Written by Lisa and Laura
The conclusion of the first week of the trial began with the testimony of María Juliana Sis Iboy who offered her expertise in linguistics and sexual violence.
She explained that in the Maya Achi language, there is no word for sexual violence. Therefore, when speaking about their experience in Achi or giving their testimony, women would use euphemisms or other distinct expressions to explain their experience. Examples of these ways of speaking included “they ruined me,” or “they hurt me”. When giving their testimony, the women would often cry inconsolably or signal that they were unable to continue by saying “it is too painful to share because they hurt us,” “let’s just leave it there,” or “I’d rather not.”
During the attacks, language was a means of further asserting dominance and power over the women while using sexual violence as a weapon. Although the aggressors were also Achi, when they committed these crimes, they often spoke in Spanish. The men would not only use physical violence but they would threaten, degrade, make fun of, and compare the women to animals.
Many of the men responsible for this violence still live in Rabinal and in the communities where the women continue to reside. This leads to continued harassment in public, in the streets as former civil patrollers would ridicule the women. While many of the survivors continue to live with this trauma, they are also confronted with the weight of the knowledge that their aggressors are living well with their families. As a result, many of the women live with embarrassment and shame regarding their abuse.
Dr. Cristian Ruiz Murillo, a doctor from Costa Rica testified to the physical and emotional health of the women. Having evaluated 31 of the survivors, he found that the majority experienced moderate or severe depression and some showed signs of insomnia, anxiety, loss of appetite, and anguish. He recommended continued therapy for them and medication for some.
Lastly, José Ángel Zapeta García delivered an expert testimony on the Mayan cosmovision and the loss of spirituality for Maya Achi women during the Internal Armed Conflict (IAC). He explained that women occupied a special role within communities and the killing of women during the IAC did distinct damage to the Maya Achi social fabric. For example, women are the center of social resistance within Mayan culture, explaining why they were targeted so fiercely as an arm of war. By extension, through the killing of knowledge holders who were authorities on spirituality and ethics (such as elders, midwives, and spiritual guides) the state attempted to eliminate historical memory and social cohesion by destroying the community’s connection to their cosmovision. Killing elders also is a means of destroying culture. For girls who lost their parents, grandmothers would play an important role in teaching them how to value their bodies, take care of themselves, and teaching them about traditional dress.
By the end of the IAC there was a pattern to dismantle spiritual spaces. For example, in Rio Negro, the river, land, homes, and fields were lost when they were flooded for the Chixoy Hydroelectric Dam project. As a result, the community was forced to relocate to Pacux, creating a reality where new generations have lost their connection to the Mayan cosmovision.
Another way that this connection has been severed is through the disappearance of loved ones. Within the Mayan cosmovision, without the knowledge of where a family member has been buried or taken, a death cannot be fully grieved. García finished by stating that it is important for the government to repair the damage of the IAC and that the loss of spirituality has never been addressed.
The day concluded with staff from the Guatemalan National Forensic Institute ratifying their analysis of evidence to confirm the identity of one of the accused, Gabriel Cuxum Alvarado. They analyzed their signatures and fingerprints to prove that they had been using an assumed identity prior to capture while living as a fugitive.
We continue to stand in solidarity with the 36 Maya Achi women seeking justice in this case. The trial will continue on Monday, January 10th, 2022.
Read the report back for day 3 here.
Read the report back for day 5 here.