The following are translations from the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), plaintiff in the genocide case against former dictator Ríos Montt and his Head of Military Intelligence, Rodríguez Sánchez. CALDH and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) are currently participating in the closed-door retrial of Ríos Montt and Rodríguez Sánchez for crimes committed in the Ixil region during the early 1980s. While the courts authorized a closed-door retrial for Ríos Montt based on health concerns, plaintiffs argue that Rodríguez Sánchez should be held to account in a public trial. Read the summary reports written by CALDH here

URGENT: Court authorizes a provisional injunction in the case for genocide
Trial is temporarily suspended for violating Constitutional guarantees

The Court of Appeals granted a provisional court injunction in favor of the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) and the Center for Human Rights Legal Action (CALDH), plaintiff organizations in the genocide retrial. The trial is taking place behind closed doors and, according the Court of Appeals, is violating Constitutional rights.

During the retrial, the surviving victims and their lawyers warned the High-Risk Crimes Court “B” that carrying out this trial in the manner in which it is being carried out, is illegal. They asked for the separation of the two cases on multiple occasions, respecting due process in citing Article 485 of the Criminal Code. In paragraph four, it indicates that trials being carried out under “safety measures” [such as is the case with Ríos Montt], should be carried out independent of any other trial.

They explained to the Court that holding two trials simultaneously – one trial being granted “security measures” [and therefore, behind closed doors] and the other, an “ordinary” trial [and therefore, public], violates the Constitutional guarantees of the victims. As set out in Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution, 356 of the Criminal Procedure Code, and 63 of the Laws governing the Judiciary, it is a serious error trying both of the accused behind closed doors, without media presence. The victims of genocide, as well as Guatemalan society and the rest of humanity, are entitled to attend a public trial for José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez.

Plaintiff organizations also warned that this trial could be annulled on procedural grounds for having violated both the rights of victims and Rodríguez Sánchez, in not complying with the rights to a public trial. They expressed their opposition to the trial being carried out in violation of national law, international conventions, and human rights treaties.

The first genocide trial was held in Guatemala in 2013. In a public trial, Guatemalan society and the whole world witnessed the constitutional guarantees be upheld for all parties in the case. This public trial led to a conviction. We hold true that this retrial is the result of an illegal resolution by three Constitutional Court judges in May 2013, who acted in violation of the law in order to backtrack in the process.

In spite of everything, the surviving victims and plaintiffs are willing to prove once more than genocide was committed; however, like the process in 2013, they insist that the trial take place within a framework of the rule of law. Therefore, we ask the Court of Appeals to rule definitively in favor of the survivors.

Guatemala 4 May, 2016.
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

Call-out to attend a public hearing:
To explain the arguments for why the two cases for genocide should be separated.
May 5, 2016
First Court of Appeals
10th floor, Torre de Tribunales (Guatemala City courthouse)
11:00 AM

 

 “They always took children to the military base.” – The Army captured children

Day 17. Children of the Ixil area, like in other regions, were victims of a military strategy that included torture, cruel and inhumane treatment, separation from their families, and forced removal from their homes and immediate families – to which many never returned.

This is the case for one of the witnesses who testified in front of the Sentencing Tribunal for High-Risk Crimes “B.” He explained how, as a child, he had to flee with his family to the mountains, walking long distances from village to village, fleeing as the army attacked them. They were captured, however, after several months and him and his sister were separated from their mother. After the Army had taken his father, he was never seen again.

He was taken with his sister to the military base, where they were treated badly by soldiers who forced them to do hard labor. Emotionally, the witness told the court that there were many children at the military base, and soldiers were always brining in more.

He testified that they were later sent to an orphanage that had opened in Nebaj by nuns, who treated them well, allowing them to study, and giving them food to eat and a bed to sleep in. They spent more than five years there until their mother found them.

The three witnesses [who testified today] agree that what they experienced was genocide. These accounts show that Ixil children were displaced, during which time they lost their identity, contact with their family, and without the important community links to the Mayan worldview. “I want justice for my family,” concludes one of the witnesses, while another states, “… thank God we are alive.”

Witnesses also expressed their frustration at this new trial. “…If I have to go to another court, I’m going to give my testimony because I do not want my children to suffer what I went through,” said one witness.

The court adjourned the genocide trial hearing until tomorrow, April 27, 2016 at 8:30am in the Torre de Tribunales (Guatemala City courthouse).

Guatemala, April 26, 2016.
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

“…They threw me from a bridge when I was a child…” – Horror stories from the massacre of Chel, Chajul

Day 14. Read the full account here. 

 

“They broke the stones to grind corn…” – Tribunal hears testimonies in Nebaj, Quiché

Day 13. Read the full account here.

 

Expert witnesses attest to the deaths of Ixil people during forced displacement by the Army

Day 11. Over the course of the day in the closed-door hearing for genocide and crimes against humanity, the Sentencing Tribunal heard from five expert witnesses in anthropological sciences. In their reports, the witnesses proved that forced displacement of the civilian non-combatant population took place and had deadly consequences on communities.

