Day 8 of the Rios Montt genocide trial had ended close to 8 pm with document review and challenges. Day 9 began at 8.30 am on Wednesday, with a plea from defense attorney Cesar Calderon for more “normal” court hours, particularly in light of the advanced ages of the defendants and various other commitments. Judge Barrios responded that the tribunal would take into account the petition, and assured that the late ending the previous day was exceptional.
Eleven witnesses on the ninth day of the Rios Montt genocide trial provided further testimony regarding the impact of operations conducted by the Guatemalan army in 1982 and 1983 on the civilian populations in the Ixil region. They described the deaths and disappearances of members of their families and communities; the impact on children; forced displacement into the mountains, refugee camps, or local military installations; and forced participation in the civil self-defense patrols (or PACs). Several witnesses also described subsequent exhumations undertaken in their communities that uncovered the remains of their family members.
Jacinto Lupamac Gomez was the first witness to describe forced adoptions and assimilation after soldiers killed his parents and two siblings, leaving him and two younger brothers as orphans. Lupamac reported that members of the Guatemalan military arrived by helicopter in Tucalama, Vijolon I, Santa Maria Nebaj, Quiche, in July 1982, and shot his parents, brother and sister to death, among others. Soldiers subsequently took Lupamac, then 8-years-old, and his two brothers, then 1- and 6-years-old, by helicopter to Huehuetenango, where they were given new identities by Spanish-speaking people who adopted them.
Twenty-two years passed before Lupamac and his brothers were reunited with aunts and uncles who survived the attacks on their community. In the intervening years, they lost their ability to speak Ixil, and no longer knew the customs of their community of origin. On cross-examination, defense attorney Calderon asked him: “But your life has been successful, no?”
Several witnesses described being kept under the control of the military after forcible displacement in Quiche, either on military installations or through forced conscription into PACs. Elena Brito, for instance, testified that after her 14-year-old daughter was killed, and her husband disappeared, following an attack on their village of Palop on August 15, 1982, she fled to the mountains with her two surviving children. However, soldiers captured them there and took them to the military installation at La Pista, where they were detained for the following year.
Three witnesses described forced conscription. Nicolas Toma Matom testified that he was required to participate in the PACs. He was conscripted into a PAC after relocating to San Juan Cotzal following the killing by soldiers of his mother, father, 10-year-old brother, and approximately 30 others, and the disappearance of his two 4- and 5-year-old daughters, during an April 15, 1982 attack in Villa Hortensia II, San Juan Cotzal. Two witnesses from Ilom – Francisco Guzman Ramirez and Pedro Caba Caba – testified that after a military attack killed many in their families and communities, they were forced to join the PACs, where they cut down cornfields and were forced to serve as human shields for the military. In response to a question from defense attorney Calderon – “Why was it necessary to patrol?” – Caba responded that he joined the PAC under force “to save our lives … we were afraid they would kill us.”
Juan Lopez Lux described the deaths of three of his children as a result of Guatemalan military action in late 1982. He recounted that, on December 28, 1982, in Villa Hortensia Antigua, San Juan Cotzal, Quiche, the military and PACs came into their village, set the houses on fire, and began shooting those who attempted to flee, killing his 5-year-old son. Lopez said that the military continued to pursue them in the mountains, conducting bombing raids and causing repeated forced displacement. His 11-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son subsequently died from hunger and susto (terror or shock) in the mountains.
Francisco Velasco Marroquin described a day, in August 1982, when “hundreds” of soldiers arrived in San Francisco Javier, Nebaj, Quiche, and began a bombing campaign, shot people, and burned houses. Soldiers killed 12 of his family members and 21 other community members. He and others were forcibly displaced into the surrounding mountains.
Manuel Perez de Leon testified that, in May 1982, soldiers shot to death his mother and uncle as the three of them attempted to run from military gunfire in Tuqanal, Santa Maria Nebaj, Quiche. He, his father, and grandparents fled to the mountains where his father and grandfather died from “sadness and hunger.” Feliciana Raymundo Gonzales also testified regarding the death of a family member, her husband, of sickness and hunger after being forced to flee Tujolom, also in Santa Maria Nebaj, Quiche.
Cecilia Ramirez Raymundo recounted the disappearance of her husband, Diego Raymundo de Leon, after he was taken away by members of the military during an attack on Sumal Grande, Santa Maria Nebaj, Quiche, in which their houses were burned and their crops destroyed; she was then forced to flee into the mountains with her children, who were 2- and 4-years-old.
With scores of witnesses having testified, Judge Barrios cut some testimony short on the ninth day, including a witness who wanted to address further the 1983 death of her mother. The prosecution announced it was approaching the end of their fact witnesses. Attorneys for the civil parties indicated that some pre-announced fact witnesses are unable to appear due to illness. In response, Judge Barrios urged that the final witnesses make themselves available, as required in the interests of justice and judicial economy. At the end of the day, Judge Barrios also indicated, without elaboration, that Day 10 would include some testimony via video-conference.
She further reported that a defense expert witness – identified by the media as Efrain Giron – indicated that he would be unable to testify as it would interfere with his government job, but that the defense is asking that his report nonetheless be admitted into evidence. Copies of the report were presented to the prosecution and civil parties for their review.