Human Rights Lawyer: “There Was a Genocide in Guatemala”


Guatemalan bus with the saying, “yes there was a genocide”
Media Credit: Xeni Jardin

By Brenda Leon.

This November, Spanish human rights lawyer Sofia Duyos-Alvarez came to speak in the Library Atrium about the Guatemalan genocide trials. 

Sofia Duyos-Alvarez plays a key role as counsel for the victims in the Spanish Tribunal’s case against the Guatemalan general Rios Montt. This event was sponsored by the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies.

Alvarez’s opening statement introduced the audience to a long bloody war, beginning in 1982, when the Guatemala military, backed by the U.S. government, initiated a series of killings against the Maya population who it believed was in alliance with the leftist insurgency.

“Sí hubo genocidio en Guatemala [Indeed, there was a genocide in Guatemala],” said Alvarez as Professor Victoria Sanford, from the Department of Anthropology, translated.

Alvarez talked about the actions of the Guatemalan army that arrived at the villages of the Maya groups near the capital with the explicit objective to kill them. The children suffered brutality, and the survivors were taken into “concentration camps,” said the lawyer.

Alvarez then recounts one of the many testimonies about how when survivors and children were moved to “El Pino,” the soldiers would lose control and massacre them.

“Nineteen ninety-nine is the year when the lucha begins as Roberta Menchu of the CALDH [Centre for Human Rights Legal Action] presents the case in the courts of Spain,” said Alvarez. “Though there are two independent processes from the Guatemalan case, they are both parallel with the same goal.”

The goal was to charge and imprison those at fault of the genocides with the hundreds of testimonies collected through the work of organizations such as the CALDH and the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR).

On May 10 of this year, Montt was condemned to 80 years of imprisonment, making him the first high ranking official to be convicted, a victory for human rights advocacy.

This conviction was annulled months later and the struggles continue in the courts to bring justice to the indigenous Guatemalans murdered during that period.

“Thank you for listening to me,” said Alvarez at the end of her lecture. “This is my truth.  I want justice so that this will not repeat itself.”


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