Displaced to the mountains due to attacks from the army, communities were exposed to hunger, sickness, cold, fear and other inhumane conditions, which led to the death of men, women, boys, girls, and the elderly.

The expert witnesses described the process of handing over human remains to the families. After carrying out an analysis of the bones recovered by the Forensic and Anthropology Association of Guatemala (FAFG), they are returned to the families to be buried according to their traditions. On several occasions, some of the bones have been identified through DNA samples taken from the saliva of family members.

The Sentencing Tribunal will continue the trial tomorrow, Wednesday, April 13 at 8:30AM on the 15th floor of the Torre de Tribunales (Guatemala City courthouse).

Guatemala April 12, 2016
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

645 death certificates for the victims of genocide, decrees, and other proclamations by the Army

Day 10. Today, as part of the documentary evidence, the Sentencing Tribunal accepted 645 death certificates for victims of the genocide in the Ixil area. With these certificates, the Public Prosecutor proves the existence of the people who were executed by repressive state forces. The certificates show that people of all ages were killed – ranging from children to the elderly.

Other documents presented during the day include the government decrees in which states of siege were declared throughout the country, showing that they were enacted in response to the military doctrine Victoria 82. Other declarations made by the Army were also presented as evidence, including the declaration of the coup d’état on March 23, 1982.

Four expert witnesses also ratified the 19 testimonies of forensic anthropologists, who explained to the Sentencing Tribunal the circumstances in which many of the bodies were found.

The trial will continue Tuesday, April 12 at 8:30 AM on the 15th floor of the Torre de Tribunales (Guatemala City courthouse).

Guatemala, April 11, 2016
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

Videos from the time period show the conceptualization of ethnic groups as a problem that affects the identity of the country 

Day 9. Today, videos were presented that contain interviews from 1982 that were conducted between international journalists and José Efraín Ríos Montt, Francisco Luis Gordillo Martínez and Horacio Egberto Maldonado Shaad. These interviews reveal that the government of Ríos Montt saw ethnic groups as a problem that affected the identity of the country and had a strategy to “nationalize” the Maya people. The interviews also bring to light the chain of command that existed and Ríos Montt’s control over the Army, as well as the counter-insurgent policies implemented by his government, the covering up of information on human rights violations committed by state security forces, and the policies of the government towards the international community.

These videos are of incredible importance. In his own words, [former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt] says, “If I cannot control the Army, what am I doing here?” These types of expression confirm the violence that the survivors have denounced.

Three expert witnesses in forensic anthropology gave testimony as to the condition in which many bodies were found – many with skull fractures and other injuries from sharp objects. The bodies of ten men were found with bullet wounds. Three bodies were found in two clandestine graves in the community of Sajsibán. Of the three, one showed signs of trauma associated with bullet wounds and another had a trauma to the skull.

The Sentencing Tribunal adjourns the hearing until Monday, April 11 at 8:30 AM on the 15th floor of the Torre de Tribunales (Guatemala City courthouse)

Guatemala April 7, 2016
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

One of the findings during an exhumation in the Ixil area: An unborn child in the womb of its mother 

Day 8. Today, three forensic anthropologists ratified their forensic work carried out in the Ixil area. One of the principal findings during an exhumation was the body of a woman who still carried an unborn fetus in her womb. Other bodies of children between 0 and 4 years old were also found, confirming that children were the victims of indiscriminate attacks by the Army.

The bodies of elderly people were also found showing no scientific cause for death, but instead, died because of the conditions they were subjected to while fleeing from the Army.

The expert witnesses explained to the Tribunal the scientific process used to conduct a biological profile of each body recovered during different exhumations of clandestine cemeteries in the Ixil area, corresponding to the period of the de facto government José Efraín Ríos Montt.

The hearing continues tomorrow, April 7, at 8 AM.

Guatemala, April 6, 2016
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

Forensic science provides important elements of proof during the genocide trial 

Day 7. Forensic science continues to provide important elements to help prove what survivors have denounced for more than three decades. Today, the Sentencing Tribunal heard from three expert witnesses in forensic anthropology, who ratified 16 reports from the Ixil region.

From a scientific standpoint, the three witnesses from the Forensic and Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala (FAFG) and the Human Rights Office of the Archbishop of Guatemala (ODHAG) explained to the Tribunal the methodology used during each exhumation and the methodology used for identifying human remains that were found in clandestine graves in the Ixil region.

The scientific forensic proof presented during the closed-door hearing is fundamental in verifying the testimonies of the genocide survivors.

The debate continues tomorrow, April 6, at 8 AM.

Guatemala, April 5, 2016
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

Despite provisional court challenge, genocide trial continues 

Day 6. Today, the genocide trial continued after a three-day pause, after a provisional court ruling was made that had no suspending effects. The resolution emitted by the High-Risk Court of Appeals ordered the Sentencing Tribunal to make its own decision whether or not international accompaniers and observers would be allowed in the courtroom.

