NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity. See our archive of live Twitter updates at @NISGUA_Guate.
Read our previous summaries: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4/5, Day 6 and full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.
Today 12 people gave their testimony, bringing the number of eyewitnesses who have gone before the court to a total of 73.
One of today’s testimonies was that of Tiburcio Utuy of the Assocation for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), during which he shared the massacres he witnessed, his experience of mass displacement and the torture he suffered at the hands of the military when he was captured. For years, Don Tiburcio has shared his testimony with human rights observers accompanying the AJR in the Ixil region. Today he shared it with the world.
Here we share the rush transcript of the testimony given by Don Tiburcio. Any errors in transcription or translation are our own.
[Trigger warning: This testimony includes acts of extreme violence and torture.]
Can you tell the court why you were displaced in ’82 and in ’83 in the mountains?
I’m going to explain clearly what happened in Xix. There were three massacres in our community. The first was on January 1, when five families were killed in Xibanaj, near the village. The second was February 16, where four families were killed, a total of 22 people. At that time, we prepared to take care of ourselves so that we wouldn’t be killed. This is when we established watches to see where the military entered. I was on watch and saw when the military came running. After I saw them, I had a loudspeaker to tell the people to leave the houses. That is when I began to run. There were two of us and one was elderly. I told him to go up and tell the people and I went down to tell people in the first houses in the community. I went to the auxiliary and I saw when military entered the first house, when they surrounded the first house.
There were families going to visit that woman’s house, but the military was able to see the two women, one up ahead and the other right on the road. They caught up to the first woman and they macheted her in the head and they dragged her like a dog. They took her to a house and surrounded it. The family was there wailing. The other woman went running and the military caught up to her at her house. They took her out of the house and put her on the patio in front of the house. The military had her mother in law… They tied her up by her hands and feet. They knocked her down and opened up her stomach. She was pregnant and they took the baby from the womb. When they took the baby out they threw it against a tree in front of the house. We felt a great pain, what guilt did the baby have still in the womb of the mother?
I saw this. They burned the first house and burned the whole family inside. There was screaming inside, the children, the women, they were burned to ash. Later, when the military finished killing the pregnant women, they came down to the catechist’s house. He thought they wouldn’t kill him and so he started to pray inside his house. But then they put the mayor inside and they shot at the house killing the whole family, his whole family. They killed him. After they died they took their things, clothes and bags, and they put them on top of the people and set it afire. They were in a clay house, so the house didn’t catch fire, just the people with their things on top of them, their blankets, caught fire. They were scorched. There were two or three people. Eight or nine days after February 16, the military commissioner was there, he thought because he was a commissioner they wouldn’t kill him so he didn’t leave his house. He was there with his brother, another ex-commissioner, and there were around 5 families in the same little place. The military killed everyone, they were scorched, around 15 people, the family of the military commissioner.
We, the population, saw that we had to withdraw to the valley behind the community. We stayed in a large creek for 15 days, sending lookouts to see where military entered and also to check on the food that was left because they burned the houses. They destroyed the corn, the animals, the cows, sheep, dogs, and chickens. We stayed in the creek for 15 days. The military started burning the woods in various places so that the fire would kill the people. They thought we were still there, but we had retreated to the creek to later move to the large river, Xalbal. We crossed to the other side of the river to defend ourselves. We were there 15 days thinking, What are we going to do? Should we go to the other side of the river or go back to the community? But then we saw everyone from Xonca and other communities where there were massacres. They killed people there, I don’t know how many. In Pulai they filled the church and machine gunned them. They killed the people and the survivors came in groups. There were other groups from Latista, near Nebaj, who also came.
We were a large group of people and each community had their leaders, that is to say their mayors, their committees, their religious leaders. We communicated with the leaders to see how many people there were in that place. The people started to wash their clothes and dry them in the sun. The military flew overhead and detected them. They started circling where we were. Another helicopter came and circled where we were. They started circling and circling. There were now three. …One passed and then another and another and then they started bombing. Two or three planes and then they left. Then a helicopter started machine gunning us. There was such a noise we thought we would all die. But thanks to God, God defended us in that moment. The bombs and the machine gun bullets went to one side of us.
