The Ixil Struggle for Justice: Facing and Overcoming Genocide

Would you fight for justice if you and your loved ones were wronged? Would you stand up for what you believe in? Would you resist tyranny, oppression and persecution with all your might, or would you just sit idly by as your entire civilization was under attack? I would like to call your attention to a very serious issue, an issue that you might at first think has no direct bearing on your life, nor the lives of your loved ones. It is an issue in one particular country happening to a people you may have never heard of. Yet before you dismiss it out of hand, or write it off as irrelevant, take a moment to hear me out.

Efrain Rios Montt

Efrain Rios Montt, former head of state for Guatemala, convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity on 10 May 2013

On 26 January 2012, former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Ríos Montt was indicted for genocide and crimes against humanity. Ríos Montt’s heinous crimes date back to his involvement in the Guatemalan Civil War (1960 – 1996), where he is accused of overseeing and consenting to acts of systematic rape, torture, forced displacement and genocide against the Ixil people (a group of Maya indigenous to Guatemala). There were over 1700 Ixil murdered during this time, and over 200,000 total deaths committed by the Guatemalan Army under Ríos Montt’s command. The indictment was only the first step towards justice, but it was at least a start. Following the indictment, on 10 May 2013, Ríos Montt again appeared in court and this time he was was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison, becoming the first ever former head of state to be found guilty of genocide in his or her own country. The presiding judge was the Honorable Jazmín Barrios.

The Associated Press reports,

‘The three-judge panel essentially concluded that the massacres followed the same pattern, showing they had been planned, something that would not be possible without the approval of the military command, which Rios Montt headed. In delivering the verdict, Presiding Judge Yassmin Barrios said, “he knew about everything that was going on and he did not stop it, despite having the power to stop it from being carried out.”

This is the same man that, in 1982, then President of the United States Ronald Reagan said was “A man of great personal integrity [...] totally dedicated to democracy”. This is also the same man who came into power after a CIA-backed coup in Guatemala. This is why you are not likely to hear the full back-story on the major network news channels in the United States.

Rigoberta Menchú Tum

Rigoberta Menchú Tum, indigenous Guatemalan, human rights activist

Nobel Laureate, indigenous Guatemalan, and human rights activist Rigoberta Menchú in response to the conviction of 10 May stated:

“The verdict against Ríos Montt is historic. We waited for 33 years for justice to prevail. It’s clear that there is no peace without justice. There is no peace without truth. We need justice for the victims for there to be real peace. This verdict is crucial. It complements a long process of investigation, of denouncing the abuses, and a process that the victims hope will heal and result in reparations […] and this is why I think that the conviction of Ríos Montt may provide an opportunity to close a chapter of our lives, a chapter of profound pain and a chapter that closes and allows us to begin a new relationship amongst Guatemalans, because during the genocide, we felt so alone, we felt powerless, and we felt that nobody had our back. But now a court has convicted Ríos Montt of genocide. So, for us, that suffices, that the fact that genocide was committed is recognized means that nobody will ever forget that genocide was committed.”

In an ideal world, when a criminal such as Efrain Rios Montt is convicted in a court of law for such horrible crimes as these we would expect that he would face his time in jail, we would expect that justice would be served, we would expect that the voices of all of the men, women and children that were devastated by the atrocities occurring under his command would be heard, and not only heard, but listened to, and not only listened to, but acted on. Yet this is not an ideal world, and oftentimes wrongs are never made right, responsibilities are shirked, and the word “justice” becomes a mere empty platitude—a thing hoped for that might never be fulfilled. On 20 May 2013, ten days after the conviction in the lower court, the country’s High Court overturned the previous ruling and ordered that all of the proceedings from 19 April through 10 May be annulled and repealed.

Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, historian, teacher, peace activist

This was a devastating blow to the Ixil people and to all indigenous and human rights advocates across the planet. The annulment was due to jurisdictional disputes. However, the Guatemalan legal system is known to favor impunity for those in power, such as former and current heads of state. It appears that this case is being bogged down with unnecessary red-tape to prevent Rios Montt from facing the consequences of his actions. Meanwhile, the Ixil community, along with all of the other survivors of the genocide attacks, are not giving up the fight. Their ongoing resistance in the face of persecution brings to mind the words of the late great historian and activist Howard Zinn, as stated in his book, “You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Time”:

“The power of a bold idea uttered publicly in defiance of dominant opinion cannot be easily measured. Those special people who speak out in such a way as to shake up not only the self-assurance of their enemies, but the complacency of their friends, are precious catalysts for change.”

