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Genocide prosecution, a Guatemalan lesson

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 6 February 2013 11:39 No Comment]

A Guatamalan judge made history Monday by authorizing a public trial to prosecute a dictator and former Guatamalan "head of state" in Guatamalan domestic court for the ultimate crime of genocide. While Guatamala’s counter-insurgency massacres provide a stark parallel to Mu’l'lvaaykkaal killings of Tamil civilians, and even while, Sri Lanka’s hardline nationalist Sinhala population and the passive liberal voices will likely take generations to chart a similar path to justice for Rajapakse crimes, the Guatamalan lesson is crucial to the Tamils and its widely spread diaspora: "Credit for [the landmark case] goes to the survivors and victims’ families for 30 years of tenacious research and advocacy. International human rights groups, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the United Nations and foreign governments helped," New York Times said of the struggle in Guatamala to seek justice.

Former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt Judge, Miguel Ángel Gálvez, made his country, Guatamala, the first in the Americas to prosecute former "head of state," Efraín Ríos Montt on charges of genocide.

The judicial landmark, further comes at a poignant moment, to Eezham Tamils, when the United States Department of State, is exercising its discretion to intervene in the appellate proceedings in the Appeals Court of District of Colombia, where three Tamil families are plaintiffs in a case charging the crime of genocide and war-crimes against Sri Lanka’s President Rajapakse. Rajapakse’s appointed lawyers in Washington, Patton Boggs, are depending entirely on the U.S. Government to save their client from receiving justice through the legal system, by claiming "Head of State immunity," legal sources in Washington said.

judge-miguel-angel-galvez-small Montt seized power by a coup in March 1982, taking charge of a 20-year old counterinsurgency. "To deny the guerrillas local support, he sent soldiers to wipe out hundreds of Mayan villages," NYT said, adding, [i]n 1999, after the war’s end, the United Nations-sponsored Historical Clarification Commission tallied thousands of rapes, tortures, disappearances, violations of cultural rights and extrajudicial executions his forces committed while he held power, and concluded that he presided over acts of genocide."

In Mu’l'livaaykkaal, under Rajapakse command, the State military slaughtered more than 80,000 Tamil civilians under the pretext of wiping out 5000 strong LTTE fighters, Petrie Report and UN appointed Expert panel concluded. Accusations of war-crimes, and crimes against humanity during the war, and post-war continuation of systemic cultural genocide, including rapes, disappearances, abductions including planned colonization continue with unchecked belligerency, commented Tamil activists, drawing parallel to Guatemala.

Montt was ousted in another coup in August 1983, but became a right-wing congressman and a losing presidential candidate. No other high-ranking Guatemalan Army or police official was brought to justice. Military rule formally ended in 1985, and a peace accord was signed in 1996. But activists seeking to shed light on the past were still threatened and killed, a story familiar to Sri Lanka observers.

While elected as president Otto Pérez Molina, a former general who commanded troops in the Ixil region — the focus of the genocide trial — during Mr. Ríos Montt’s rule, insists “There was no genocide,” resilience of the victims families, rights groups, and Guatemalan Attorney General since 2010, Claudia Paz y Paz, who revolutionized the prosecutor’s office, pushing cases involving war crimes, have made the difference, NYT says.

"The overarching goal of the Guatemalan counterinsurgency was to destroy all oppositional thinking," the NYT story author, Kirsten Weld, an assistant professor of history at Harvard writes, and quotes Hannah Arendt, the German political scientist who wrote that any state’s efforts to make its opponents “disappear in silent anonymity” are doomed to failure.

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