The once Guatemalan military general, dictator, and de facto president, 1982 to 1983, Efrain Rios Montt, and his once chief of military intelligence, Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, are on trial for crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity.
Tears and accounts of horrific violence and murder fill the court room, as many Ixil Maya testify against Montt and Sanchez’s policy of genocide. A father from Santa Maria Nebaji told of his children’s brutal and excruciating executions. According to CNN online, “These atrocities, which took place in the remote Guatemalan town of Santa Maria Nebaj in July of 1982, have never been described in a courtroom.” Reports from newspaper which are covering the trial say many survivors of the brutalized villages and towns have said to have never talk before about this past.
During a military campaign in the early 1980’s 1,700 Ixil Mayans were brutality murdered, and many more tortured and raped. Disguised as an attack to eliminate the guerilla rebel threat in the region, Montt’s military escapade targeted the Ixil Mayan people. Many of the survivors are men, who were away working, but many of the women and children survivors are now currently testifying. The survivors recounted the horrors of watching their family members repeatedly beaten, stabbed, degraded, kidnapped, raped, and burned alive. Many of the children and mothers who survived described how they escaped by fleeing to the mountains and, as one women told, survived “like animals”. Some of the men spoke of the attacks as being planned specifically while they were far away, at work, as for them to not have a chance of protecting their families.
Their rural villages were scorched to the ground destroying not only homes, but lives, and Ixil Mayan culture. A New York Times article from April 14, 2013 by Elisabeth Malkin stated “In a study of 420 bodies exhumed from the Ixil region and presumed to date from the Ríos Montt period, experts found that almost 36 percent of those who were killed were under 18 years old, including some newborns”. Other people speculated the children were strategically targeted as a way to eliminate the future generations of Mayan people and the practices and understanding of Mayan culture.
On top of the horrific accounts by survivors, the verdict in the trial will have a global impact. Declassified CIA records show the sale of U.S. weapons by the U.S. government to the Guatemalan military even after evidence of widespread repression and excessive force against civilians by the Guatemalan government was known to the U.S. government. Under the Clinton administration, the former president apologized for U.S. involvement and aid in the Guatemalan civil war and recognized the irreparable damage to the Guatemalan and Mayan people. The UN also investigated human rights violations during this period of genocide and civil war; concluding a large percentage of crimes were committed by the state, and a shockingly high percentage were against the Mayan people alone.
Though the trial has been moving forward, Montt, 86, and Sanchez have many weeks of testimony and trial days ahead of them and must wait to hear their fate on the charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.