As the genocide trial continues to unfold before High Risk Court “B” in Guatemala, a mass burial of 172 Maya Ixil victims of the armed conflict took place in the village of Santa Avelina, San Juan Cotzal, Quiché, in the heart of the Maya Ixil region of Guatemala. Human rights lawyers have confirmed to International Justice Monitor that at least one of the survivors from Santa Avelina is a witness in the ongoing cases against Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.
The victims were from Santa Avelina, one of the “model villages” created by the Guatemalan army during the internal armed conflict to control the population it suspected of working with the guerrillas. One survivor, José Ceto, told El Periódico that the model villages were in fact concentration camps because people were not allowed to enter or leave without official authorization.
“Many people died of hunger, of treatable illnesses, but they were not allowed to go to San Juan Cotzal to get medicine,” José Ceto said.
The Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG), a non-governmental organization that works with victims’ associations, other civil society organizations, and the Attorney General’s Office to locate, exhume, and identify victims of enforced disappearance, conducted exhumations in Santa Avelina in 2014. The FAFG uncovered the remains of 172 people, among them 34 infants (zero to three years of age) and 20 children (four to 12 years of age).
FAFG also identified diverse causes of death of the victims, including hunger, disease, and physical forms of trauma, including bullet wounds caused by army munitions. FAFG was able to identify 41 of the victims using DNA evidence. Several others were identified based on their clothing or other identifying markers.
The human remains were returned the families and finally laid to rest in a mass burial ceremony that took place on November 30 and December 1, 2017.
Jo-Marie Burt is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Latin American Studies at George Mason University. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Paulo Estrada is a human rights activist, archaeology student at San Carlos University, and civil party in the Military Diary case.