The Sentencing Tribunal opted to continue the hearing without accompaniment, expelling the international observers and accompaniers who provide accompaniment to the victims present in the trial. The court ruled that only victims can be inside the courtroom in the closed-door hearing. Ríos Montt’s defense lawyer requested that the Tribunal suspend the debate given the provisional court challenge – the presiding Judge denied this request and continued with the trial.

Today, three forensic witnesses ratified 13 forensic anthropology reports from the Ixil region, coinciding with previous experts that demonstrated patterns of behavior within the Armed Forces.

The trial will continue tomorrow, April 5, at 10 AM.

Guatemala, April 4, 2016
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

Internationally-recognized anthropologists ratify the traumas experienced by victims before and during death 

Day 5. Today, during the trial for genocide, the Sentencing Tribunal heard from three internationally-recognized forensic anthropologists who have presented expert testimony at the International Criminal Court, Department of Justice in Honduras, and the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

The expert witnesses ratified 21 field reports from exhumations in different areas of the Ixil region. They reached the conclusion that the human remains found at these sites showed evidence of traumas both ante- and post-mortem, meaning the victims experienced violence both before and during their deaths.

These expert witnesses continue to back up what survivors have denounced for years. Their testimonies confirm the existence of mass graves and a diversity of people found in them.

The trial has been adjourned until Monday, April 4 at 8:30 AM in the Torre de Tribunales (Guatemala City courthouse).

Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

Forensic anthropologists confirm the presence of infants, children, and the elderly in mass graves

Day 4. On the fourth day of the closed-door trial for genocide, plaintiffs and defense attorneys listened to explanations given by the experts in forensic anthropology who carried out exhumations in the Ixil area; they brought to light the horrors committed by the Army of Guatemala against the civilian and non-combatant population.

An expert report presented details the exhumations that were carried out in nine clandestine graves that held the human remains of 78 victims from the community of Chel, Chajul, Quiché. The remains were identified as belonging to fetuses, boys, girls, adolescents, youth, and adults.

Scientific studies proved that the death of victims was caused by wounds from firearms and stab wounds in the neck and other head injuries.

The first grave held the remains of 22 people. There were signs in many of the graves that the victims were from the same families. The bodies had no clothing and were covered by plastic sheets or pieces of cloth. One of the fundamental elements to identify the person’s gender was the earrings that the women wore that were characteristic of the Ixil or Chel regions. Some of the fetuses were found inside the pelvic region of the people identified as their mothers, leading forensic anthropologists to conclude that the women were pregnant [at the time they were killed].

The expert reports confirmed what survivors have said for years. Survivors testified that members of the Guatemalan Army – operating out of the military base La Perla – came to the community and gathered people into the local Parish hall. The Army divided the men from the women, and proceeded to rip off the women’s clothing and rape them. Afterwards, they were taken in groups of five to the Chel river, in which they were executed with a machete and/or firearm. Their bodies were later thrown into the river.

After carrying out executions, members of the army proceeded to burn the homes and crops. Survivors who fled or who were not present at the moment of the violence were able to recover some of the bodies and bury them in different graves.

Experts in forensic anthropology are fundamental in the case for genocide; through studies carried out by professional and impartial men and women, they are able to scientifically prove to the court what happened in a given moment and location.

Guatemala, March 28, 2016
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH

 

Closed-door hearing begins in the genocide trial
Plan Sofía is presented, confirming the chain of command 

Day one. With the hit of a gavel, the Sentencing Tribunal for High-Risk Crimes Court “B” opened the trial against José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, accused of genocide and crimes against humanity committed against the Maya Ixil people.

The trial began in spite of the warnings by victims and plaintiffs that proceeding with two trials simultaneously violated the constitutional guarantees of the victims established in Articles 29 and 30 of the Constitution, as well as Article 356 of the Criminal Code and Article 63 of the laws governing the Judiciary. [While Ríos Montt was granted the rights to a closed-door trial for health reasons, both men are being tried together. Plaintiffs argue that Rodríguez Sánchez should maintain his right to a public trial.] The court is committing a serious error proceeding in this way, without the presence of the media. Both José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez and the victims of genocide, and Guatemala society in general should have the right to be present for a public trial.

The presiding judge expelled the press and other media from the room, making it impossible for the general public to know what is happening in the trial against the former Head of Intelligence Rodríguez Sánchez.

Over the course of the day, more than 100 pages of the Operation Plan Sofía were read. Between pages four and five, under point “G.12 – Coordination instructions,” it says: “The lives of women and children should be respected where possible.”

Telegrams that were part of Operation Plan Sofía were read aloud, proving that real-time information about what was occurring on the ground during military operations was passed on to the Military High Command through intelligence, proving that the high command had knowledge of what was happening.

Tomorrow, it is expected that Plan Sofía will continue to be read aloud on the 15th floor of the Torre de Tribunales (Guatemala City courthouse) at 8:30 AM.

Guatemala, March 16, 2016
Association for Justice and Reconciliation – AJR
Center for Human Rights Legal Action – CALDH