The three Guatemalan judges who convicted former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt of genocide and crimes against humanity talk to a Berkeley audience about their experience of the trial.
It was a tense moment in the packed Guatemalan national courthouse. But despite the crackle of anticipation in the air, the president of the court, Judge Yassmin Barrios, was calm as she read the court’s final statement. She and her fellow judges, Patricia Bustamante and Pablo Xitumul, found the 87-year-old former general and head-of-state, José Efraín Ríos Montt, guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity for his treatment of the Ixil Mayan indigenous population. The May 10, 2013 verdict was 30 years in coming. During his rule, which lasted from March 1982 to August 1983, the general had overseen horrendous acts, the worst atrocities of the Guatemalan Civil War. The genocide trial focused on the 1,771 Ixil Maya killed during his presidency, and the witness testimonies were gut-wrenching. “Soldiers ripped out their hearts, piled them into a house, and set it ablaze,” recalled one survivor.