Decades After Guatemala’s Silent Holocaust, These Indigenous Women Are Fighting to Bring Their Rapists to Justice

For four decades, Pedrina López de Paz lived in shame, traumatized by the rape she endured as a 12-year-old at the hands of local militia, impoverished, bullied, and stigmatized. But as the 52-year-old Maya Achi survivor read her victim statement to a Guatemalan courtroom on Jan. 24, shame gave way to indignation. “I am a woman, I have endured pain,” she said. “Everything that happened has stayed in my body.”

It’s a story López de Paz shares with thousands of Indigenous women in Guatemala who suffered systematic sexual violence during the country’s 36-year civil war. Accused by the ruling elite of aiding leftist guerrilla forces, the country’s Mayan population was subjected to a genocidal campaign during which more than 160,000 were slaughtered. Mayan women bore the brunt of the military’s racist tactics—the Commission for Historical Clarification documented 1,465 cases of sexual violence between 1960 and the war’s end in 1996, of which 89% of victims were Indigenous women. The commission stressed that the figure did not reflect the true scale of sexual violence, due to the difficulties in reporting and gathering evidence. For survivors like López de Paz—whose parents were abducted at the time of her rape and never seen again, leaving her to care for her four younger siblings—suppressing the memory of sexual violence was necessary for survival.

For 40 years, the Indigenous survivors of what has become known as the Silent Holocaust carried their trauma like López de Paz, in their bodies. That is, until dozens of victims from the Maya Achi community made the three-and-a-half-hour journey in January from their rural hometown of Rabinal to Guatemala City to make what happened to them public. “We are here, we are speaking the truth,” López de Paz told the court.

And finally, she was heard. In a critical ruling Jan. 24, the court sentenced five men to a total of 150 years in prison for rape and crimes against humanity, which they denied. Outside the courtroom, groups of women in their 50s and 60s laid flowers and candles on the ground. Others held colorful banners blazoned with the slogan, “We Are All Achi”—a sign of solidarity with their sisters in the courtroom.

It was a rare victory for Indigenous women in a country that has long undervalued them, but the case is far from over. At least three more men who were initially named in the case have yet to stand trial, and a fourth remains a fugitive, meaning dozens of survivors still are waiting to see their rapists put behind bars. And while Rabinal Legal Clinic, the law firm that represents the Achi women, is determined to see the other men face charges, observers of the case say lawyers and survivors should aim higher.


[López de Paz] and the surviving Maya Achi women will also continue their search for justice as their lawyers attempt to bring the three men dismissed from the case to trial. This possibility is what keeps López de Paz going: “We have to keep fighting. It’s no longer the time to sleep.”

You can read the full article, with links, and photos by Josue Decavele and Johan Ordóñez, here, Decades After Guatemala’s Silent Holocaust, These Indigenous Women Are Fighting to Bring Their Rapists to Justice.

Categories: Femicide, Gender, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Legal, Military, Poverty, Solidarity in Action, Solidarity in Action/Guatemala, Violence

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Post comments here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: