Ixil Genocide

Daniele Volpe

2013 - Ongoing

In the early eighties, the Ixil Community was one of the principal targets of a genocide operation, involving systematic rape, forced displacements and hunger during the Guatemalan civil war. According to a 1999 United Nations truth commission, between 70 and 90% of Ixil villages were razed and 60% of the population in the highland region were forced to flee to the mountains. By 1996, it was estimated that some 7,000 Maya Ixil had been killed. The violence was particularly heightened during the period 1979–1985 as successive Guatemalan administrations and the military pursued an indiscriminate scorched-earth.

Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala for nearly seventeen months during 1982 and 1983, was on trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity. The main charges allege that he was the intellectual author of 1,771 deaths and the forced displacement of 29,000 people in the Ixil region. After more than 30 years he was found guilty of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Only ten days after a trial court issued its historic verdict, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the verdict and restarted the trial.

Rios Montt died early 2018, totally unpunished.

However, the trial was an important milestone in holding political and military leaders accountable for international crimes.

For Guatemalans, it is hoped it will also contribute to an accurate historical account of the gross human rights violations committed during the civil war, in a process that will reinforce the country’s young democracy.

Nowadays, many survivors are still searching for the remains of their deceased relatives from the civil war. Exhumations make up an important part of the process of clarification and evidence gathering of Guatemalan justice, with respect to massacres against civilians. The forensic inquiry tries to reconcile the grief of survivors, who can then give a dignified burial to their loved ones.

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  • Members of the community attend an exhumation in Xe'Xuxcap, Nebaj. Place was a clandestine cemetery where forensic anthropologists found more than 30 bodies.

    This kind of cemetery were created in the mountains where people, escaping and hiding from the army persecutions, were forced to live. Far away from medical services and with hard access to food, many people died due to common diseases and hunger.

    April 16, 2013

  • Remains found in a clandestine cemetery of Santa Avelina, Cotzal, where forensic anthropologists found 172 bodies.

    The 172 recovered remains were those of people who died between 1978, early in the army’s incursions into the region, and 1986. Of them, 15 suffered violent deaths, killed by firearm or machete. More than half of the victims were children — 14 newborns, 66 toddlers and 28 children between the ages of 4 and 12 — who died of hunger and disease. They were most vulnerable to the harsh conditions of the mountains and of the model villages, where access to food and medicine was limited.

    August 15, 2014

  • Feliciana Bernal stands between the trenches dug by forensic anthropologists in Xe'Xuxcap, Nebaj. She is looking for her one year-old son, who died over 30 years ago.

    Place was a clandestine cemetery where forensic anthropologists found more than 30 bodies. This kind of cemetery were created in the mountains where people, escaping and hiding from the army persecutions, were forced to live. Far away from medical services and with hard access to food, many people died due to common diseases and hunger.
    Non-fiction and non-posed picture. I took it while I followed the labor of forensic anthropologists.

    April 18, 2013

  • Cranium and other remains found by forensic anthropologists in a clandestine cemetery of Xe'Xuxcap, Nebaj, are labeled in paper bags before to be sent to Guatemala City for forencics analysis.

    Until now, in the the country, more than 8.000 remains were recovered by the forensic anthropologists since they start this labor, in 1992. Many more decades will needed to find the more of 45.000 (according U.N.) remains of missing people during the Civil War.

    April 16, 2013

  • Relatives of the victims cry at the presence of the bags that contain the remains of their loved ones found by forensic anthropologists in a mass grave in the former military base in Xolosinay, Cotzal. Here were found 84 remains of bodies in various mass graves.

    According to the interviews anthropologists done to the witnesses, in separated events, during the '80s, many people were detained or kidnaped and hold on in that military base. Then, nobody knew more about them.

    September 13, 2014

  • Ixil women listen to the translation from Spanish to their native language during the genocide trial against Ríos Montt. At the genocide trial the prosecution evidence of 1,485 cases of sexual abuse to Ixil women. Twelve of them gave their testimonies in front of the judge on the sexual violence committed by soldiers they were victims of –in many cases, women were gang raped.

    Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala for nearly seventeen months during 1982 and 1983, was on trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity. The main charges allege that he was the intellectual author of 1,771 deaths and the forced displacement of 29,000 people in the Ixil region.

    April 9, 2013

  • Ex-dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, declares in front of judge Yassmin Barrios during the genocide trial where he is the main defendant.

    Jose Efrain Rios Montt, who ruled Guatemala for nearly seventeen months during 1982 and 1983, was on trial in Guatemala City for genocide and crimes against humanity. The main charges allege that he was the intellectual author of 1,771 deaths and the forced displacement of 29,000 people in the Ixil region. After more than 30 years he was found guilty of genocide and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Only ten days after a trial court issued its historic verdict, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the verdict and restarted the trial. 

    Rios Montt died early 2018, totally unpunished.

    May 9, 2013

  • Forensic experts study the cranium and other remains found in a clandestine grave. The needles indicate that the cause of death were four bullet wounds. They presume the victim was executed.

    Until now, in the the country, more than 8.000 remains were recovered by the forensic anthropologists since they start this labor, in 1992. Many more decades will needed to find the more of 45.000 (according U.N.) remains of missing people during the Civil War.

    April 12, 2013

  • After recover 172 remains, forensic anthropologists exhibit the clothes and personal objects they found in the graves in a clandestine cemetery of Santa Avelina, Cotzal, with the hope that them could be recognized by the relatives and to bury the remains with a name. Although was not possible have a match of genetic profile after the DNA analysis, there still is the hope to have a sure identification in the future.

