Giving War Victims Burial Heals Communities

Article excerpt

Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera was bludgeoned to death just two days after the Catholic church released its groundbreaking 1998 report "Guatemala: Never Again," which was based on 6,000 interviews with survivors and family members of those who were disappeared or killed during the 36-year civil war. Gerardi was the principal architect of the report, better known by its Spanish acronym, REMHI.

Gerardi also founded the Guatemala City archdiocese's human rights office, which is now hoping to use the country's newly revealed police archives to help find the remains of people who were killed.

"REMHI and the archives are two complementary and essential elements of Guatemala's historic memory. One is the voice of the victims. The other is the official, bureaucratic counterpart that provides a background and confirmation of what the victims reported," said Rodrigo Salvado, director of the forensic anthropology team for the human rights office.

"Monsenor Gerardi talked about how unjust it was that a family didn't have the right to go and lay a flower on the grave of a loved one, and that one of the ministries of the church was to restore to them that opportunity," Salvado said. "Otherwise the family, the community and the society as a whole would remain traumatized."

There are thousands of villages where mass graves are still to be exhumed, and as time goes by, villagers are losing their fear of recovering their loved ones, according to Fredy Peccerelli, director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation, the country's largest mass grave diggers. So far, the foundation has exhumed 5,000 bodies. …