 18, 1982, Ríos Montt told a group of eight politicians: "We are declaring a state of siege in order to kill legally." Even more clearly, when asked about his "scorched earth campaign," Rios Montt said: "We don’t have a scorched earth policy, we have a scorched communist policy."

Today, the defense is arguing that the former dictator was not informed about the massacres committed by the army. But during his administration, Ríos Montt declared that he would "take the water away from the fish": the Maya being the water and the guerillas the fish. This clearly shows that the General distinguished between the guerrillas (the fish) and Maya (the water). If he really meant to "scorch communists" and "eliminate subversion," focusing on just the fish would have been enough. If he could not distinguish between Maya and guerrillas, then the metaphor would be meaningless. Ríos Montt, like Lucas García before him, wanted to eliminate the Maya. The massacres were a campaign of genocide, begun under Lucas García and continued under Ríos Montt, which sought to destroy the Maya simply for being Maya. Seven months after Ríos Montt took power, a Maya survivor said that after the massacres, "all that was left was silence."

In 1982, Amnesty International published a report condemning the massacres of peasant "Indians" which resulted in more than 2,600 documented deaths, "many of them women and children," during the first six months of Ríos Montt’s regime. Even with incomplete information, at this early point it was clear to human rights observers that Guatemalan "Indians" were the subject of a campaign of terror imposed by the military.

While General Lucas García was notorious for mostly selective massacres within Maya villages, Ríos Montt maintained that his regime had scaled back the killing, even claiming that "there were no more bodies in the streets." In a database that I developed to compare the facts and figures of different massacres under the regimes of Generals Lucas García and Ríos Montt, I found that the total numbers of massacre victims in the departments of Chimaltenango, Quiché, Alta Verapaz, and Baja Verapaz were highest during the months of General Ríos Montt´s dictatorship. For example, after the coup that installed General Ríos Montt on March 23, 1982, there were 85 massacres in the Quiché department, which took the lives of 3,180 victims over the next 12 months.

In addition to these 3,180 victims of massacres from the Quiché department during Ríos Montt’s first 12 months in office, there were 710 massacre victims in Chimaltenango, 1,033 in Alta Verapaz and 500 in the municipality of Rabinal in Baja Verapaz. Even taking into account that these figures do not include the other victims of massacres in other parts of the country, nor victims of disappearances and extrajudicial execution, General Efraín Ríos Montt is responsible for having massacred 5,423 Achí, Q’eqchi’, Quiché and Kaqchikel individuals.

During this period, General Efraín Ríos Montt had command responsibility; and control, both de jure and de facto, over the government and the armed forces. His own public speeches reveal that he was aware of the existence of these massacres and that he did not prohibit them, prevent them, or penalize anyone for them. With more power over the military than any other official in his administration, General Efraín Ríos Montt, regardless of his position as intellectual author of the genocide, not only failed to prohibit, prevent or denounce the violence, but clearly gave the green light for the army to commit massacres and genocide.

The defense has expressed its opposition to the court accepting 14 different pieces of evidence. Among the contested items are leaked army counterinsurgency operation plans, which the defense claims are not authentic. The defense also opposes the prosecution’s use of experts who participated in the peace negotiations such as distinguished analyst Héctor Rosada. The defense may challenge the other 986 pieces of evidence, experts, and documents, but will also have to face the testimonies of survivors.

This trial is breaking down the wall of impunity precisely because the victims have the opportunity to denounce the violence of genocide directly to the perpetrators and to the world. Each hearing will be a new opportunity for Guatemalan society to reconcile with its own history: that there was indeed a genocide, and yes, there was intent to commit that genocide, and that Ríos Montt did have command responsibility. And it is not only Guatemalan society that needs to reconcile with itself. Former general Otto Perez Molina, the current president of Guatemala, also has to reconcile with his role in the genocide as a commander in Nebaj. We should all think about how long it would take to not only read the names of the more than 5,000 victims of Ríos Montt, but also the names of the 200,000 victims of the entire armed conflict.

Monday, March 11, 2013

AJR/CALDH: "First trial for genocide still set to begin March 19"


Today, March 11th, we were notified of a constitutional injunction ("amparo") filed by the military officials José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. This action seeks to reverse Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez's decision regarding evidence in the oral public debate scheduled for March 19 by the Sentencing Tribunal "A" for High-Risk Crimes.

Earlier this year, on February 3, Judge Gálvez resolved not to accept the expert witnesses, studies, and documents proposed by the defense lawyers for the accused, due to the fact that they were presented at the wrong time. To clarify, despite the fact that the defense had more than a year to request the appointment of expert witnesses, they did not do this in the manner established by Article 315 of the Criminal Code.

On Sunday press reports circulated which misinterpreted the ruling of the Fourth Appeals Chamber, which authorizes a provisional injunction which only suspends Judge Gálvez's Febrary 4th decision relating to the rejection of expert witnesses, reports to be requested, and studies offered as evidence by the accused.

The Appeals Chamber's ruling does not contemplate suspension of the debate, only the Judge's earlier decision. We express our concern regarding the provisional injunction authorized by the acting judges of the Fourth Appeals Chamber, Criminal Division, Narco-activity and Crimes Against the Environment [the court which oversees "high-risk" trials], in light of the fact that Judge Gálvez's decision was legally correct and in strict compliance with Article 315 of the Criminal Code. We wish that the decision of the judges presiding over the chamber—Sonia Judith Alvarado López, Manuel Alfredo Marroquín Pineda and Luis Felipe Lepe Monterroso—were also legally correct.

At no point have we been notified by the Sentencing Tribunal "A" for High-Risk Crimes of any change to the date of the public oral debate. We invite all to witness this historic moment for our country, and to accompany the survivors in this important step against impunity.

