GENEVA, Oct. 22, 2018 – A Guatemalan court’s ruling that indigenous Ixil Mayans were victims of genocide and crimes against humanity sets a historic precedent for transitional justice in Guatemala, the region and the world, UN experts said today.
“The court’s decision confirms that the suffering and humiliation suffered by the Ixil peoples at the hands of the Guatemalan army constituted crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity,” the experts said. “We celebrate the significant progress made in the search for truth, the fight against impunity and the recovery of historical memory of the events that occurred during the internal armed conflict (1960-1996) estimated to have claimed over 200’000 lives,” they said.
Last month’s judgment in the trial over the deaths of 1,771 people, most of them members of the Ixil community, between 1982 and 1983 established that the Guatemalan army used the most brutal techniques of violence against the civilian population, including killings, torture and cruel and inhuman treatment, sexual violence and forced displacement, causing the partial physical destruction of the Ixil population.
The court confirmed what had been resolved on 10 May 2013, by a court of first instance that had convicted former de facto head of state José Efraín Ríos Montt for the same crimes, and acquitted his former head of military intelligence José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez. That decision was later annulled by the Constitutional Court for alleged procedural errors. The trial resumed in 2017, but Ríos Montt’s death in April 2018 extinguished the criminal prosecution against him. The trial against the former Chief of Military Intelligence continued and concluded with his acquittal by majority vote in the ruling handed down on 26 September 2018 and read and delivered on 18 October.
UN experts said the challenge and the obligation of the State remained of identifying, prosecuting and sanctioning those responsible for these atrocious crimes as an important step towards achieving justice for the victims and their families. “Impunity for perpetrators is unacceptable. It is essential that judicial processes respect international standards in determining the responsibilities of the perpetrators and masterminds of serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,” they said.
“We also urge the government to ensure that integral reparation is provided to the Ixil victims and to the other victims of the internal armed conflict, and to keep searching for the persons that disappeared, including the children,” they added.
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The experts also expressed concern about alleged attacks and insults received by victims, plaintiffs and members of the Ixil community who participated in the court hearings as well as threats and attacks targeting judges and justice officials involved in transitional justice cases. “We urge the Government to take the necessary urgent measures to guarantee judicial independence and the protection of judges, prosecutors, witnesses, victims and plaintiffs who participate in these important judicial processes,” they said.
The experts saluted the courage and perseverance of those seeking justice over three decades.
The UN experts: Mr. Fabián Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-repetition; the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; and Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; and Ms Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons.