The following is a narrative account by a current NISGUA accompanier who was present at the burial of the remains of eight people from Alta Verapaz, disappeared by the Guatemalan military in 1982. These eight individuals are among the 565 that have been uncovered by the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) during exhumations in the former Military Zone 21, now known as the Regional Command Center for Peacekeeping Training – CREOMPAZ.
A physical international presence is used as one strategy to dissuade threats against organizations and individuals that work against impunity and seek justice for state violence. NISGUA, in collaboration with ACOGUATE, continues to provide international accompaniment to the Association of Families of the Detained-Disappeared Guatemala (FAMDEGUA) as they join the Public Prosecutor’s office and other human rights organizations as co-plaintiffs in trying former military for crimes against humanity.
For more background on the CREOMPAZ case, read NISGUA’s in-depth report. Regularly check our blog and follow us on Twitter @NISGUA_Guate for updates on the case.
On August 30, the International Day Against Forced Disappearance, I attended a burial ceremony where the remains of eight people discovered in nearby mass graves were reunited with family members for a dignified burial. They are among the 45,000 people disappeared by the Guatemalan military during the internal armed conflict and among the hundreds of skeletons that have been exhumed from clandestine graves located within the confines of CREOMPAZ.
Since excavations began in 2012, members of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG) have unearthed four mass graves within the base, filled with skeletons bound by blindfolds and ropes. Many of the remains show signs of death due to blunt force, torture, and execution-style shootings. Through DNA testing, FAFG has been able to identity more than 120 people, with ongoing analysis for the rest. These exhumations, together with further investigations by the Public Prosecutor’s office, FAMDEGUA, and the Mutual Support Group (GAM) led to the arrest of several high-profile former military officials this past January on charges of crimes against humanity and forced disappearances committed between 1981 – 1988. The CREOMPAZ case marks the largest case of forced disappearance in the history of Latin America.
The burial took place in a small cathedral in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. Walking in, I found myself alone in the pastoral social, a small room in the parish with eight wooden caskets. One of the caskets was smaller than the rest and draped in white cloth. At the base of each, surrounded by pine needles, rested plaques with the name of each person who was disappeared. At first, the caskets were empty, but soon held the remains of Guatemalans whom the army disappeared over thirty years ago.