Saturday, April 6, 2013

Genocide on Trial, Day 10: Expert witnesses testify, “Racism facilitated the extermination of the Ixil...”

NISGUA continues live coverage of the trial in Guatemala of Efraín Rios Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sánchez for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Read our previous summaries: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4/5Day 6Day 7, Day 8, Day 9 and full archive of ongoing live Twitter coverage.

Former Guatemalan soldier Ramiro Leonard Reyes gives testimony via video-conference

100 eyewitnesses from the Maya Ixil region have given their testimony to date. Lawyer for the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR) Edgar Pérez stated that due to illness, the remaining 22 witnesses have been unable to travel to Guatemala City in order to give their testimony. It is anticipated some of these witnesses will still be able to give their testimony for the prosecution.

Thursday's testimonies began with three forensic experts testifying on exhumation evidence. Marco David Garcia King of FAFG (Foundation for Forensic Anthropology in Guatemala) confirmed that forensic anthropological findings verify community witnesses' accounts. Mishel Marie Stephenson Ojea explained the process of extracting DNA from bones. Alma Nydia Vasquez Almazan confirmed a report on exhumations in the Ixil region which revealed the cause of victims' deaths to be firearms. Forensic experts continue testimony on day 11 and 12.

Three protected witnesses delivered their testimonies via video-conference from an undisclosed location. The witnesses will receive special protection to ensure their safety after testifying. All three testified on acts they witnessed from inside military bases in the Ixil region.

Julio Velazco Raymundo was captured at the age of 8 by soldiers and taken to the Visan military base, where he lived for 7 years. He spoke to the atrocities he witnessed during his time at Visan including the fate of men, women, children and elderly who were captured and brought to the base. "When they killed them, they put them in a hole. They excavated holes with machinery. They sent us children to get trash to throw on top of them. They lit the fire and burned them." Raymundo only barely escaped his death while at the base; a specialist saved his life by hiding him in a tire.

Pedro Herrera Bernal gave testimony as a former armed civil patroller (known as PAC) who had other men under his command. While living on the Xalbal military base, Bernal heard soldiers rape women and saw bombs thrown every three days. He explained that the military obligated the PACs to collaborate with the military. "If we didn’t cut down the crops they said we were collaborators of the guerrilla. We were obligated, if not we were punished."

The much anticipated testimony of former Kaibil and soldier with the first company of the Army Corps of Engineers, Hugo Ramiro Leonardo Reyes, concluded the protected witness testimonies for the day. Reyes caused a stir in the Guatemalan press after linking current President Otto Pérez Molina, then serving as Major in the Ixil region and known as Tito Arias, to massacres in Nebaj. The President's General Secretary swiftly responded at the day's end, saying that the mention of Pérez Molina was unfounded and blamed the Public Prosecutor for allowing the testimony to reference a 3rd party who has not been named in the case. Leonardo Reyes detailed the activities of kidnapping, torture, extrajudicial execution and rape, with particular emphasis on the mass graves of El Pino (The Pine Tree) and El Roble (The Oak Tree); see our excerpt below.
In those days, we were in the installation of the Army Corps of Engineers, all the officers participated in the executions that took place in El Pino. In El Pino there was no room left to bury people so they went to a place called El Roble to bury the rest of the victims.
The military and the soldiers were under orders from Major Tito Arias, known as Otto Pérez Molina; the general, José Luis Quilo Ayuso and…the commanders of the engineer company coordinated the burning and looting of the people to execute them later... 
The trucks transferred the people, took them down from the truck and one by one they went past the officers. They didn’t use weapons to execute them. Many times they were killed by bayonets, to the neck or chest. They went to the extreme that the people stabbed in the chest by bayonet, they pushed them into the hole dug out by the heavy machinery. Then they put back the earth that had been dug out, the machine put the earth over the victims…The trucks sometimes pushed the children still alive in the rebozos of the mothers into the hole.

Can you indicate the clothing worn by these executed victims?
The victims taken to camp were innocent people. People dressed in traditional cloth, white shirts, women with their traditional clothing, barefoot. The men tied by the feet and hands. If they unbound their feet it was only to take them off the trucks. When the young women were taken, they were raped, not necessarily right there. The installations of the engineers, they were provisional but as time passed they began building better buildings and that’s where they raped the young women…

Do you remember whether elderly also died?
Yes sir, there was no forgiveness for the elderly, not for the women and not for the children…

One elderly women whose hair was long, it went down to her waist, she was killed in El Pino. They cut her head off and took it to the officers’ cafeteria. …All the officers cut this elderly women’s head off and brought it to the table. They left her head on the table so all the women who worked in the kitchen preparing food [would see], to provoke a reaction from them, or to scare them, or as a joke.
…There was a pot of coffee so that those of us in service, we could drop by to drink coffee. ...I didn’t have the nerve to drink coffee there because of the head on that table. It is something I cannot forget.

The day concluded with expert testimony by Marta Elena Casaús Arzú, author of "Lineage and Racism", whose definitive work outlines the links between racism and the power elite of Guatemala. Casaús Arzú presented her expert report in which she makes the case that genocide is the maximum expression of racism. She made the distinction between genocide and ethnocide and defends that both were committed in Guatemala: "Genocide is the massive elimination or massacre, of an ethnic group, while ethnocide is the destruction, suppression of their culture, as Plan Sofia said: 'Erase the Ixil'...In Guatemala there was an ethnocidal genocide." Finally, Casaús Arzú explained that the military's use of rape and model villages, among other control tactics, were expressions of racism. “Racism facilitated the extermination of the Ixil and assisted the military in carrying out genocide.”

NISGUA has provided human rights accompaniment to the witness' organization, the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, and their lawyers, the Center for Human Rights Legal Action since 2000. We will continue to bear witness to the truth and bravery of these survivors throughout this historic trial. To bear witness with us, stay tuned to our ongoing live Twitter coverage @NISGUA_Guate, like our Facebook page and sign up for email updates.

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