Saturday, May 3, 2014

Guatemala: Struggling from genocide to justice

The Guatemalan people were making history: it was the first time a dictator in Guatemala was tried for genocide and crimes against humanity. For that Central American country, where some 250,000 people were killed or disappeared during a 36-year civil war, the Ríos Montt trial was a defining moment. "The trial showed a break with impunity and prejudice," says Brother Shea. "Painful, yes, but there's only one way out and that's through."

Though Guatemala's internal war officially ended in 1996, Ríos Montt retained immunity from prosecution until January 2012, when he stepped down from his position in the Guatemalan Congress. The Ríos Montt trial began in March 2013 and lasted two months. A three-judge panel listened as 130 witnesses, mostly Ixil Maya women and forensic experts, testified to the atrocities and massacres against indigenous people.

On one side of the courtroom were the people testifying to years of pain, on the other, supporters of Ríos Montt and the military. Brother Shea sat among the women, who came dressed in their bright Mayan colors. "That was a signal," says Shea, "we're here and we're testifying." Often the women covered their heads when recounting the torture and systemic rape they suffered, and all the years of brutality they witnessed and endured. Read more

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