Guatemala: Indigenous survivors await genocide trial verdict

Judges set to decide on whether to convict ex-military intelligence chief Jose Mauricio Rodriguez of genocide.

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     Guatemala: Indigenous survivors await genocide trial verdict
    Members of the Ixil Ancestral Authorities, Ixil survivors, and supporters hold a ceremony to remember the victims of the country's decades-long conflict [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

    Guatemala City - Ana de Leon lost everything when Guatemalan military forces arrived in the Maya Ixil region during the country's decades-long civil war.

    More than 200,000 people, including de Leon's brother and three children, were killed. Another 43,000 were forcibly disappeared. More than 80 percent of victims were indigenous Mayan people.

    "They burned our house, our clothing, and our crops," de Leon told Al Jazeera as she gathered with other survivors outside the Guatemala City court complex, where judges are deciding whether to convict Jose Mauricio Rodriguez of genocide and crimes against humanity.

    Rodriguez was the head of military intelligence in the early 1980s, when the worst of the atrocities occurred in the Ixil region, 225km northwest of Guatemala City.

    Rodriguez, along with former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, are accused of carrying out the massacre of nearly 1,800 Ixil civilians and disappearing tens of thousands others.

    In 2013, Rios Montt, who seized power during the 1982 military coup, was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. It was the first time a former head of state was convicted of genocide using a country's domestic court system. Rodriguez was acquitted.

    But the verdicts were swiftly overturned by the country's Constitutional Court, setting up a repeat of much of the trial.

    The stop-and-start partial retrial began last October. In 2015, Rios Montt was deemed unfit for court appearances or prison due to dementia. The former dictator died at the age of 91 earlier this year.

    'Genocide has been more than proven'

    Traditional Maya Ixil authority Diego Ceto told Al Jazeera that for the Ixil survivors, the 2013 guilty verdict stands. 

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    "For us, Rios Montt died convicted," he said.

    Ceto said he simply wants justice, to ensure the past is never repeated: "We are trusting in the judicial system of Guatemala."

    Retrial proceedings have been drawn out, with 69 hearings over the course of the past three years, said Edgar Perez, the head of the legal team representing genocide victims.

    "For the witnesses, the purpose has been to come and reconfirm their truth, a truth that has been questioned," Perez told Al Jazeera.

    "Genocide has been more than proven," he said.

    Ana de Leon lights a candle outside of the Guatemalan Supreme Court during the ceremony commemorating the victims of the internal armed conflict [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

    While many survivors stayed outside in the plaza Wednesday morning to commemorate the victims, others filed into a packed 15th-floor courtroom to hear the defendant's final statement to the three-judge panel.

    Rodriguez took the stand and emphatically denied any involvement.

    "I am sure that I am innocent," he told the court. "I did not do or order others to do all the things it's said happened."

    I will be content when [Rodriguez] is convicted. But where were my children taken? Where are my things [that were stolen]? I will never forget what was done.

    Ana de Leon, lost her children and brother at hands of Guatemalan military

    Wednesday's expected verdict comes while the country is immersed in a constitutional crisis sparked by Guatemalan president Jimmy Morales's measures to shutter a UN-backed international anti-corruption commission.

    Morales railed against the commission and the UN Tuesday at the UN General Assembly, just hours after his vice president alluded to legal action against the Constitutional Court magistrates who ruled against the government and in favour of the commission.

    According to Perez, the current political and social situation means that the judicial system is weak, but for him and the survivors he represents have high hopes Rodriguez Sanchez will be found guilty.

    De Leon was one of the many Maya Ixil witnesses who testified in court against Rios Montt and Rodriguez.

    She hopes for justice, but said nothing can undo the past.

    "I will be content when [Rodriguez] is convicted," said de Leon.

    "But where were my children taken? Where are my things [that were stolen]? I will never forget what was done."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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