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Genocide on Trial in Guatemala

Victims and human rights activists cheered when, on January 26, a Guatemalan court charged Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt with genocide and crimes against humanity. The decision to bring the 85-year-old former dictator to trial is the latest stage in a long odyssey, stretching back to the early 1980s, when Guatemala experienced the bloodiest repression of its thirty-six-year civil war. During Ríos Montt’s rule (1982–83), soldiers under his command—many of them US-trained
and -equipped—applied a scorched-earth policy to annihilate indigenous villages in the Mayan highlands where guerrilla insurgents were based.

The day the indictment was handed down, I was heading to Guatemala as part of a fact-finding mission organized by the Nobel Women’s Initiative and Just Associates to report on rising gender violence in Mexico and Central America. Two hundred thousand men, women and children were killed in Guatemala’s war, 83 percent of them Mayan, according to a 1999 report by the Commission for Historical Clarification. Some 100,000 women were raped as part of a strategy to destroy or suppress entire regions and cultures.

After arriving in Guatemala, we met some of them in a special forum. “I’m not afraid or ashamed to tell you this, because what happened to me happened to many women in this country,” one woman began. As a young girl in the highlands, she was held in sexual slavery by the armed forces. “I was a victim of kidnapping and torture,” she told us. “Many soldiers passed over my body—and not just me.” Several other women dressed in the traditional embroidered huipil nodded; despite the horror of reliving the pain, ending their silence is a source of strength and relief.

FULL ARTICLE: Genocide on Trial in Guatemala | The Nation.

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