Guatemala: CAFOD welcomes justice for genocide victims

13 May 2013

Catalina Chivalan Cac's brother and uncle were killed in the genocide

Catalina Chivalan Cac and her family. Her brother and uncle were killed in the genocide.

CAFOD has welcomed the ruling of the Guatemalan court, against former President Rios Montt, for crimes against humanity. 

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Jose Efrain Rios Montt stood accused of ordering the killing of 1700 Mayan Ixil women, men and children between 1982 and 1983. He was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, receiving two sentences of 50 and 30 years respectively, making it the first time that a Latin American President has been convicted of genocide. 

Clare Dixon, our Head of Latin America and the Caribbean, has given this response to the verdict:

“This conviction sends a clear message that those who commit such crimes will face justice. It also sends a message beyond Guatemala that human rights will be upheld. However, this is only part of the process. We mustn’t forget the plight of the survivors of this horrific violence who are still suffering: the orphans, those forcibly displaced and the countless thousands who are still living with the mental trauma of the massacres. They are all in need of investment to support them to rebuild their shattered lives.”

Our partners in local human rights organisations and the Church have painstakingly, and at great risk, documented the testimonies of the  indigenous people who were victims of the genocide and they have been a driving force in bringing this case to court, preparing the legal case together with the survivors and the families of the victims. This is a particularly groundbreaking achievement because it has been the result of a national process within Guatemala: it has not been initiated by an international human rights court nor at the intervention of a foreign government.

Bishop Juan Gerardi from the Diocese of Quiché, who denounced the massacres, was murdered in April 1998 - two days after he published the Bishops' report on the massacres entitled "Never Again!" (Nunca Más!). 

An estimated 200,000 people were killed in Guatemala's civil war, the vast majority of them indigenous Mayans. Over the past month, survivors of massacres committed 30 years ago testified how soldiers rampaged through Mayan villages, killing those who did not flee and destroying houses and crops. Women were raped and many children saw their parents or siblings killed.  

General Ríos Montt, 86, seized power in 1982 and ruled Guatemala for 17 months during a time when the army intensified its scorched-earth operations in the Mayan highlands to flush out leftist guerrillas. A United Nations truth commission formed after the 1996 peace accord found that the state had committed “acts of genocide” against certain groups of Mayans, including the Mayan-Ixil.

Clare Dixon continued: "The Mayan-Ixil people are working hard to move forward. Now that they have received justice at long last, the healing can truly begin. CAFOD will continue to work with the Mayan communities, who today are still marginalised and are fighting for a better future, by supporting Mayan community development in the western highlands of Guatemala, the Dioceses of Verapaz, Quiché and Quetzaltenango.

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