Former Dictator of Guatemala Is Guilty of Genocide Against Mayan Group

Former Leader of Guatemala Is Guilty of Genocide Against Mayan Group

Here is the link to the NYT article.  We previously reported on this case – he was previously found guilty but that judgement then overturned.  It is good to see justice at last.  Note the involvement of psychologists in testifying for the prosecution case.

‘Adama Dieng, the United Nations special adviser on the prevention of genocide, said last month that the case was the first in which a former head of state had been indicted by a national tribunal on charges of genocide.

‘The “historical precedent,” and especially a guilty verdict, he said, could serve as an example to other countries “that have failed to hold accountable those individuals responsible for serious and massive human rights violations.”’



Petition to convict Rios Montt

See the previous post for detail and relevance of this case in Guatemala for Liberation Psychology.  As of 28 May there is still no resolution although it appears that the allegation made by Rios Montt’s lawyer was unfounded.
There is a petition to the Guatemalan Constitutional Court here.  As of the time of writing there have been 21,451 signatures of a target of 22,000.  Please consider adding your voice too HERE.



Rios Montt convicted of genocide – and then the verdict is overturned

We have been following the Rios Montt trial in Guatemala because of the connection between the 1980s Central American State Terror and the origins of liberation psychology.  Psychologists also testified to the psychological and social trauma occasioned by the genocidal action against the indigenous population by the Guatemalan military.   While I’ve been away Rios Montt was found guilty and then the judgement was overturned (pending further court proceedings) by Guatemala’s constitutional court.   The following is from the trial website where you can also read the full report and find background material.  See also this report and this film.

“Only ten days after a trial court issued its historic verdict convicting Efrain Rios Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity, and sentencing him to prison for 80 years, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in a 3-2 ruling, overturned the verdict and set the trial back to where it was April 19. This verdict had been the first genocide conviction of a former head of state in a domestic, rather than international, court.

Rios Montt was convicted for crimes committed against Guatemala’s Maya Ixil indigenous population during his 17-month de facto rule in 1982 and 1983 following a military coup. On Friday, May 17, the trial court (Tribunal Primero de Sentencia Penal, Narcoactividad y Delitos contra el Ambiente de Mayor Riesgo “A”) released its final 718-page judgment, describing in detail the foundation for Rios Montt’s conviction.

During the course of the trial, more than 90 witnesses testified of indiscriminate massacres, rape and sexual violence against women, infanticide, the destruction of crops to induce starvation, the abduction of children, and the forcible displacement and relocation of surviving populations into militarized “model villages”. Experts also provided forensic, military, sociological and other testimony and analysis.

The verdict came 30 years after the crimes and 13 years after the complaint was brought by survivors to the Public Ministry for investigation and prosecution.

The Constitutional Court, in its judgment on Monday, overturned the verdict and annulled the final days of the trial—sending the trial back to where it was on April 19. (On April 19, the tribunal had heard all prosecution witnesses, but still awaited the presentation of some of the defense witnesses, closing arguments and, of course, the final verdict and sentence.) The Constitutional Court also ordered the official suspension of the trial pending the full resolution of certain legal challenges raised by the defense. … READ MORE on the trial website.


Guatemala genocide trial suspended – take action

The historically important trial of ex-dictator of Guatemala J.E. Rios Montt (see previous post) has been suspended (not by the trial judges but by another judge).  This potentially increases risks for complainants, witnesses (including psychology colleagues) and human rights activists, and if the trial were anulled it would mean strangthened impunity in Guatemala, the region and beyond. There is a petition here  from the Guatemala Human Rights Commission, demanding the reinstatement of the proceedings – please take a look and add your support.
ALl the detail is on the excellent website for the trial  [o en castellano] and the summary dated today 25/04/13 is a good summary of the last few days’ legal proceedings.  The constitutional court is reviewing the decision to annul the trial and has ruled on some points but is still to rule on others.


Guatemalan Genocide Trial: Prosecution experts testify on psychological issues

The following is taken, with some minor edits, from the Trial Website


Ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt

Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala for nearly seventeen months during 1982 and 1983, and Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, his then chief of military intelligence, are on trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity. The charges arise from systematic massacres of the country’s indigenous population carried out by Guatemalan troops and paramilitary forces during this phase of the country’s long and brutal civil war, and the related mass forced displacement.

This is the first time a former head of state has been prosecuted for genocide in a national, as opposed to an international, court. The trial is an important milestone in holding political and military leaders accountable for international crimes. For Guatemalans, it is hoped it will also contribute to an accurate historical account of the gross human rights violations committed during the civil war….

A United Nations sponsored truth commission established under the peace agreement that ended the civil war in 1996 estimated that more than 200,000 died or were subjected to forced disappearance during the 36-year conflict, over 80% from Mayan indigenous populations. The commission found that state security personnel and paramilitaries were responsible for 93 percent of the violations. The commission identified over 600 massacres, and found that the state was responsible for systematic violence – including extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, sexual violence, death squads, the denial of justice, and other crimes and violations, with the victims largely from indigenous and rural communities. The three-year period between 1981 and 1983 accounts for 81 percent of the violations.

Psychological Evidence presented in court

On 13th April, the first expert witness was Nieves Gómez, a psychologist with a specialty in criminology. She testified about the psychological impacts of the war and the “harm to the mental integrity” of individuals and the Maya Ixil community. Gómez told the court she had interviewed about 100 people in several Maya Ixil communities. Those interviews highlighted the interplay and reciprocity between the individual and the group.

She mentioned several aspects of everyday life specific to the Maya Ixil community, including profound respect for nature and the dead, spiritual ceremonies for specific events, language, the special place of animals, women’s roles in transmitting culture within the family and the role of elders in regulating community norms and resolving conflicts.

Gómez then described certain traumatic occurrences and their impact on people in the community. During massacres, people were divided with men on one side and women and children on the other. The massacres were not events that took place on a single, isolated occasion but were carried out over a period of time, resulting in “extreme terror” and vulnerability among the people before they were killed.

Those who were able to flee into the mountains suffered other impacts. They lived in an “emotional climate of terror” (“clima emocional de terror”). Making the situation worse was the fact that the army forced the population to give names of guerrillas and if they did not do so, they were threatened or killed. Community members were also forced to serve in the Civil Self-Defense Patrols (Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil, PACs). This created conditions in which no one trusted each other.

Read more on Rios Montt trial website.

Thanks to Anita for drawing this to our attention.

Photo-essay on exhumations in Guatemala – note several psychologists working within the community / liberation psychology frameworks have been part of interdisciplinary teams working on this difficult task – both finding evidence of he genocidal acts and also working with the Maya communities to commemorate the atrocities and honour the dead – recovery of historical memory being a key concept and tool in liberation psychology.

More information in Spanish