On Friday, May 10th, former Dictator and General Jose Efrain Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for his role in the murder, rape and displacement of Mayan-Ixil villagers in the northern Guatemalan district of Quiche; and was sentenced to 80 years total for the crimes committed during his presidency in 1982-1983.
Rios Montt was sentenced to 50 years in prison for genocide plus 30 years for crimes against humanity, making him the first Latin American president to be found guilty of those charges. (Related story: Former Guatemalan President on Trail for Genocide Against Mayan Citizens and Others)
The former dictator, who was supported at the time by former United States President Ronald Reagan and televangelist Pat Robertson among others in this country, said he was innocent of the charges, that he “never had the intention, the proposal to destroy any national ethnicity” and that his attorneys would appeal the sentence as soon as possible.
The findings of the Guatemalan Tribunal however, contradicted Rios Montt’s assertions.
“It has been proven that the civilian population of the Ixil group were targets for assassination in a massive way,” according to the sentence read aloud in the court, “by means of massacres, tortures, degradation of dignity, sexual violations and forced displacement.”
The sentencing document also stated that soldiers raped hundreds of Ixil women, destroyed their houses, crops and animals utilizing hunger as “an arm of war” among other things “with the intention of disappearing the Ixil ethnicity.”
During the trial Patrick Ball of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group in San Francisco estimated that from April 1982 to July 1983, 5.5 percent of the Maya Ixil population were killed. The proportion for the nonindigenous population was 0.7 percent.
Along with testimony from hundreds of Ixil survivors and other witnesses, Judge Jazmin Berrios, president of the tribunal that heard the case, quoted from the testimony of anthropologist Hector Rosada Granados about evidence gathered in the area of the atrocities.
“Anthropological studies serve to verify the existence of clandestine cemeteries. It shows that first they shot them and then they buried them. The skeletons have evidence of assaults, that corroborate the declarations of witnesses who described the deaths of their family members,” Judge Berrios continued, “We judges see the murder of babies and of pregnant women shows the intent to destroy the Ixil people.”
Hundreds of Ixil and other indigenous who attended the trial shouted “Justice!” “Yes, there was genocide” upon hearing the verdict read aloud.
Indigenous leaders and groups also expressed relief and contentment with the verdict.
"These are tears of joy,” said noted activist Riboberta Menchu. “For years they said I was lying. Our experience has finally been vindicated"
“We salute the courage of the tribunal presided over by Judge Jazmin Berrios,” stated the Guatemalan Indigenous Youth Council in a press release. “This sentence dignifies the memory of our fathers, mothers, brothers, children and family members that were massacred, tortured and violated before being killed; for the children not born that from their mothers’ wombs they were martyred by orders of the generals.”