The Ixil are an example of those special people Zinn is taking about, and it is indeed change that we need. The Ixil desperately need it in Guatemala, but they are not alone. Their struggle is in fact the struggle of all peoples who have ever been dismissed, persecuted, treated as less than human, jailed, raped, murdered, exploited, stamped out, cast off, ignored, taken advantage of, ridiculed and attacked for greed, profit and power. To allow this type of abuse to go unchecked, to allow those responsible to be absolved of their crimes, is not only an insult to the very people the crimes were committed against, but is also an acknowledgment of consent, a complacent agreement with the noxious deeds of the aggressors.

So I invite you  to consider again what I asked at the beginning of this post; would you fight for justice if you and your loved ones were wronged? Would you stand up for what you believe in? Would you resist tyranny, oppression and persecution with all your might, or would you just sit idly by as your entire civilization was under attack?

Know this, your civilization is under attack. Our civilization is under attack. We the people of the world who respect and honor the sanctity of life, we the people of the world who celebrate diversity and culture, we the people of the world who can not for one minute accept that the wholesale slaughter of our brothers and sisters is just a matter of “collateral damage”, to be written off as of no consequence.

Where do you stand?

Here is a list of non-profit organizations aligned with the indigenous and human rights movement. Please consider becoming involved and/or donating to the cause of human rights.

Guatemala Human Rights Commission

Survival – the movement for tribal peoples


International Rescue Committee

Oxfam International

Human Rights Watch

In addition, please consider watching this documentary, titled The Mayan Word, which gives further details about the struggle of the Maya in Guatemala and elsewhere, as told in their own words.

– SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE –,+%22They+have+to+leave+their+land+when+the+landlords+want+to+grow+sugar+cane.%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=TWOXUO69O4-o8QSa7oCACw&ved=0CC4Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

About these ads

8 thoughts on “The Ixil Struggle for Justice: Facing and Overcoming Genocide

  1. First wow: a really well-written article.
    Second wow: impressive list of sources!

    First ugh: the entire attitude and conduct of the US toward Central and South American pretty much from the inception of the United States and to the end of the Cold War (and even a bit afterward). That we were so terrified of communism that we would call a scumbag like Montt anything positive at all (let along someone with integrity), speaks volumes to the depth of our unreason.

    Second ugh: when the acquitted the aforementioned scumbag, I think they could hear the thousands of Guatemalans rolling over in their graves in Siberia.

    Cool side note: I see that the Ixil are making great strides in revitalizing their language. They doubled the number of native speakers in the few years surrounding the turn of the century alone.

    • Thank you for the compliments Cary. I tried to do the article justice as best I could. There was so much more I wanted to get into, however, I felt that if I narrowed it down to the Rios Montt trial in particular this would help me focus, and still allow an avenue to point to the greater issue as a whole. I may eventually write a follow up piece to this one, and bring out some further details.

      That’s awesome news about the Ixil language! Thanks for sharing a spot of positive light in the midst of all the darkness..

      BTW, sorry for the long delay. After this assignment I went out of town for a bit, and I am also in other courses with a heavy work load, but am starting to get a breather again, though still working on projects and assignments.

      • Oh, no worries. I get pretty irregular with responding to comments, etc at times too. That’s just how it goes.

  2. Where there is Life, there is hope! I am glad that the Ixil have found a remote warrior such as yourself, to battle their cause, so eloquently, at a distance.
    Our lives are all entwined and it is an ignorant one who would try to live otherwise.

    I will watch all the videos when I am more refreshed and I shall be sharing this post, if it okay with you, with all those I feel need a little reminder of who they are on this earth and their responsibilities to their reflections across the waters.

    Well done William, I hope you can contact Rigoberta with an audio-version of your post or at least in a form that she can share it and possibly use it to further their campaigns locally. Let me know if you do.

    All the best!

    • Mama D,

      Thank you for the kind remarks. All I have done is try to bring some awareness to the issue. The Ixil, as you know, are one among many who have faced this type of hardship. I wish I could do more. Perhaps I can?

      Of course, feel free to share the post to anybody you feel might have an interest.

  3. Reblogged this on Cary's Blog and commented:
    How big a moral monster, how many deaths does a rich and powerful person have to be responsible for to finally be held accountable? Surely the Ixil people of Guatemala must be asking themselves this after that country’s murderous dictator had his 80 year prison sentence tossed out.

  4. Thank you for writing this. We can hope to get our minds around this story because it is about a distant land and a time past, and yet the broader issue is all about us: if you legitimize inhumanity against just one person, then you legitimize inhumanity full stop. In a world of state-sponsored torture, thank you for helping to make this “mind-size” for the rest of us.

    • Thank you Geoffrey. I appreciate your thoughtful comments. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed when I consider the depth of depravity and horror I see in the world. Other times this motivate me to try and make a change, even if it is in little ways, in my own life and in the lives of those within my community. The fact that some people, such as yourself, still do care and have a heart makes all the difference. We are all in this together, as far as I’m concerned. I agree completely with what you say, “if you legitimize inhumanity against just one person, then you legitimize inhumanity full stop.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s