    The 172 recovered remains were those of people who died between 1978, early in the army’s incursions into the region, and 1986. Of them, 15 suffered violent deaths, killed by firearm or machete. More than half of the victims were children — 14 newborns, 66 toddlers and 28 children between the ages of 4 and 12 — who died of hunger and disease.

    November 29, 2017

  • The entire community of Xecol, Chajul, receives the remains of one of the victims murdered by the Army in 1986.

    Xecol is a very remote village in at the norther edge of Ixil region. People forced to flee and seek refuge in the neighboring mountains achieve to form a civilian, and unarmed, communitarian organization known CPR (Communities of Population in Resistance) in order to be more efficient to find food and mobilize to run away from the army and, more in general, build survival strategies.

    June 20, 2013

  • Pedro Rivera participates in the funeral of the 31 victims of the Xecax massacre, perpetrated by the Army in February 1982. Among them is his aunt, Magdalena Rivera (left). Nebaj.

    Forensic anthropologists exhumed the remains in 2010. They were able to identify eight of the victims through DNA tests and returned back to their relatives’ homes in the village for a traditional wake before the mass burial. The 23 others, unidentified, anyways were honored by the community.

    July 30, 2014

  • Relatives await the burial of remains recovered in an exhumation, murdered by the Army in 1986. Xecol, Chajul.

    Xecol is a very remote village in at the norther edge of Ixil region. People forced to flee and seek refuge in the neighboring mountains achieve to form a civilian, and unarmed, communitarian organization known CPR (Communities of Population in Resistance) in order to be more efficient to find food and mobilize to run away from the army and, more in general, build survival strategies.

    June 20, 2013

  • As part of traditional service, violin sound honoring the 77 victims of the Covadonga massacre on the way to the Estrella Polar cemetery, Chajul, before the mass burial.

    As of March 23, 1982, the day of military coup led by Rios Montt, and over the next two weeks, a troop made up of soldiers and civil patrollers cross a plantation zone in the north of Chajul with the order of exterminate the people of the region's settlements, unarmed men, women and children. First one was Ilom, in March 23, were 96 victims. The day after was Estrella Polar, 81 victims. On March 29 was Covadonga, 77 victims, and then, on April, 3, in Chel, 95 victims.

    November 20, 2014

  • Women, relative of victims, are cooking the food for a massive wake in Ixtupil village of the Ixil region.

    On May 2013, forensic anthropologists found 47 remains in a clandestine cemetery near Ixtupil village who died of starvation, diseases and hypothermia between '82 and '84 in the mountains while they were hiding from the Guatemalan army persecution. At the moment, only 14 remains were identify by DNA analysis.

    August 7, 2018

  • A relative of a victim attends a massive wake in Ixtupil village of the Ixil region.

    On May 2013, forensic anthropologists found 47 remains in a clandestine cemetery near Ixtupil village who died of starvation, diseases and hypothermia between '82 and '84 in the mountains while they were hiding from the Guatemalan army persecution. At the moment, only 14 remains were identify by DNA analysis.

    August 7, 2018

  • Forensic anthropologists place the skeleton of one of the 77 victims of the Covadonga massacre, under the gaze of his family members. Estrella Polar, Chajul.

    As of March 23, 1982, the day of military coup led by Rios Montt, and over the next two weeks, a troop made up of soldiers and civil patrollers cross a plantation zone in the north of Chajul with the order of exterminate the people of the region's settlements, unarmed men, women and children. First one was Ilom, in March 23, were 96 victims. The day after was Estrella Polar, 81 victims. On March 29 was Covadonga, 77 victims, and then, on April, 3, in Chel, 95 victims.

    November 19, 2014

  • On the way to the cemetery to bury the 77 victims of the Covadonga massacre. Estrella Polar, Chajul.

    As of March 23, 1982, the day of military coup led by Rios Montt, and over the next two weeks, a troop made up of soldiers and civil patrollers cross a plantation zone in the north of Chajul with the order of exterminate the people of the region's settlements, unarmed men, women and children. First one was Ilom, in March 23, were 96 victims. The day after was Estrella Polar, 81 victims. On March 29 was Covadonga, 77 victims, and then, on April, 3, in Chel, 95 victims.

    November 20, 2014

  • Burial of the 31 victims of the Xecax massacre in the Nebaj Public Cemetery.

    Forensic anthropologists exhumed the remains in 2010. They were able to identify eight of the victims through DNA tests and returned back to their relatives’ homes in the village for a traditional wake before the mass burial. The 23 others, unidentified, anyways were honored by the community.

    July 30, 2014.

  • Elena Ramírez cries during the burial of two of her daughters murdered by the Army in 1986. Xecol, Chajul.

    Xecol is a very remote village in at the norther edge of Ixil region. People forced to flee and seek refuge in the neighboring mountains achieve to form a civilian, and unarmed, communitarian organization known CPR (Communities of Population in Resistance) in order to be more efficient to find food and mobilize to run away from the army and, more in general, build survival strategies.

    June 21, 2013.

  • Three civilian victims, murdered by the Army in 1986, are being buried in Xecol, Chajul.

    Xecol is a very remote village in at the norther edge of Ixil region. People forced to flee and seek refuge in the neighboring mountains achieve to form a civilian, and unarmed, communitarian organization known CPR (Communities of Population in Resistance) in order to be more efficient to find food and mobilize to run away from the army and, more in general, build survival strategies.

    June 21, 2013.


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