Guatemala City – Survivors of genocide and other crimes against humanity during Guatemala’s civil war demand justice as ongoing trials against former military officials stagnate in court.
Indigenous survivors and relatives of the victims marched through Guatemala City on Thursday to commemorate National Day of Dignity for Victims of the Internal Armed Conflict, calling on the government to honor its commitments to peace and justice.
“This day makes so much sense. He honors our dead, ”said Rigoberta Menchu, an indigenous Maya K’iche human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1992.
“For many, many years we have fought for recognition of the victims,” Menchu, whose father was killed in a 1980 massacre, told Al Jazeera.
A civil war between the socialist guerrilla forces and the Guatemalan army from 1960 to 1996 left an estimated 200,000 dead and 45,000 more. faded away. More than 80% of the victims were indigenous Mayan civilians.
Military forces are responsible for 93% of killings, according to a United Nations-backed truth commission. The Historical Clarification Commission determined that state actors had committed acts genocide, and Guatemalan courts have since reached the same conclusion.
The commission presented its report on February 25, 1999, and the date was subsequently recognized as the annual day of dignity for victims. The report helped pave the way for investigations and exhumations that led to prosecutions of former high-level military officials.
Over the past decade, Guatemalan national courts have rendered landmark decisions on genocide, sexual slavery and other crimes against humanity. But pending cases and trials for genocide, mass enforced disappearances and other civil war-era atrocities are stagnating in court.
“Little by little, they want to close all the businesses,” Menchu said. “There are major latent setbacks in the administration of justice.”
The victims and survivors movements, however, celebrated a recent important victory. The Constitutional Court ruled earlier this month against an amnesty bill that would have freed perpetrators of crimes against humanity.
More than 50 associations of victims, survivors and relatives are still waiting for the Constitutional Court to rule on their challenges to the closure by Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei last year of three institutions intended to respect government commitments arising from the peace agreements from 1996.
“To date, there has been no response,” Feliciana Macario, a representative of CONAVIGUA, a human rights organization led by Mayan women whose relatives have been killed or have disappeared, told Al Jazeera. .
A delegation of associations present Thursday presented a document to the Constitutional Court, urging the court to rule on the issue. The march then continued to the office of the human rights ombudsperson, to express support for the ombudsperson, before ending outside the Congress.
The president’s office did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the requests.
Jose Yos was born years after the war ended, but he participated in the march to honor his grandfather. The 19-year-old traveled to the capital with his mother and sisters on Thursday from their home in Santa Lucia Cotzumalguapa, 95 kilometers southwest of Guatemala City.
“My grandfather was a martyr,” Yos, who bears his grandfather’s name, told Al Jazeera. “He fought for human rights and for better remuneration.”
In the late 1970s, the former Yos and other sugarcane harvesters from the Escuintla county began to organize themselves with the Campesino Unity Committee. Some of them later joined committee members from other parts of Guatemala City in protesting against kidnappings and killings by the military, and on January 31, 1980, they occupied the Spanish embassy.
A fire broke out during a police raid and 37 people – eight Spanish diplomats, including the consul, and 29 civilians, including Menchu’s father and Yos’ grandfather – were burned alive. More than 40 years later, their loved ones continue to take action with survivors of atrocities across the country.
“I feel uplifted here because there is a kind of oneness with the other relatives of the victims,” Yos said. “What we are looking for is justice.”