Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
October 1, 2001
No justice in Guatemala — judge
Government doesn't believe it was wrong to terrorize its own people, he tells crowd
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — In any country's constitution, the state has an obligation to protect its citizens.
In Guatemala, "the state is the assassin," responsible for 90 per cent of the 200,000 deaths and 150,000 disappearances during 36 years of civil war, says Judge Henry Monroy, an exiled Guatemalan Supreme Court judge now living in Montreal.
This horrifying reality is exposed in two serious reports, one from the United Nations, another from the Catholic Church, both of which include 50 collective massacres in their accounts of human rights atrocities.
Nevertheless, few of the military officers who committed these crimes are in jail paying for their crimes, lamented Monroy.
That's because impunity is at the core of the Guatemalan justice system, the judge said. "The state does not think that what it did is wrong" and so it protects the culprits.
Monroy spoke of the judicial process and impunity in Guatemala at the University of Alberta campus Sept. 24. Some 200 people attended his lecture at Tory Lecture hall. His talk was sponsored by Change for Children and several other local groups.
Monroy was the first of several Supreme Court judges assigned to the case of Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, who was bludgeoned to death in April 1998 days after he released the Catholic Church's Historical Memory Project - a report filled with accounts of human rights violations.
The report placed the bulk of the blame for the atrocities on the Guatemalan military, which led to the bishop's killing. Due to threats and intimidation, Judge Monroy was forced to flee Guatemala.
Three military officers and a priest were convicted of Gerardi's death in June, making it the first time that any military officers have been found guilty of a serious human rights violation.
The convictions, which can still be overturned in the appeal process, gave Guatemalans hope that they can get justice for crimes against humanity. But that's only a slim hope "because the system of impunity is well entrenched in Guatemala's judicial system," Monroy said.
The war officially ended in 1996, with the signing of a peace accord between the military and the rebel forces. Now there is talk of peace and reconciliation.
"However, the same conditions that led to the war-poverty, hunger and injustice - are still prevalent in Guatemala," lamented the judge. "There is no (state) investment in the protection of human life."
What is needed to achieve peace and reconciliation is to acknowledge the dignity of the victims, to pay reparation for the damages and to punish those responsible for the crimes. "Otherwise, we can't speak of peace and reconciliation," Monroy said. "The social fabric has been broken."
In many small Indian villages torturers and victims live side by side, sometimes in the same street. "Of what peace and reconciliation can we speak of in those terms?" Monroy asked.
Monroy urged Canadians to reflect on the dynamics that spawned state terrorism and civil war in Guatemala. It is the clash of economic interests in places where some people live in conditions of poverty and misery. Today, like yesterday, the Guatemalan economy is in the hands of no more than 20 families, while the majority of the population lives in poverty.
In 1954, the U.S. backed financially and militarily a coup against the progressive government of Jocobo Arbenz, "whose only sin was to expropriate vast amounts of land that were not being utilized."
Multinational corporations like the United Fruit Company saw their interests threatened by Arbenz' land reforms and called for U.S. intervention. This led to the civil war that lasted until 1996 and which left almost a quarter-million Guatemalans dead, Monroy said.
The judge said the best hope for justice in Guatemala and other countries lies in the creation of an international court, which would allow for the prosecution of war criminals anywhere in the world.
Such a court, already proposed by the United Nations, has not received U.S. backing because the U.S. fears having members of its own government charged before such a court for their actions in Guatemala and other countries.
But Monroy is hopeful such a court will one day come into existence. When it does, he would like to see the likes of former U.S. secretary of state Henry Kissinger facing justice along with former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt.
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