I tell you judges, I’m not lying. We couldn’t enter into the community because they were going to say, Why did you flee? We met as leaders, as survivors, and we communicated to see what we would do. We decided to leave because maybe they will come over land and kill us all. Thank God a fog came down and covered the mountain where we were and we were able to leave around 4 or 4:30 in the afternoon. We went up and then down and we arrived at Sumalito around 10pm. When we got there the people were still awake, they hadn’t gone to sleep yet, and they gave us a place to stay for a few hours. They said you can only stay here for a short while because if you stay here too long they might kill us too. They gave us permission to rest a few hours.
The next day we went down to the river. It was big. We had to cross two mountains but we gathered the huge group of people. We were 1,999 families. We were many people and we came from many places. That is why I said each group had their leaders, to guide us, to help us decide where to go. We crossed the river around three or four in the morning. It was hard to get all of the people, women, children, elderly, and pregnant women, across the river because they all had to cross using the pieces of wood in the river. We were thinking about what would we do when a helicopter came. They didn’t see us because we hid in a creek again. That’s how we left our community.
Later, at about three in the afternoon, the fog came again and we left. We had to walk five days to get to Santa Clara, Santa Ana, Las Canoas, Nuevo Punto, Xecol. With this quantity of people, each of the languages searched for each other. Those of us who were Quiche had to go with other Quiches, from Santa Clara. That’s how we divided up the people in the mountains. There were lots of problems because of food. There was no corn to buy. We asked the leaders of each community to get together to talk, for example leaders from Santa Clara, from Cabaj, Santa Ana… we had to meet with all the community leaders so that we could talk about the needs we had for food. We decided on 1-2 lbs of corn for each family and then we planted our corn…then the people located themselves by community. That was our departure but it was hard. We had to cross rivers, ravines, mountains.
…There was great suffering. Little by little we planted crops…We were able to plant malanga, sugar cane, yucca, guiskil, to keep ourselves fed in those places. We suffered greatly, there was nothing to eat. During those months in 1982, we had to eat…sweet potatoes…The cold in the mountains made us sick, gave us coughs, measles, diarrhea. Many children died in the mountains. The suffering [continued] when the military came in 1983 to Santa Clara. They camped out in bases in 5 places and they created a military fence around the people so we couldn’t get out. At that moment the food ran out, we didn’t even have wild grasses. We went out to get some handfuls of sugar cane…We weren’t thinking that we might be ambushed. I walked calmly ahead, and all of a sudden the military grabbed me by the neck. I screamed. The other two turned back and ran back to the community. I said, don’t hit me, don’t kill me. They took me. They had burned everything in Santa Clara.
They started to interview me and ask me a lot of things. They asked me about the guerrilla. They asked if I knew who they were. As a campesino, I wasn’t one of them, I’m telling the truth. I was with the people who were hiding. They asked where the camps are.
I said, “What do you mean? I don’t know.”
“Yes you know. If you wont say, we’ll have to force you.”
“How can I say, I can’t tell lies.”
“You have to tell us.”
“I don’t know.”
They hung me, they hung me from a stick, I was hanging and I don’t know if it was minutes or hours because I lost feeling. Later, when I came to I was on the ground. Then my eyes lit up with red, black, and blue lights in my vision. When they saw I lifted my head, they sat me up. They said, “Tell us where the guerrilla is, where do they come from, who are they.”
“I don’t know, I can’t tell lies, I’m telling the truth I don’t know.”
“Oh, you don’t want to collaborate?”
“I don’t know what this ‘collaborate’ is, what I know of collaboration is to give some pennies, I don’t have any money, I’m poor.”
“You don’t want to tell us?”
“Sirs, I don’t know.”
