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Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Columns & Features > Global Views > Latina UC Berkeley professor lends her voice to Guatemala’s indigenous in genocide trial of former dictator

Latina UC Berkeley professor lends her voice to Guatemala’s indigenous in genocide trial of former dictator

LatinaLista — UC Berkeley anthropologist and professor, Beatriz Manz, is spending her Spring Break south of the border but it’s not for fun in the sun. Rather, it’s to provide testimony in a court case that is riveting international human rights watchers.

Over 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or forcibly disappeared in a civil war that raged from 1960-1996. Of those victims identified in the U.N.-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission, 83% were indigenous Maya. 93% of these human rights violations were carried out by government forces.
Over 200,000 Guatemalans were killed or forcibly disappeared in a civil war that raged from 1960-1996. Of those victims identified in the U.N.-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission, 83% were indigenous Maya. 93% of these human rights violations were carried out by government forces.

Manz, an anthropologist and expert on Guatemala’s Mayan community and the abuses they suffered at the hands of the military under former Guatemalan military dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt, is testifying against Montt in a genocide and crimes against humanity trial that is the first of its kind.

Though other dictatorial leaders guilty of genocide have faced a court before, Montt’s trial marks the first time that a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in his home country, rather than in an international criminal court.

Montt ruled Guatemala for only 17 months during the years 1982-1983. His tenure was shorter than most dictators but he did his fair share of atrocity against the people of Guatemala, especially the indigenous. Montt and his chief of military intelligence, Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, continued abuses against the country’s indigenous, which was a central part of the country’s 36-year civil war. Monnt ordered systematic massacres of the indigenous people. Guatemalan troops and the paramilitary forces carried out the orders which led to thousands not only murdered but being forced out of their homes, communities and lands.

Now, in Guatemala City, Montt is facing his victims and the relatives of his victims as each takes the stand reliving what happened to themselves and their family members as the result of Montt’s actions.

The Open Society Justice Initiative created a trial-monitoring website where they are providing analysis and blogging daily on the court proceedings.

The eighth day of the Rios Montt genocide trial began with a nearly full courtroom ahead of the testimonies of indigenous women subjected to rape by the Guatemalan military between 1982 and 1983; their supporters attended in large numbers. Before the day’s proceedings began, supporters hung banners outside the courthouse and placed photos of women killed during the years of the armed conflict along an altar of dried flowers, with candles and the word “Justicia,” or Justice, spelled out. Later in the day, a memorial quilt was hung up in front of the courthouse, each square recounting the story of an individual war victim.

A total of 13 fact witnesses testified, including 12 women. Due to the sensitive nature of the testimony, and concerns presented by the civil parties, Judge Barrios instructed the press not to photograph the faces or publish names of those testifying regarding rapes. (Here, they are identified by initials only.) Ten female witnesses testified covering their heads and faces with rebozos (brightly colored swatches of woven fabric) to protect their privacy as they recounted rape and sexual assault. The mood in the courtroom was somber, with many observers seen wiping away tears or otherwise overtly responding. Attorney Hilda Elizabeth Pineda represented the Public Ministry for most of the day.

Several women testified to the rape of young women and girls—themselves or their relatives. EPS testified that the military took her and her mother to the Tzalbal military installation in May 1982 when she was 12 years old. Soldiers tied her hands and feet, stuffed her mouth with cloth, forced her to watch the rape of her mother, and then raped her. Afterward, she said, “the blood ran out of me” (la sangre corria de mi). Her mother died as a result of her treatment at the military base.

Berkeley Professor Beatriz Manz is one of only two qualified eye witnesses from outside Guatemala testifying in the trial which is currently in its second week and predicted to last several more. According to a press release issued from UC Berkeley, Manz “belongs to what some have dubbed a ‘tough, high-risk sorority’ of human rights researchers and anthropologists, who for years have documented human rights abuses.”

A livestream channel of the court proceedings titled Genocidio Nunca Más has been set up. While the quality of the transmission leaves a lot to be desired, there’s no mistaking the pain in the room and just how dark a chapter in the country’s history this trial is resurrecting.

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