Perpetrator Studies Network


Guatemala, the Question of Genocide

Edited by Elizabeth A. Oglesby and Diane M. Nelson.

In Guatemala, it was called the “trial of the century”: the 2013 prosecution of former de facto head of state (1982-1983) General José Efraín Ríos Montt and his intelligence chief, General José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity against the Maya-Ixil people. Ríos Montt’s seventeen-month reign was one of the bloodiest periods in Guatemala’s history, with “scorched earth” massacres, the destruction of hundreds of Maya communities, and militarized resettlement of Mayas into “model villages.” Ríos Montt was convicted on all charges. Ten days later, a higher court vacated the verdict on dubious procedural grounds. Nevertheless, Guatemala’s genocide trial, held in the domestic courts in the country where the crimes were committed, was precedent-setting.

In this volume, Guatemalan and international scholars rigorously explore the complexities of the Guatemala experience and reflect upon the case’s implications for understanding and prosecuting the category of genocide more broadly. Topics include: the nexus of racism and counterinsurgency in explaining Guatemala’s genocide; the politics of Maya collective memory; the intersections of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity in genocide; the decades-long interconnections of national and transnational justice processes that brought the case to trial; and the limits and contributions of tribunal justice.

This book was originally published as a special issue of the Journal of Genocide Research.

Elizabeth Oglesby is Associate Professor of Latin American Studies and Geography at the University of Arizona, USA. She has worked in Guatemala since 1986 and is co-editor of The Guatemala Reader: History, Culture, Politics. In 2013, she testified as an expert witness in the Guatemala genocide trial.

Diane Nelson is a cultural anthropologist at Duke University, USA, and has worked in Guatemala since 1985. Her books include Who Counts: The Mathematics of Death and Life After GenocideReckoning: The Ends of War in Guatemala; and A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala.

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