Guatemala’s Trial of the Decade in Ten Facts

Former Guatemalan leader General José Efraín Rios Montt is currently facing trial for genocide during his time in office (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

Former Guatemalan leader General José Efraín Rios Montt is currently facing trial for genocide during his time in office (Photo Credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images).

The trial against former Guatemalan leader General José Efraín Rios Montt for genocide during his time in office has restarted. Here are 10 reasons that show why the Central American country’s dark past is still relevant today.

1. Guatemala is located in Central America, bordering Mexico. Around half of its population is indigenous, including many Maya peoples. The country is one of the most unequal in the region - with high rates of illiteracy, infant mortality and malnutrition, particularly in the countryside. Organized crime and violence are also widespread.

2. Between 1960 and 1996, Guatemala was immersed in a bloody internal armed conflict that pitted the army against guerrilla groups. More than 200,000 men, women and children were murdered or disappeared during this 36-year-long war, most of them were indigenous.

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The Condition of Brazil's Indigenous Community Worsens

On September 16, 2010, I wrote about an indigenous tribe in Brazil being violently evicted from its ancestral land. While the rights of the natives were obliterated, Amnesty International has not lost its focus.  We continue to bring the conditions of the native inhabitants to the spotlight.  Your help is needed, now more than ever…

Since the eviction on October 2009, thirty-five Guarani-Kaiowá Indigenous families of the Laranjeira Ñanderu community, including around 85 children, are living in makeshift shacks by the side of the busy BR-163 highway in Mato Grosso do Sul. Their living conditions are deplorable and they face threats and harassment from armed security guards hired by the landowner and local farmers.

The Federal Police, who oversaw the eviction, told the landowner that the community would return to collect their remaining belongings. However, the landowner burned the families’ houses and all their belongings. The community is now living in shacks covered with sheets of black plastic in temperatures of more than 30 degrees Celsius. The area is frequently flooded and their encampment is teeming with insects and leeches. According to community members, local farmers drive past the community at high speed during the night and shine lights into the shacks to try to intimidate them.

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu on "Dignity"

A forward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Dignity: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous People, a book benefiting Amnesty International

Indigenous peoples throughout the world have something profound and important to teach those of us who live in the so called modern world.  I have long believed this to be true, even before I discovered to my delight that I was related to the San People of southern Africa. I suspect that if each of us looks far enough back into our genome we will discover that we are all indeed related.

Indigenous Peoples remind us of this fact. They teach us that the first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of creation. In Africa recognition of our interdependence is called ubuntu. It is the essence of being human. It speaks of thefact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nation, to the earth. Ubuntu is about wholeness, about compassion for life.

Ubuntu has to do with the very essence of what it means to be human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life. In our fragile and crowded world we can survive only together. We can be truly free, ultimately, only together. We can be human only together. To care about the rights of Indigenous Peoples is to care about the relatives of one’s own human family.

The Indigenous Peoples of the world have a gift to give that the world needs desperately, this reminder that we are made for harmony, for interdependence. If we are ever truly to prosper, it will be only together.

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Still a State of Unconstitutional Affairs in Colombia?

Short answer, yes. In 2004, the Colombia Constitutional Court declared a state of unconstitutional affairs and ordered the Colombian government to address the rights and needs of the displaced population. The Colombia government has yet to implement these orders, and Colombia’s displacement crisis continues. There is an important resolution, introduced by Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA), going around the US House of Representatives that, if passed, would send a strong message of support for the work of the Colombia Constitutional Court.

House Resolution 1224, currently in the US House of Representatives, would bring the population of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in Colombia one step further towards ensuring that their human rights are upheld.

The incidence of displacement in Colombia is not something to be overlooked - it is one of the highest in the world. Between 3 and 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in the country; a further 500,000 are believed to have fled to neighboring countries.  Even worse, is that a disproportionate number of these internally displaced are indigenous peoples, afro-descendants and campesino communities. Displacement has forced these rural dwellers to migrate to large urban areas and it has drastically increased the number of people living in city slums.

In 2004, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued two declarations calling for the Colombian government to protect IDPs and their human rights (see pages 9-18). Unfortunately, the government of Colombia has yet to implement these recommended public policies and IDPs in Colombia continue to suffer. More people are continuously forced from their land, more people are discriminated against, and more poverty exists.

37 Representatives have signed onto this resolution, but more support is needed! Contact your local Representative to bring the millions of internally displaced Colombians one step closer to justice.

Kristin Keohan contributed to this post