An initial court hearing for former General Efraín Ríos Montt, accused of genocide, took place after ten years of work by the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR). The day after the hearing, ACOGUATE interviewed members of the AJR, accompanied by ACOGUATE since 2001.
What do you all think about the court hearing yesterday and how do you all feel now?
It’s the first time that we will be able to put people on trial for genocide here in Guatemala – the people responsible for the massacres that were committed against the indigenous Maya people. And how do we feel? On the one hand, there is much sadness because our loved ones were massacred, but we are moving forward and receiving the justice for which we have waited so long. So, we are in this struggle so that this never happens again. What we are asking for is justice and that it never happens again because what happened left us with great sadness and pain.
That is what we were feeling yesterday, those of us who were in the courtroom. I, as plaintiff and as a survivor, felt great sadness for having lost my loved ones, felt that it is he who is responsible for the massacres and it is he who is responsible for the poverty we are living in now. It was he who took the lives of children, women and the elderly. I believe that we survivors feel happy and sad at the same time, because we are remembering the past. We are not seeking vengeance. What we are seeking is justice and recognition of the truth that yes, genocide occurred in Guatemala against the indigenous Maya people.
Finally the moment that we had all been waiting for arrived after years of struggle by the survivors. We got to this point because of the constant determination and hard work of the survivors. Also, thank you for the support you all have given us, as well as the support from organizations like CALDH, but above all it is the survivors who spoke up, who opened up their hearts and their feelings to tell the truth, who brought us to this point.
We feel as if we could give eternal life to our loved ones because finally they are putting the person who is responsible for the massacres of our loved ones on trial.
However we do not agree with the decision to place him on house arrest. There is a law that prohibits that. But when these massacres occurred, these atrocious killings, there weren’t even laws prohibiting the killing of those people. Therefore, unfortunately I am very sad… they didn’t respect the lives of our loved ones.
With yesterday’s court hearing, we are finally recognizing the true history which we the indigenous Maya people have lived. We are finally revealing the truth, the suffering and the pain of the survivors.
Why do you believe this case is relevant right now, thirty years after these acts were committed?
This issue can no longer be ignored or left unresolved. He wants to appear innocent and he wants to maintain impunity. But we are carrying this fight forward. We are doing this for three generations. First, we are doing it for our loved ones who passed. I believe they are content with us and they will be able to finally be at rest. Second, we are doing this for the survivors, so their souls can be healed.
The third generation is our children who are watching the path we are taking. They will learn from us and one day when we are gone, we will have left them with the path towards justice, with these ideals. Perhaps they will never suffer how we suffered, but we hope they will have social development and especially economic development for their subsistence.
And what does this mean for Guatemala?
For Guatemala, yesterday’s event was joyous because so many people suffered during that violent time. Their rights were violated; they were threatened, manipulated and cut off from social development. There are people who lost their family but never denounced those crimes because of fear of threats and backlash. These people carried their pain and suffering on the inside and they were blind because they had nobody to guide them, to accompany them, to support them. But yesterday they were watching and they were listening and they will begin to believe in our work. We invite all who have lost their relatives to denounce the crimes and demand justice. We ask that they be put on trial and investigated! Just like the president has said, the laws must be followed, and therefore justice must be served.
For me, this is a step forward not just for Guatemala, but also at the international level because there are countries where justice has not been served, where people are suffering right now. This will give people the notion of how crimes can be denounced and justice can be found. That is the benefit… That is what Guatemala needs; a breath of fresh air and a clear vision towards the future.