Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Women and the Court: Nation-Building in Guatemala

Magazine article ReVista (Cambridge)

Women and the Court: Nation-Building in Guatemala

Article excerpt

Women and the Court: nation-Building in guatemala A review By SuSAn FitzPAtriCk-BehrenS I ask for Justice: maya women, dictators, and crime in Guatemala, 1898-1944 By david carey, jr. (University of Texas Press, 2013)

On May 10, 2013, General Efraín Ríos Montt sat before a packed courtroom in Guatemala City listening to a three-judge panel convict him of genocide and crimes against humanity. The conviction, which mandated an 80-year prison sentence for the octogenarian, followed five weeks of hearings that included testimony by more than 90 survivors from the Ixil region of the department of El Quiché, experts from a range of academic fields, and military officials. The genocide case against Efraín Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez (who was found not guilty) occurred because survivors appealed for justice by petitioning Guatemala's courts. Citizens turned to their courts despite decades of impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators of the violence- military and paramilitary forces which the United Nations Commission for Historical Clarification declared responsible for 93 percent of the deaths and disappearances of 200,000 people.

Because of the gendered nature of Guatemala's genocide, Ixil women's testimony and presence during the hearings defined the legal process. Photographers from newspapers, human rights groups and communities posted hundreds of images of Ixil women wearing intricately woven huipiles as they performed ceremonies outside the courtroom, sat listening intently to simultaneous Ixil translations of the hearings through red or white headphones, and testified to the violence they suffered. Twelve Ixil women, who appeared before the court often with their faces and heads covered by rebozos described, frequently through tears, the sexual torture they endured at the hands of soldiers following the commands of General Ríos Montt. Rape was not incidental to the state-directed genocide, but was instead a strategy to achieve it. By petitioning the court and testifying, women asked for justice.

On May 20, 2013, just ten days after the Guatemalan court convicted Ríos Montt, the country's Constitutional Court, in a 3-2 ruling, overturned the verdict and rolled back the state of the trial back to where it had been April 19. The reversal vitiated the first genocide conviction of a former head of state in a domestic court, rather than an international one. While the Guatemalan courts failed to deliver justice, by providing a forum for witness testimony the hearings publicly affirmed the historical fact that Guatemala's Maya population suffered genocide at the hands of their country's military. Guatemala's courts did not appear to be unequivocally allied with the country's forces of repression. The limits of courts' potential in civil society were also manifest. People presented testimony reinforcing the state's perspective that only indigenous people "innocent" of the "crime" of association with revolutionary groups could be considered genocide victims. Except for providing interpreters, court officials made few concessions to accommodate indigenous citizens' cultural practices. The verdict represented a shortlived exception to the rule of impunity. It was overturned. On May 13, 2014, 87 members of Guatemala's congress (with a total of 111 present) voted for a resolution that denied genocide took place during the armed conflict.

The contemporary role of Guatemala's courts in the genocide proceedings resonates with the historical role David Carey examines in his deeply researched, theoretically sophisticated, finegrained study of criminal court cases in Chimaltenango, Guatemala, during the dictatorships of Manuel Estrada Cabrera (1898-1920) and General Jorge Ubico (1931-1944). By placing women and their experiences in Guatemala's courts at the center of the process of "everyday forms of state formation," I Ask for Justice offers profound insight into gender- and state-formation and introduces a historical context that helps us understand more recent violence against women, to examine genocide court hearings as a component of contemporary state-making (and its limitations) and to interpret the hearings' significance for achieving justice. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.