The international human rights community has been watching for months as former dictator Efrain Rios Montt was brought to trial, thirty years after he led a genocide against Guatemala’s Indigenous Ixil Peoples.
We at MADRE were watching when the courtroom erupted into a three-ring circus, over and over, as lawyers walked out, as judges insisted that the trial was illegal, as the man who inflicted mass killings and rapes upon the people of Guatemala insisted that he was innocent.
We were watching closely just days ago as Efrain Rios Montt was found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity.
While we watched, we remembered all the times we have visited our sister organizations in their communities, sitting with them in their homes and hearing the horrors that they faced. This trial finally confirmed for the whole world Rios Montt’s role in orchestrating months of terror and attempting to destroy the Ixil People.
This measure of justice, more than thirty years after those dark days, is long overdue.
We know that this verdict cannot heal the wounds that you have suffered. It will not bring back the loved ones you have lost. It will not rebuild the communities that were torn apart and the homes that were destroyed.
You stood tall and demanded to be heard, through years when it seemed that the world would not listen.
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But every day, by surviving and supporting each other, you are restoring your lives and your communities, your histories and your culture.
Your commitment to justice made this victory possible. You refused to be silenced, even when powerful forces tried to intimidate and threaten you. You refused to be ridiculed or dismissed. You stood tall and demanded to be heard, through years when it seemed that the world would not listen.
This verdict is thanks to your determination to prevent these atrocities from ever happening again, to protect your children and grandchildren, and to give them a future.
To every person among the hundreds who bravely testified before the court, telling of the brutality they witnessed and endured, and to the thousands more whose stories we have not yet heard, we offer our deepest honor and respect.
Efrain Rios Montt did not act alone. He had an accomplice in the Reagan Administration. The US considered him an ally, not only refusing to acknowledge the massacres occurring under his regime, but offering him moral and military support. We are committed to speak out against this injustice and to demand full accountability.
We celebrate this victory, and we offer you our solidarity in the days to come. We will stand beside you and join our voices to yours in the ongoing call for justice, even across the distances that separate us.