Prosecution experts testify on psychological, cultural, statistical and gender issues

Friday, April 12 began with one of the defendants absent from the courtroom. Judge Barrios had excused Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez for the morning to receive medical treatment. His lawyer, César Calderón, was also absent but Rodríguez Sánchez was represented in court by Francisco Palomo.

The first expert witness was Nieves Gómez, a psychologist with a specialty in criminology. She testified about the psychological impacts of the war and the “harm to the mental integrity” of individuals and the Maya Ixil community. Gómez told the court she had interviewed about 100 people in several Maya Ixil communities. Those interviews highlighted the interplay and reciprocity between the individual and the group.

She mentioned several aspects of everyday life specific to the Maya Ixil community, including profound respect for nature and the dead, spiritual ceremonies for specific events, language, the special place of animals, women’s roles in transmitting culture within the family and the role of elders in regulating community norms and resolving conflicts.

Gómez then described certain traumatic occurrences and their impact on people in the community. During massacres, people were divided with men on one side and women and children on the other. The massacres were not “punctual events” and were carried out over a period of time, resulting in “extreme terror” and vulnerability among the people before they were killed.

Those who were able to flee into the mountains suffered other impacts. They lived in an “emotional climate of terror” (“clima emocional de terror”). Making the situation worse was the fact that the army forced the population to give names of guerrillas and if they did not do so, they were threatened or killed. Community members were also forced to serve in the Civil Self-Defense Patrols (Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil, PACs). This created conditions in which no one trusted each other.

Worry about the army considering them guerrillas caused communities to cease certain cultural rituals. If they had a party, the army thought they were doing so for the guerrillas, so they stopped having parties. Fire is an important element of Maya Ixil culture but in the mountains having a fire was a risk. The change in these practices led to a reconfiguration of community identities. The choice was “death or adaptation.” Similar effects were felt by those detained at military facilities, who were additionally subjected to torture and sexual violence. 

Gómez described the psychological damage these conditions had on individuals, including strong disorientation, feelings of loss of control, severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress. She read the words of a survivor, Javier Sicilia, “A victim is someone who has come back from death to a world where they don’t fully belong.” Gómez concluded that all these things led to a disintegration of the Maya Ixil population at the family and community levels.

Defense lawyer Francisco Palomo asked whether the members of the army or PACs mentioned in the interviews were indigenous or members of other ethnic groups. Gómez responded that witnesses only identified them by the clothes they wore so there was no mention of ethnicity.

At that point, Palomo left and Moisés Galindo took over as counsel for Rodríguez Sánchez. 

The next witness was Angel Valdéz, a history professor at San Carlos University. He testified about Maya Ixil culture and how that culture has been viewed throughout Guatemalan history. Valdéz concluded that attacks during the war partially destroyed Maya Ixil culture. All customs were affected but he highlighted the “cosmovision” of Maya Ixil practices based in the interconnectedness of the people, nature and the cosmos, as well as the importance of the land. Forced displacement during the war caused the people leave the land where their ancestors were and where their crops, particularly maize, had been. He said, “The land didn’t produce [during the war] because it was sad.” (“La tierra no produjo porque estaba triste.”)

Valdéz testified that the Maya Ixil culture was considered a military objective and that the army’s repression was “dynamic, complex, transcendent and explosive.” (“dinamico, complejo, transcendente, explosivo”). The attack on culture was planned, not spontaneous. It was part of an historic project to have just one language – Spanish – and one culture in Guatemala, what he termed “castillianization” (castellanización). Maya Ixil culture, including its language and clothing, was an affront to this idea. As a result, for the Maya Ixil population, culture has been “an instrument of resistance.”

Defense lawyer Galindo asked no questions but protested, without elaboration, that the tribunal still had not complied with the Constitutional Court’s ruling, which required that defense expert witnesses be presented.

Danilo Rodríguez, representing Ríos Montt, asked whether other ethnic groups had also been targeted with discrimination or only the Maya Ixil. Valdéz responded that all groups found themselves in the same situation. However, when asked if poor ladinos were also subjected to mistreatment, he distinguished them because they speak Spanish and were not blamed for the underdevelopment of the country.

