The eighth day of the Rios Montt genocide trial began with a nearly full courtroom ahead of the testimonies of indigenous women subjected to rape by the Guatemalan military between 1982 and 1983; their supporters attended in large numbers. Before the day’s proceedings began, supporters hung banners outside the courthouse and placed photos of women killed during the years of the armed conflict along an altar of dried flowers, with candles and the word “Justicia,” or Justice, spelled out. Later in the day, a memorial quilt was hung up in front of the courthouse, each square recounting the story of an individual war victim.
A total of 13 fact witnesses testified, including 12 women. Due to the sensitive nature of the testimony, and concerns presented by the civil parties, Judge Barrios instructed the press not to photograph the faces or publish names of those testifying regarding rapes. (Here, they are identified by initials only.) Ten female witnesses testified covering their heads and faces with rebozos (brightly colored swatches of woven fabric) to protect their privacy as they recounted rape and sexual assault. The mood in the courtroom was somber, with many observers seen wiping away tears or otherwise overtly responding. Attorney Hilda Elizabeth Pineda represented the Public Ministry for most of the day.
Several women testified to the rape of young women and girls—themselves or their relatives. EPS testified that the military took her and her mother to the Tzalbal military installation in May 1982 when she was 12 years old. Soldiers tied her hands and feet, stuffed her mouth with cloth, forced her to watch the rape of her mother, and then raped her. Afterward, she said, “the blood ran out of me” (la sangre corria de mi). Her mother died as a result of her treatment at the military base.
MMR testified that, in 1983, soldiers burned the houses in her village; and then three soldiers raped her and 12-year-old daughter. MMR was six months pregnant and miscarried about two weeks later. MBP wept as she testified to a 1982 attack in Xemamatze, Santa Maria Nebaj, Quiche, in which members of the Guatemalan army and the civil self-defense patrols set her home on fire, beat her and her children, and sexually assaulted her 18-year-old daughter. She said: “They treated us like we were animals… and she was so young.”
AL testified that soldiers who accused her and her husband of being guerrillas “disappeared” her husband, and then took her to the Sinai military installation for ten days in 1982. There, she recounted, she was tortured, raped by three men, given very little food, and kept in a “calabozo” (a hole dug in the ground, used as a sort of jail cell).
Several of the women described being raped at the military installation at San Juan Cotzal, Quiche. MCR testified that in March 1982, when she was 16 years old, she and other women from her town were taken by soldiers to the local Catholic church, where she was blindfolded and raped repeatedly over a two-hour period, during which she could hear “so many others screaming.” Similarly, CTPL testified that on May 15, 1982, when she was 17 years old, she and her mother were taken to the detachment, where they were kept in calabozos. She was taken out of the calabozo and raped and beaten by three soldiers.
APR, from Chajul, weeped as she testified that in March 1982, soldiers came to her home and took away her husband, before returning and raping her outside of the house. The soldiers left her one-month old baby behind and set the house on fire, burning the infant alive. Crying throughout her testimony, JST testified that soldiers came to her home in April 1982, took her, her mother, and other women to a room in the local parish building where the soldiers tied them up, beat the, and raped them.
CVG wept loudly as she described being captured with her daughter by soldiers who came to Amajchel, San Gaspar Chajul, Quiche, after they fled to the mountains. She said that the soldiers raped her, beat her, stabbed her, leaving scars, and killed her child. Later, they forced her to prepare food for the soldiers.
Prosecution witness “CVG”. Video from Skylight Pictures.
Another woman, MRC, repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to avoid publicly stating her name for the record, indicating that she had already provided it through identification documents presented to the court. Eventually, she testified that she and two female relatives were taken to the Nebaj military installation, tied up and beaten. She indicated that she was hit in the head with a gun, and that they poked her in her pregnant belly with daggers, telling her that if she did not provide them information, they would kill her. When asked if she was raped, she said “no, they just beat us badly.”
Pedro Pacheco Bop, the first and only male witness of the day, testified that the military killed seven members of his family in the massacre of 96 people in the village of Aldea Chel, San Gaspar Chajul, El Quiché; he was his family’s only survivor. Pacheco testified that soldiers gathered villagers together at the church, took them to a bridge, and killed them with machetes, throwing their bodies in the water below and creating “a river of blood.”
Two other female witnesses testified regarding the deaths of their husbands at the hands of soldiers who entered their towns in 1982 and 1983.
Few questions were presented to today’s witnesses by either of the defense attorneys. Marco Cornejo, the attorney for Rios Montt, asked the first witness (a man) a question regarding the ethnicity of the individuals responsible for massacre described; while Cesar Calderon, the attorney for Rodriguez Sanchez, asked the third witness (a woman) about the ethnicity of the men involved in her rape. Calderon strongly objected at one point when the judge sustained an objection by the civil party regarding a question previously asked and answered, stating: “there is no way for the defense to ask questions”; the judge responded “let’s move on” and called the next witness.
At the end of the day, attorneys examined for several hours documents to be introduced into evidence by the prosecution. The defense objected to four of the evidentiary proposals of the prosecution: four chapters of the UN report of the truth commission (Comision de Esclarecimiento Historico), with the defense challenging the concept of genocide as defined within the report; the military operational plan Sofia, which had been leaked to a non-governmental organization and was not certified by the Ministry of Defense; a counter-insurgency manual (manual de guerra contrasubversiva), which also did not bear the certification of the Ministry of Defense; and an expert report of Hector Rosada on genocide. After deliberation, the judges identified that the admissibility of the evidence would be decided later in the proceedings (so that, for instance, a decision on the admissibility of the expert report will be made when Rosada himself comes to testify, and decisions will be made regarding the other items prior to the end of the trial).
I’ve now watched several days of testimony, and “horrific” is almost too mild a word to describe it…
The witnesses (over 100 now) have been Mayan survivers of the Guatemalan army’s “scorched earth” policy during Rios Montt’s presidency. Most speak a Mayan dialect that is translated into Spanish. Some are remarkably stolid. Many others are frightened, shaking and crying.
Shawn has covered much of this, and I will only add a small selection from my notes:
A Mayan woman walked to the stand using a cane. She said that when she was 9 years old, the army came into her village and killed all the adults with machetes. They threw the bodies into a deep river gorge, then made all the children strip naked and threw them in after them, alive. She broke her leg in the fall, and seeing she wasn’t dead, the soldiers shot at her from above, hitting her in the foot. She was able to survive by hiding between boulders.
A Mayan man testified that in April, 1982, when he was 16, soldiers were coming into the village and he was able to hide where he couldn’t be seen. He said the soldiers were murdering all the people with machetes. They killed his father, his mother, his 14 and 2 year old brothers, and his 80 year old grandmother. They killed all the farm animals and burned all the houses. The next day, the survivors came back to look for their loved ones and found 90 bodies. Later, he and others hid in the mountains for two years.
A Mayan woman testified that in 1983, soldiers came into her town and took her and her older sister to the church in San Juan Coatzal. She said many other women were being held there, and were screaming while they were being raped. She and her sister were raped and held for two days. Crying, she said when released she went to look for her mother and brother, but never saw them again.
A Mayan woman testified that in 1983, the army burned their village and all their crops. Many fled into the mountains while the soldiers were shooting at them. They were hiding in the mountains for three years with nothing, and were sick and starving to death. She said the youngest and oldest died first. Crying, she said her three children, ages 4, 7, and 9 all died because she wasn’t able to help them. She said she wasn’t even able to bury them…
Charles Thomas, Atty.
International Observer for the Nahual Foundation
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