While he has not yet been convicted of anything, Monday’s legal outcome is a victory for his victims, domestic and international human rights organizations, and the Guatemalan people. Many have been working towards this day for over two decades.
Here's what I wrote in July 2011 following the Dos Erres convictions.
I know that it probably sounds like I go back and forth about this, but that's not really the case. I think that all those who committed human rights violations during the war (and the postwar) should be held to account for what they did. However, not everyone is equally responsible and not every [one] should obviously suffer the same punishment. And while it is right that these four men from the Dos Erres massacre have their day in court, I am uncomfortable with the fact that the people who trained, ordered, and rewarded them for their behavior will not.Let me just say that I am starting to feel a bit better. I sent off an op-ed to Al Jazeera yesterday on yesterday's decision. Hopefully, it'll be up soon.
See also Geoffrey Ramsey at the Pan-American Post, Elisabeth Malkin at the New York Times with comments from Victoria Sanford and Anita Isaacs, and Boz.
Legally, it's pretty clear that the Guatemalan military carried out a scorched earth campaign between 1981 and 1983 wth the intent to destroy the Ixil population. Men, women, and children were killed, many after having been sexually abused and tortured. There was no effort to distinguish between those that sympathized with the guerrillas and those that did not. All Ixil were thought to be sympathetic to the EGP and therefore were justifiable targerts. If they couldn't catch the guerrillas, they would go after all those that gave them life.
"The guerrilla is the fish. The people are the sea. If you cannot catch the fish, you have to drain the sea" - Efrain Rios Montt (1982)Survivors fled to the mountains for safety. Military officials then burned down their homes and crops. They searched for and destroyed the corn and belongings that the people had hidden underground. The military pursued the 29,000 displaced as a result of the offensives specified in the most recent trial. They sent patrols out to kill them. They also bombed them from the air. Many of the survivors hid in the mountains in subhuman conditions for years.
The Commission for Historical Clarification found that the Guatemalan state had committed "acts of genocide" It was published in February 1999. We know a lot more about the genocidal campaign in Guatemala today than we did back in the late 1990s - more witness testimony, military documents and plans, declassified US documents, and forensic reports from numerous exhumations of mass graves. There's also video documentation from Pamela Yates' Granito.
That doesn't mean that there are not other complexities to the conflict in Guatemala that obscure a campaign of genocide. However, I think that there's a stronger case today that genocide occurred than I did ten years ago.