For the right to a just country!

Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR)
Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH)

Guatemala, March 11 2013

AJR/CALDH: "Primer juicio por genocidio continúa para el 19 de marzo"


Hoy lunes 11 de marzo fuimos notificados de una acción constitucional de Amparo interpuesta por los militares José Efraín Ríos Montt y José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, acusados de genocidio y delitos contra los deberes de humanidad. Dicha acción busca revertir la resolución del Juez de Mayor Riesgo B en lo relativo a las pruebas para el debate oral y público programado por el Tribunal de Sentencia de Mayor Riesgo A para el 19 de marzo del 2013.

El 4 de febrero del año en curso el Juez Miguel Ángel Gálvez resolvió No aceptar las propuestas de peritos, peritajes y documentos presentados por la defensa de los imputados, debido a que las mismas fueron presentadas fuera de tiempo, es decir,  que pese a que tuvieron más de un año para solicitar la designación de peritos, no lo hicieron tal como lo establece el artículo 315 del Código Penal.

El domingo circuló una nota de prensa en la que se hace referencia a la resolución de la Sala Cuarta, haciendo una errónea  interpretación a dicha resolución, ya que la misma otorga un amparo provisional que suspende únicamente  la resolución del Juez Gálvez el 4 de febrero en lo relacionado a rechazo de los peritos, informes a solicitar e informes periciales ofrecidos como medios de prueba por los acusados.

En la resolución no se plantea la suspensión del debate, sino de la resolución emitida por el Juez la fecha indicada anteriormente. Manifestamos nuestra preocupación por el amparo provisional otorgado por los suplentes de la Sala Cuarta de Apelaciones del Ramo Penal, Narcoactividad y delitos contra el Ambiente, ya que el Juez Gálvez actuó apegado a derecho y en estricto cumplimiento del artículo 315 del Código Penal. Esperamos que la resolución de los jueces que integran dicha sala: Sonia Judith Alvarado López, Manuel Alfredo Marroquín Pineda y Luis Felipe Lepe Monterroso sea también apegada a derecho.

En ningún momento hemos sido notificados por el Tribunal de Sentencia de Mayor Riesgo A sobre algún cambio de fecha para el debate oral y público, por lo que les invitamos a ser testigos de este hecho histórico para nuestro país y acompañar a las y los sobrevivientes en este importante paso contra la impunidad.


Asociación para la Justicia y Reconciliación

Centro para la Acción Legal en Derechos Humanos

Guatemala 11 de marzo de 2013

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Communities in San Rafael Las Flores say NO to Tahoe Resources' Escobal Project

Last weekend, 93% of the population of Los Planes rejected Tahoe Resources' proposed Escobal project, voting NO to chemical mineral mining on their territory. This good-faith referendum, organized by local authorities, is the second of 26 community referenda planned in the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores. The first referendum, held February 17 in San Juan Bosco, also soundly rejected the project, with 99% of the population voting NO to mining and YES to life. 

Community authorities count votes. (Photo: C.P.R.Urbana)
 These small-scale referenda, regulated by Guatemalan Municipal Code, are communities' best option for making their voices heard. That’s because municipal authorities in San Rafael Las Flores have refused requests for a referendum at the municipal level, similar to those held in Santa Rosa de Lima and Nueva Santa Rosa in 2011.

For the last two years, community members and local human rights organizations have been peacefully resisting the Escobal project in the face of increasing violence, intimidation and criminalization. The Escobal mine is operated by Minería San Rafael S.A., a Guatemalan subsidiary of Canada’s Tahoe Resources, which acquired the Escobal project from Goldcorp in 2010. Despite not having a license for mineral exploitation, Tahoe insists final permission to begin mining is imminent and, as a result, has already invested millions of dollars in infrastructure.

The wave of referenda throughout the municipality of San Rafael Las Flores comes on the heels of an attack against the mine's private security, resulting in the deaths of two guards. Shortly following the attack, Minister of the Interior Mauricio López Bonilla insinuated possible links between this event and the local non-violent resistance to Tahoe Resources’ project. Bonilla linked local mining resistance to terrorism, delinquency and drug trafficking, and stated that local, peaceful opposition to Tahoe's project does not exist1.

But the opposition is real. With these 26 democratic consultations, the communities surrounding the proposed Escobal project are demonstrating, once again, their commitment to peacefully resisting the imposition of mining on their territory. They are demanding that the Guatemalan government respect the referenda and recognize their right to participate in decision-making processes. This ongoing, community-based resistance indicates the company not only lacks the necessary permits to proceed with the mine, as it acknowledged in a January 14 press release,2 but it also lacks the social license to operate.

Citizens of Los Planes wait in line to cast their vote (Photo: C.P.R.Urbana)
In a recent open letter to Guatemalan Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz, the International Coalition Against Unjust Mining in Guatemala (CAMIGUA) joined the communities of Santa Rosa and Jalapa in condemning acts of violence occurring around US and Canadian-owned mining sites and demanding respect for consultation processes. The letter calls for an investigation of the violent events and an end to the criminalization of community-based peaceful resistance.

TAKE ACTION! Sign this petition and join NISGUA and the Center for International Environmental Law in demanding NO mining license for Tahoe Resources.

1 Castañon, Mariela. “Cuarto órdenes de captura por ataque en mina San Rafael.” La Hora 7 Feb. 2013. http://www.lahora.com.gt/index.php/nacional/guatemala/actualidad/173135-cuatro-ordenes-de-captura-por-ataque-en-mina-san-rafael
2 http://www.tahoeresourcesinc.com/tahoe-reports-incident-and-updates-escobal-project/