Guest post: There is no impunity for mass murder

Guest post by Mary Scully. Originally a public post on Facebook, reposted here by permission.

These people are carrying coffins with the remains of some of the 45,000 people “disappeared” during Guatemala’s 36-year civil war between 1960 and 1996. Successive right-wing governments led by former generals directly implicated in the disappearances and murders of 200,000 indigenous Mayans have rebuffed political pressure to exhume and identify those murdered and dumped in mass graves. Exhumations have been going on since 1996 but as of two years ago, less than 1,000 skeletons had been recovered.

Photo by James Rodriguez

All were killed by soldiers and allied paramilitaries trying to wipe out a guerrilla movement using scorched earth military tactics that swept up everyone in its path–not just students, trade union and political activists, but women out shopping for food, children walking to school, people working in fields. According to forensic anthropologists leading the exhumations, victims were often buried with blindfolds, with hands and feet bound, had broken bones, and were often naked. Interrogation at military bases included rape, torture, extrajudicial execution, and secret burial often right near the bases. Many were hurled from helicopters into the sea or volcanic craters.

Because successive presidents of Guatemala have been the generals directly involved in executing the scorched earth civil war, there has been no justice. Former president Efrain Rios Montt was prosecuted in 2013 and has essentially walked on the charges. President Otto PĂ©rez Molina just resigned and was arrested not for his role in genocide but for customs fraud and bribery.

The exhumation process is a gruesome one because the skeletons of most are piled in mass graves and are not identifiable so DNA testing must be done for grieving family members to properly bury and honor their beloved. Most of the clandestine cemeteries are on still active military bases–some which fly the UN flag and where in fact Guatemalan military and police officials stationed there wear the distinctive blue helmet of the UN. Many of the bases of course–then and now–are operated by US military officials and bankrolled by the Pentagon.

Family members continue to demand justice. There’s a political accounting to be made here and exposing the political use of mass disappearance is part of the process of bringing all the guilty parties to justice and of course of exposing and prosecuting all who were involved–including within the UN and Pentagon. There is no impunity for mass murder. As the family members and human rights activists in Guatemala chant, “No Amnesty, No Pardon.”

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