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07-06-13 Thousands of Women March Against Guatemala's Decision to Annul Military Dictator's Sentence

07-06-13 Thousands of Women March Against Guatemala's Decision to Annul Military Dictator's Sentence

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Published by William J Greenberg
Two weeks ago, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the historic guilty verdict of the nation’s former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who had been convicted of committing genocide and crimes against humanity during his short reign from 1982 to 1983. In response, human rights organizations across Latin America organized actions protesting the sentence annulment, supporting the victims of genocide and condemning legal impunity. In Guatemala, an estimated 5,000 people marched through the capital on May 24.
Two weeks ago, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the historic guilty verdict of the nation’s former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who had been convicted of committing genocide and crimes against humanity during his short reign from 1982 to 1983. In response, human rights organizations across Latin America organized actions protesting the sentence annulment, supporting the victims of genocide and condemning legal impunity. In Guatemala, an estimated 5,000 people marched through the capital on May 24.

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Published by: William J Greenberg on Jun 10, 2013
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Home> Thousands of Women March Against Guatemala's Decision to Annul Military Dictator's Sentence
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Thousands of Women March AgainstGuatemala's Decision to Annul MilitaryDictator's Sentence
June 7, 2013
|Two weeks ago, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the historicguilty verdict of the nation’s former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who hadbeen convicted of committing genocide and crimes against humanity duringhis short reign from 1982 to 1983. The Constitutional Court’s decisionannulled Montt’s 80-year prison sentence and ordered that the final weeks of the case be retried. At 86 years old, Ríos Montt was the first former head of state in Latin America to be sentenced for genocide by his own country.In response, human rights organizations across Latin America organizedactions protesting the sentence annulment, supporting the victims of genocideand condemning legal impunity. In Guatemala, an estimated 5,000 peoplemarched through the capital on May 24. Simultaneous actions occurred infront of the Guatemalan embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Mexico City,Mexico; Managua, Nicaragua; Lima, Peru; Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sulain Honduras. Additional protests occurred in El Salvador and Costa Rica.
Competing interests
David Oliva, a member of the human rights organization HIJOS Guatemala,said that the march in Guatemala was the biggest mobilization he has seenaround the issue of memory and unmasking impunity in the justice system.
 
“Today there are more people out than the day that Guatemala mobilized toprotest the assassination of Monseñor Gerardi,” he said, referring to theGuatemalan bishop and human rights defender who was murdered two daysafter the 1998 publication of the groundbreaking report Guatemala: Never  Again. The report compiled hundreds of testimonies about crimes committedduring the nation’s protracted civil war and genocide against indigenouscommunities, and it laid the groundwork for Montt’s subsequent trial. At the march, human rights activists who had spent years organizing foMontt’s trial asserted that the ruling and sentence was still valid.Pilar Maldonado of the Center for Justice and Accountability — one of the twoco-counsels on the trial — has spent the last 13 years seeking justice for Montt’s crimes. He explained, “The sentence was definitive, and we are goingto defend it. This ruling from the Constitutional Court cannot stop justice inGuatemala. We are not disposed to repeat the trial, because it is disrespectfulto the Ixil victims and the other communities who were also victims of genocide.”Montt’s legal battle began in 1999, when he was indicted for torture, genocideand crimes against humanity. In 2012, he was re-indicted, and indigenous Ixilcommunities began presenting testimonies about the reign of terror andmurder that occurred under Montt’s military dictatorship from 1982 to 1983.But at the same time, the business elite of Guatemala began openlypositioning itself against Ríos Montt’s trial. The nation’s leading businessassociation, the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial,Industrial and Financial Associations,publicly stated 
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that it “defends theimportance of knowing how to leave the past behind.” To Oliva, this stanceclearly exposed those who financed genocide in Guatemala — and who nowbenefit from burying this history. According to Nelson Rivera, a human rights activist and member of theCommunity Press, genocide, historical memory and today’s businesspractices are all connected. “They are all involved,” he said. “Those who are inthe right-wing parties, those in organized crime and drug trafficking, thetraditional elite families — and now transnational economic interests.”“Unfortunately we are used to these dirty tricks by the justice system, whichbenefits those with money,” she said as the march passed Guatemala’sSupreme Court. She took a moment to read aloud the signs: “Genocide is
 
written with a G, for military Government.” “You can retry them but they’llnever be innocent.” “My heart is Ixil.”Ixchiu explained that she and others are fighting for the integrity of Guatemala’s justice system, but also for a legal recognition of Maya law andthe laws of all indigenous communities.
A female face
 Across Latin America and Spain, feminist organizations led the solidaritymovement. In Honduras, one of the core organizers of the protest outside theGuatemalan embassy in Tegucigalpa was Helen Ocampo, a member of afeminist studies group.“We are in solidarity with the women who were attacked, raped and killed,”she explained in a phone interview.Neesa Medina, from the Center for Women’s Rights in Honduras, was also atthe protest in Tegucigalpa. “It was an action of solidarity among women thattranscends what happens in our own country,” she said. She explained thatthe call for solidarity protests came from a group of women in Guatemalarather than from organizations or political parties. Medina joined the solidarityeffort, she explained, because she recalled the images from the trials, inwhich she could see the women’s pain, and she identified with them. “I can’terase the images of the Ixil women from my mind, nor their stories. That’s whywe will keep standing up for the role of women in indigenous communities, not just as victims but as fighters,” she said.In Madrid, Mercedes Hernández, the president of the Guatemalan Women’s Association, also helped organize solidarity protests. To her, the entirestruggle for human rights has a female face, and the history of resistance inLatin America can be seen as the history of the rights and struggles of women. In Guatemala, widowed women spent decades organizing to defendhuman rights, assuming community leadership roles and full responsibility for the children when men were killed in the conflict. All Latin American countrieshave these women. In Argentina, for example, the Mothers of the Plaza DeMayo — an organization of women whose children or grandchildrendisappeared during the country’s military dictatorships — are the mostprominent group defending human rights.Yet, this organizing history is often buried, in part because the originalviolence is never fully acknowledged. Hernández explained that the truth

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