November 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of General Efrain Rios Montt launching the bloodiest period of Guatemala’s civil war after seizing power in a coup. The victims and their families are still waiting for justice. Thankfully, some of them are finally getting their day in court as Rios Montt stands accused in the Dos Erres Massacre of 1982.
The Guatemalan government must bring Rios Montt to justice for not only Dos Erres, but all of the other massive human rights violations committed during his rule because:
- Government forces massacred or forcibly disappeared tens of thousands of civilians while Rios Montt was in power. Soldiers tortured many of these victims—often sexually—before killing them.
- The Guatemalan Commission on Historical Clarification (CEH) found that government forces committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people during Rios Montt’s rule.
- Thorough investigations and prosecution will bring closure to the many relatives and family members who have never had the opportunity to find out what happened to their loved ones. (See the story of Ana Lucia Cuevas, for example, who did not find out what happened to her brother for 24 years.)
- Although Guatemalan courts have convicted some low-ranking soldiers of wartime abuses, their leaders have continued to enjoy impunity. While illegal orders do not justify illegal actions, General Rios Montt certainly bears a much greater burden of responsibility for these crimes than those who followed his commands.
- In October 2012, a Guatemalan appeals court rejected Rioss Montt’s claim that he was protected by an amnesty law as “frivolous.”
- Clandestine groups continue to repress human rights activists seeking justice in Guatemala. Fredy Peccerelli, founder of the Guatemalan Foundation of Forensic Anthropology, for example, has faced death threats in response to his testimony against four soldiers accused (and later convicted) of Dos Eres massacre of 1982.
Holidays will always remain painful for Guatemalans who lost loved ones during the civil war. The Guatemalan government can make them less painful, however, by finally providing truth and justice.