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By Patricia Simón and Javier Bauluz · Traslation: Blanca G. Bertolaza
  • Organizations and international experts ask the Spanish National High Court to investigate the sexual violence that was exercised against Mayan women as part of the genocide
  • On Monday we open a special feature about the different types of violence Guatemalan women suffer

Máxima García, victim of the gang rapings during the Guatemalan civil war (Javier Bauluz/Piraván)

Guatemala. A country with a population of around 13 million, with child malnutrition rates unknown in Latin America, with a failed State that has admitted to being incapable of taking control over the north of the country, where drug-trafficking cartels do, and murder, as they wish. A territory where street violence already made clear a decade ago that a life is worth nothing and machismo that gender violence can, besides murder – almost 600 women just in the past year– reach frightening levels of brutality and cruelty. All of this data portrays the international image of one of the countries with the least political influence, and therefore, attention, of the Latin American continent. A lack of interest that is not new and that remained during the 30 years in which a civil war massacred its population, especially those of Mayan origin. A conflict in which the figures, who are people with names, fathers, mothers, children and dreams, as we sometimes have to remind ourselves so we don’t get lost in the enormity, are proportionally much bigger than those of the dictatorships in Chile, Argentina or Uruguay: more than 200.000 people were tortured, murdered and disappeared in more than 600 massacres, more than 440 Mayan communities wiped out and more than half a million displaced to save their lives.

The armed forces’ perception of the Mayans as natural allies of the guerrilla contributed to the increase and aggravation the violations of their human rights, proving a pronounced and extremely cruel racial component that allowed the mass extermination of the defenseless Mayan communities – including women, children and elders – through methods whose cruelty shocks the moral conscience of the civilized worldUN Historical Clarification Commission Report [PDF].

Violence against civilians was systematic, continuous and specially directed against the Mayan population with the objective of exterminating it, according to every independent investigation. Because of that, right now eight senior officers, including the president of Guatemala from 1982 to 1983, general Efraín Ríos Montt, are facing genocide, murder and terrorism charges in the Spanish National High Court in a trial that survives from the Universal Jurisdiction applicable in Spain before the 2010 reform, since which an investigation can only be set up in those cases in which a Spanish citizen is involved. A trial that started in 1999 when Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, along with Spanish and Guatemalan human rights associations, initiated it. Twelve years later and several decades after the crimes were committed, the organizations Women’s Link Worldwide and the Center for Justice and Accountability have asked the High Court to also investigate those crimes directed specifically towards women, crimes that have remained silent and unpunished until now. As the complainant organizations depict in their report, Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women Radhika Coomaraswamy was very clear in her report to the 2001 UN Human Rights Commission. “The fact that those guilty of rape and sexual violence are not investigated, prosecuted and punished has contributed to create an atmosphere of impunity that currently perpetuates violence against women”.

On Monday we premiere the Special documentary “Women, violence and silence” in which we deal in depth with the different forms of violence women in Guatemala are subject to since they are born, simply because they are women, even more vulnerable because they are indigenous and poor: sexual abuse, incest, violence from their partners, torture, discrimination and the sexual violence they suffered during the civil war: several testimonies of women victims of gang rape –up to forty soldiers standing in line to rape them-.

Raped, mutilated, sexually exploited, sterilized by raping and tearing them apart, forced to abort, fetuscides –slashing the womb and taking out the fetus-, were tortures systematically committed by the Army and the paramilitary against these women. While they did that, as shown in the Special, they were told, “they are not people, they are animals”, because they are indigenous. Many of these women never denounced those crimes, and those who did, or whose communities found out, were rejected, despised, expelled.

Now, as part of this petition to investigate gender violence during the conflict, Patricia Sellers, a lawyer expert in international criminal law and gender issues consultant for several International Criminal Courts, and María Eugenia Solís, lawyer expert in gender violence against the Mayan population during the Guatemalan armed conflict, will bear testimony of why it is essential that these crimes be included in the cause.

During a telephone conversation, María Eugenia Solís, who besides an expert in this matter was ad hoc judge in the Inter American Human Rights Court until 2010, explains to us how in a country where thousands of sexual crimes were committed against women, they are barely, not just judged, but even known by the population. “The Commission for truth the UN set up, with lots of resources, did not consider a protocol for this violence. They simply did not consider that it existed so they did not ask. What is documented in that investigation was because women mentioned it collaterally: ‘you see my sister was hung off a pole to terrify the whole community; you see we were raped and…’. But the women had gone to talk about the others: about how their husbands, their fathers had been disappeared. Not about themselves.”.

Silence. One of the women interviewed in the Special “Women, violence and silence”, who was raped by dozens of soldiers, one after another, which is why later on she lost her baby, who was born with a dislocated neck, told us about how she had not told her husband until twenty years later. And she did it because she had taken part in an empowerment workshop in which she was prepared to accept what she had lived through. Solís explains the reason for this behavior: “Violence against women is seen as natural. Before, during and after the conflict. Women have lived in huge levels of inequality compared with the rest of society. They are not recognized as subjects. The first task with them is getting them to think they are human beings, that being abused is not normal. Even if they have been since they were young because incest was very common. And we have to keep in mind the reactions after they were raped, which were of all sorts but never of solidarity: they were considered traitors, dirty, just like their children if they had gotten pregnant from their attackers… They were supposed to do everything they could to die before being raped. They feel guilty about all of that. But also, their rapists are still their neighbors. They are surrounded by the enemy. There are women who, on the way back from giving their testimony, were raped again by the same ones as before”.

(Javier Bauluz/Piraván)

88% of the women who were raped and tortured were indigenous, a culture in which women are the transmitters of culture, language, healing methods… Of their Mayan being. As those who demand that sexual violence is included in this procedure explain, they were annihilating not only the subjects but the ones responsible for perpetuating life and culture, as part of the genocide plan. Many of them could never again stand having another man close to them. They destroyed them physically, but also as people. “They drew them out of their houses and they took them to sacred places and there they raped them, they made them walk around naked. Others were taken to detachments as sexual slaves and to clean, cook…”.

Supranational justice, through the Inter American Human Rights Court, already sentenced one of the most flagrant cases –if there were degrees in this context of savagery. It was the massacre committed by the kaibilies, the bloodiest force in the Guatemalan Army, trained by the United States, in Dos Erres, a village in the northern region of Petén. There, 16 soldiers, as graduation test, slashed the women’s wombs and took the fetuses out with their own hands. Just like that, Solís explains, they murdered 252 people, most of them women, elders and children. But it wasn’t until April of this year that one of the people allegedly responsible for this massacre, Jorge Sosa Orantes, has been called to justice. Judge Santiago Pedráz, examining magistrate, asked Canada for his extradition to stand trial for genocide.

But the Inter American Court can only sentence the State and make recommendations. That is why, when we ask Solís about how she evaluates the reform of Universal Jurisdiction in Spain, she is categorical: “It is terrible because for the present actions we have the International Criminal Court. But for the past the only hope we have left are States like Spain who have the opportunity to do justice and who are bound because they are signatories of international treaties. I hope the Spanish people who have been so supportive of the Guatemalan cause follow the trial attentively and feel proud of what their State is able to do”.