…They tied me up by the feet and head. They had my legs backwards touching my head so that my stomach was exposed. Suddenly I felt burning in my stomach, they burned me on the stomach, the neck and the testicles.
I’m telling the truth, before the eyes of the world, I’m telling you I was hurt by the military. Here are my scars. I’m not lying, look, here are my scars. My intestines fell out onto the floor, and I felt this tremendous pain, I said, “Ay, what pain!” What suffering I felt at that moment when my intestines fell to the floor. I’m not here telling lies, what I experienced, the suffering I felt, what the military did to me, I am telling this to the whole world. When my intestines were outside, I was able to put my intestines back in with my fingers and my fingers reached all the way inside.
They said, “Está sabroso? Is it tasty?” That’s what they said. The planes that passed by said that there was amnesty, that there was peace. I said to the officer, “Is this peace? They said, “Por bruto no quieres decir. Because you are stubborn, you don’t want to answer.” I said, “I have my animals, my sheep, my cows, my horse, my chickens. I’m not a thief, I’m not lying, I’m an agricultural worker.” This is why I am telling this to the eyes and ears of the world, this is the suffering we felt then.
Later they tied me up again, seated on the floor. An officer came with a large stick, one meter long and three inches wide. They first blow was to my mouth. The force he hit me with made me fall to the floor. I turned my head because I wanted to see if he was going to keep killing me. The next blow came to my head and I fell to the other side. Then the third one was to my mouth. I lifted my head, I still had some feeling. I was left dead, for seven or eight hours, from 10am to 5:30pm. That’s what I remembered, that around 5pm I was on the floor. I was hurt with the beating they gave me, blood in my mouth, all of my clothes were already burned and now were running with blood. I woke. Then I saw that it was starting to get dark out. There was a soldier watching me and I was left outside in the drizzle all night. There was a change of guard and the soldier said, “What happened to you?” I said, “I’m in so much pain because of the military.” “Because you were stupid, you didn’t collaborate.” In the morning, I was there beneath the rain. Around 8am a helicopter came. They woke me. They untied my hands and feet.
They took me to the helicopter and brought me to Nebaj. In Nebaj they presented me to the people in Nebaj, to all the people that were gathered there. They put green clothes on me, a shirt, pants and cap. They said, look at the guerrilla, we captured him but they had put those clothes on me. Because I was so beaten they said to the people, “If any of you join the guerrilla, the same thing will happen to you.” They brought me again to the military base, except it was not a base exactly, it was a medical post that they had turned into a military base. The officer there interviewed me.
Then they brought me to the helicopter. The helicopter went to Quiche but outside Nebaj the helicopter failed. I don’t know if it was mechanical problem or if it was hit but the helicopter caught fire. The helicopter filled with smoke. Everyone inside was choking on smoke and it went down… With the force that I fell to the ground, my head was busted, here is the scar. You could see to the bone.
From that pain I was dead again. The military came again and said, “Get up, get up.” They took me to Sacapulas. They took me and threw me in a room, a convent of the catholic church, and they left me hanging from the rafters, not with my hands in front of me but behind me. They left me hanging. Then four soldiers started beating me, kicking and punching, they hit and kicked me. They hung me starting around one or two in the afternoon until 10 in the morning the next day when they untied me. Two people came with civilian clothes but they were military. They untied me but I couldn’t stand nor could I see well. My sight was darkened, my hearing wasn’t working and I couldn’t understand things well.
They brought me to a car and there were two Galil weapons there. They brought me to Quiche and shut me up in a room larger than this one. This room was full of blood… The shoes, the belts were piled two meters high and wide, you could see the traces of people who had been killed there. They tied me up and left me sitting in blood.
This pain, this suffering, I was there in the blood of my dear brothers and sisters who had been killed. What does this mean, what does this mean? Could it be that there was not genocide during this year? I mean, by the people in the government that year, Ríos Montt. I suffered with my own body, my pain and suffering. It’s a lie when they say there was no genocide. I am telling the truth that happened because I saw it. That is what happened in 1983.
NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates.