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Attempts to Halt the Trial Against Rios Montt and Silence the Voices of Survivors

A judge in Guatemala yesterday announced a decision to suspend the genocide trial against Efraín Rios Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sanchez, ruling that the proceedings to date were invalid. Guatemala’s Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz has denounced this move as illegal, and prosecutors have pledged to appeal this decision.

Seeking to nullify the existing testimonies is a slap in the face to those who were the targets of genocidal violence in the years of Guatemala’s civil war, particularly the years of Rios Montt’s regime of 1982-1983. Indigenous Peoples, labeled as enemies, were systematically targeted by the military, and whole communities were destroyed. In the past month, people who survived this violence bravely stepped forward as witnesses to put their harrowing stories on the trial record:

The second woman to take the stand wept as she told the court that she had been raped by a series of men over three days in a military post in the Quiche department in the country’s heavily indigenous highlands region in 1982. “They tied my hands and feet,” and raped me, she said, “Not just me but my mother, too.” (Associated Press, April 2)

APR, from Chajul, weeped as she testified that in March 1982, soldiers came to her home and took away her husband, before returning and raping her outside of the house. The soldiers left her one-month old baby behind and set the house on fire, burning the infant alive. Crying throughout her testimony, JST testified that soldiers came to her home in April 1982, took her, her mother, and other women to a room in the local parish building where the soldiers tied them up, beat the, and raped them.

CBG wept loudly as she described being captured with her daughter by soldiers who came to Amajchel, San Gaspar Chajul, Quiche, after they fled to the mountains. She said that the soldiers raped her, beat her, stabbed her, leaving scars, and killed her child. Later, they forced her to prepare food for the soldiers. (, April 3)

Pedro Chávez Brito told the court that he was only six or seven years old when soldiers killed his mother. He hid in the chicken coop with his older sister, her newborn and his younger brother, but soldiers found them and dragged them out, forcing them back into their house and setting it on fire. Mr. Chávez says he was the only one to escape. “I got under a tree trunk and I was like an animal,” Mr. Chávez told the court. “After eight days I went to live in the mountains. In the mountain we ate only roots and grass.” (New York Times, April 14)

These are just a fraction of the testimonies that this ruling would seek to erase. Developments in this trial have moved at a rapid and sometimes dizzying pace, but here is one constant: Survivors have been waiting over 30 years for the justice that is their right.

Update: Judge Yasmin Barrios, who is overseeing the trial, announced that she rejects the decision to annul the trial.

For more information about how you can follow the developments in this trial, click here.