Rodríguez asked if Valdéz could point to wording in a specific military plan saying the objective was to destroy the culture. Valdéz responded that they would not use that wording, nor have militaries in other genocides, like the Turkish genocide of Armenians. Rodríguez also asked about the presence of other ethnic groups living in Ixil areas and whether the insurgents also had an impact of Maya Ixil culture.

The afternoon began with expert testimony from Patrick Ball, a U.S. scientist who has worked with numerous truth commissions and international tribunals. He provided a statistical analysis of killings in the Maya Ixil area. He concluded that the Guatemalan army killed indigenous people at a much higher rate than non-indigenous people. From April 1982 until July 1983 in Chajul, Cotzal y Nebaj, the army killed 5.5% of the indigenous population and 0.7% of the non-indigenous population. This means indigenous people were killed at a rate eight times higher than the non-indigenous population. Both the percentage of indigenous people killed and the disparity between indigenous and non-indigenous deaths was higher during that period than at any other time during the war.

Ball explained that the data came from the 1981 census and studies conducted by four groups. However, their numbers are likely incomplete and there are almost certainly more deaths. So Ball used statistical analysis and probability to estimate the likely numbers.

 Broadening the time period, Ball explained that from 1979 to 1986, the army killed 18.3% of the indigenous population and 3.2% of the non-indigenous population. He compared this to acknowledged genocides like Rwanda and Srebrenica, which had murder rates of identifiable groups around 20%, and he concluded that the numbers in Guatemala were comparable.

Prosecutor Orlando López asked Ball whether genocide was committed. He responded that the numbers, which show a big difference in mortality rates between indigenous and non-indigenous populations, are consistent with the hypothesis that there was a genocide but that numbers cannot speak to intentionality (i.e. the intent to eliminate an identifiable group, which is necessary for the crime of genocide). Ball emphasized that statistical analysis is circumstantial evidence but is nonetheless essential.

Edgar Pérez, representing the victims’ group and civil party AJR, asked Ball to compare the homicide rates from 1982-83 to the present day. Ball stated that the rate for non-indigenous people was ten times less in 1982-83 than it is today. For the indigenous population, however, the rate was 100 times higher than the present day.

Defense lawyer Francisco Palomo asked where Ball he received the information that the army had committed these killings. This drew an objection but the judge permitted the question. Ball responded that witnesses had identified the army in their declarations. Palomo then asked if the number of deaths by homicide was any different than deaths of another form but the judge sustained an objection and disallowed the question.

The final witness was Spanish lawyer Paloma Soria, who testified as an expert on gender and international law. Soria stated that the attack on women was generalized and systematic and was used to exterminate the Mayan community. The use of sexual violence was used to sow terror and break the social and cultural fabric and therefore constituted genocide.

Soria outlined the way in which international tribunals have characterized gender crimes as war crimes. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II to the Conventions, which apply to internal armed conflicts, provide protections for women. She described three categories of prohibited conduct: rape and sexual violence against personal dignity, rape as torture, and sexual violence as cruel treatment.

 Citing the Furundzija case at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), Soria stated that rape is a war crime. Prohibited acts include forced prostitution, the sale of women, sexual slavery and forced nudity and dancing. The ICTY has also classified rape as torture and tribunals have defined sexual violence as cruel treatment.

 Soria also cited Rule 70 of the International Criminal Court’s Rules of Procedure and Evidence concerning sexual violence. Under the rule, consent cannot be inferred where force, threat of force, coercion or taking advantage of a coercive environment undermined the victim’s ability to give voluntary and genuine consent.

 Based on her review of reports and interviews, Soria said there was a systematic pattern of attack against Maya Ixil women. They were not isolated acts but were an integral part of the war. The army completely tolerated these acts, which showed an intention. She said, “99% of the cases of sexual violence were committed against women.” (“99% de los casos de violaciones sexuales fueron cometidos a mujeres.”) According to international jurisprudence, these acts can be indicators of genocide.

There were no questions from the lawyers for the defense.



One Comment

  1. And to think that this was only a small proportion of the atrocities committed … the same things happened in all the highland regions, in San Marcos, Huehuetenango, Solola …

Comments are closed.