Guatemala Genocide Human Rights Trial Beginning March 19, 2013, Live Web Cast, Commentaries, Updates

Posted: March 18th, 2013

The historic genocide trial in Guatemala of the former president Efrain Rios Montt is scheduled to begin March 19, 2013, at 8:30 am. This is the first time anywhere in the world that a former head of state is being tried for genocide by a national tribunal.

The trial will be webcast live. The sound is better at El Periodico at http://www.elperiodico.com.gt/es/20130319/pais/226109/, and the visuals are close up and better at Coordinacion Genocidio Nunca Mas, www.paraqueseconozca.blogspot.com.

The trial is also being covered with summaries and commentary at www.riosmontt-trial.org, a project of the Open Society Justice Initiative. Para noticias del juicio en español, haz click aquí.*

Coverage on Democracy Now is avialable here http://www.democracynow.org/topics/guatemala.

The United States and CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and installed a military dictatorship. The overthrew led over the next 48 years to the murder, torture, and disappearance of 200,000 Guatemalan people. The government’s “scorched earth” policy led to the destruction of entire Mayan villages and the massacre of all their inhabitants, including women, children, babies and elderly people. Estimates of displaced persons vary from 500,000 to 1.5 million people in the most intense period from 1981 to 1983, according to the United Nations Commission for Historical Clarification.

The genocide and human rights violations were documented after the signing of the Peace Accord in 1996 by the Catholic Church and the United Nations Truth Commission.  Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi was bludgeoned to death for publishing the report of the Catholic Church called Guatemala: Never Again! (Guatemala: Nunca Mas!) in 1998. The work of Bishop Gerardi and the Catholic Church is recognized as a best practice of liberation theology at work. If you want peace, work for justice. The United Nations Commission for Historical Clarification Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or Truth Commission) published the report Guatemala: Memory of Silence (Guatemala: Memoria del Silencio) in 1999. Both reports include the stories of the victims in the victim’s own words.

According to the UN report, the state of Guatemala is morally, ethically, and legally responsible for genocide and human rights violations. The president of the republic, as commander in chief of the army and minister of defense, should be subject to the same criteria of responsibility, given that national objectives were prepared at the highest level of government. Until 1986, nearly all the presidents were high level members of the military, with specific knowledge of military structures and their procedures, according to the report.

The report by the Catholic Church attributes the following quotes to Rios Montt, citing a 1987 report by Amnesty International: “[W]e have no scorched earth policy, we have a policy of scorched communists.” “[W]e are killing people, we are slaughtering women and children. The problem is, everyone is a guerilla there.”

United States government files, declassified by the National Security Archive in Washington, showed that U.S. diplomats and intelligence agencies knew that the Guatemalan army was carrying out the massacres, according to the New York Times.

The top United Nations human rights official has applauded the trial, and urged Guatemala to ensure the execution of a fair and independent legal proceeding. “I welcome the beginning of this historic trial, and I hope that it will signal the arrival of long-awaited justice for thousands of victims of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity committed during the murderous 36-year conflict in Guatemala,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a press release. Ms. Pillay emphasized that genocide and crimes against humanity “should never be covered by amnesties,” adding that “along with war crimes, these are among the gravest crimes known to mankind.”

In the meantime, impunity protects the United States for non-consensual human medical experiments in which U.S. officials intentionally infected thousands of Guatemalan people with sexually transmitted diseases and left them without treatment or reparations until the present day. The actions are crimes against humanity, according to the report by the Guatemalan Presidential Commission, Comisión Presidencial para el Esclarecimiento de los Experimentos Practicados con Humanos en Guatemala, Consentir el Daño: Experimentos Médicos de Estados Unidos en Guatemala (2011), and experts in human rights law.

The trial for genocide and human rights violations in Guatemala comes against a back drop of international attention focused on the role of Pope Francis during the “dirty war” in Argentina.

“Los ojos de los enterrados se cerrarán juntos el día de la justicia, o no se cerrarán.” ”The eyes of the buried will be closed together the day of justice, or they will not be closed.”
Miguel Ángel Asturias, Nobel Prize in Literature 1967 Guatemala

Additional resources:

Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize 1992 Guatemala, Crossing Borders: An Autobiography (1998)

Francisco Goldman, The Art of Political Murder: Who Killed the Bishop? (2008)

Greg Grandin, The Blood of Guatemala (2000); The Guatemala Reader (2011)

Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer, Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatamala (2005)

George Washington University National Security Archive, CIA and Assassinations: The Guatemala 1954 Documents

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“Migration of the Golden People” CARECEN 2002 © Judy Baca Courtesy of SPARC www.sparcmurals.org