Tuesday, March 19 marks the beginning of the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efraín Rios Montt for the deaths of 1,771 individuals and the forced displacement of tens of thousands more from the Ixil triangle region of southern Quiché department.
It is important to remember that the crimes covered in this trial are only a fraction of the widespread, systematic human rights abuses that the Guatemalan military committed under Rios Montt’s brief reign in 1982 and 1983. The military massacred or disappeared tens of thousands of Guatemalan civilians in the months following the coup that brought Rios Montt to power. Furthermore, the Commission on Historical Clarification (CEH) blamed the Guatemalan government for acts of genocide because:
“Between 1981 and 1983, the Army identified groups of the Mayan population as the internal enemy, considering them to be an actual or potential support base for the guerrillas….the Army…defined a concept of internal enemy that went beyond guerrilla sympathizers, combatants or militants to include civilians from specific ethnic groups….the reiteration of destructive acts, directed systematically against groups of the Mayan population, within which can be mentioned the elimination of leaders and criminal acts against minors who could not possibly have been military targets, demonstrates that the only common denominator for all the victims was the fact that they belonged to a specific ethnic group and makes it evident that these acts were committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part” these groups.”
This trial offers hope to all the families of tens of thousands Guatemalans killed by Rios Montt’s forces. They have waited 30 years, knowing that Rios Montt could die before ever facing justice – like Augusto Pinochet (Chile), Roberto D’Aubuisson (El Salvador), and Rene Emilio Ponce (El Salvador). Now, he is closer to joining Alberto Fujimori (Peru) and Jorge Rafael Videla (Argentina) on the growing list of convicted human rights abusers.
The timing of this trial also coincides with the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims on Sunday, March 24. Join us in celebrating this important step toward truth and justice at Amnesty’s Annual General Meeting (AGM)! And keep pressing for truth and justice around the world!