Friday, May 16, 2014

Genocide in Guatemala

The Guatemalan legislature approved a non-binding resolution denying that genocide took place there. And, somehow, this was supposed to contribute to reconciliation.

It seems to be a way of saying that even if over 200,000 people were killed by the government, it does not rise to the level of "genocide." Given that many people, including a bishop, were murdered in the post-civil war era simply for talking about accountability, this sort of argument shouldn't come as a surprise.

As for the fact, the Guatemala truth commission lays everything out in horrific detail. Put simply, there were times when the Guatemalan government wanted to raze the countryside in order to kill all real or imagine "subversives," which meant 83% of victims were Mayan. The army was proficient at this in a way that sometimes defies description. That is something not up for debate.

According to the United Nations, genocide is defined as follows:

The convention defines genocide as any act committed with the idea of destroying in whole or in part a national, ethnic, racial or religious group. This includes such acts as:

Killing members of the group
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group
Deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to physically destroy the group (the whole group or even part of the group)
Forcefully transferring children of the group to another group

The criteria sound like Guatemala.

So why is all this happening? Because there are trials going on, and the debate about the resolution centered on questions of "revenge" and unfairness. If a trial is about some Indian deaths, that's one thing. If it's about genocide, that takes it up a notch. The resolution is not a law so cannot affect the judiciary directly, but it sends a message and seeks to change the context.

Supporters of the resolution openly said that the way to achieve reconciliation was to forget the past. "Forgetting" is the language of perpertrators and has played out in similar fashion across Latin America. There was this big conflict, mistakes were made on both sides, so let's not dredge up the past anymore and just move forward without revenge. In practice, of course, that would mean denying victims any justice at all.


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