Guatemala: Rios Montt goes on trial at last

With some 500 people packed into the courtroom, the trial of former Guatemalan military dictator Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-83) for genocide and other crimes against humanity began in Guatemala City on March 19. The charges include the deaths of 1,771 indigenous Ixil Mayan civilians in the central department of Quiché as part of the "scorched-earth" policy implemented during Ríos Montt's dictatorship, which was marked by some of the worst atrocities in a 36-year counterinsurgent war that left an estimated 200,000 people dead, mostly indigenous civilians. Ríos Montt's former intelligence chief, Gen. José Rodríguez, is on trial with him. The proceedings are expected to involve some 130 witnesses and 100 experts and to last several months. Ríos Montt, 86, could face a sentence of up to 50 years.

Burma: pipeline plans behind Rohingya cleansing?

Burma's persecuted Muslim Rohingya people were in the news again over the weekend with the Thai navy's denial that its forces opened fire on a group of refugees off the country's southwestern coast last month, killing at least two. Survivors said that Thai naval troops fired a boat of around 20 refugees off Thailand's Phang Nga province on Feb. 22, as they jumped into the water to escape custody. "Navy personnel fired into the air three times and told us not to move," a refugee told Human Rights Watch (HRW). "But we were panicking and jumped off the boat, and then they opened fire at us in the water." More than 100,000 Rohingyas have been displaced since ethnic violence broke out in western Burma last year. Burma refuses to recognize the Rohingya as citizens and labels the minority of about 800,000 as "illegal" immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh—which in turn disavows them as nationals.  (BBC News, March 15; Press TV, March 13)

Colombia: indigenous peoples face 'extinction'

The Andean Coordinating Body of Indigenous Organizations (CAOI) and the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) on March 15 jointly presented a report to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) warning that 65 the 102 indigenous ethnicities in Colombia are now at risk of cultural or physical "extinction." The report noted that Colombia's Constitutional Court has ordered special protection for these 65 peoples, but asserted that risks posed by the armed conflict and lawless resource extraction on their lands have not abated. The report charged that violations of indigenous rights are not merely "collateral damage" in the ongoing civil conflict, but often an actual aim of armed actors.

Colombia: ex-lawmaker guilty in Segovia massacre

Colombia's Supreme Court of Justice on March 7 found former lawmaker César Pérez García guilty of being complicit in the November 1988 massacre at the village of Segoiva, Antioquia department. He now awaits sentencing, and may face 30 years in prison. Pérez García was named by a liuetenant of notorious paramilitary commander "el Negro Vladimir" as having financed the massacre to eliminate a stronghold of support for the electoral left.

Playing the 'slavery card' against Tuaregs

A provocative offering by Barbara A. Worley of the University of Massachusetts on the Tuareg Culture and News website, Feb. 20:

Some of the worst enemies of the Tuareg people are Westerners who make their livelihood by spreading fear and hatred for an entire population that they do not know.  Several days ago, USA Today published an article [Feb. 14] by a young American reporter who wrote that "Tuaregs have long kept slaves," and implied that Tuaregs are still "taking slaves" today and holding them captive.  This is incorrect.  The Tuaregs do not own slaves today, and do not capture people or hold them as slaves.  The reporter based her article largely on propaganda she heard from one individual in southern Mali. 

Peru: Uchuraccay massacre recalled

The Peruvian Press Association on Jan. 26 noted the 30th anniversary of the massacre of eight journalists and their local guide at the village of Uchurachay, Ayacucho department, where they themselves had been investigating reports of massacres. But a commentary in the left-leaning Lima daily El Popular decried that the violence against Uchurachay's campesinos was "more invisible." Peru's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) found that in the months around the slaying of the journalists, 135 members of the community of 470 were killed—hanged, hacked or stoned to death, their bodies thrown into canyons to be eaten by dogs. Most of the killings seem to have been ordered by village authorities in an effort to purge sympathizers of the Shining Path guerillas. (La Republica, Feb. 1; La Republica, La Republica, Jan. 29; El Comercio, Jan. 26; El Popular, Jan. 21)

Guatemala: ex-dictator to stand trial for genocide

A Guatemalan judge on Jan. 28 ordered former dictator Efrain Rios Montt to stand trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity stemming from the killing of more than 1,700 villagers of Mayan ancestry. Judge Miguel Angel Galvez announced that Montt, along with one of his former generals Jose Rodríguez Sánchez, must answer for the alleged crimes committed during Montt's reign as de facto head of state in the early 1980s. Human Rights Watch Americas Director José Miguel Vivanco called the order "a remarkable development in a country where impunity for past atrocities has long been the norm," and welcomed this step toward greater accountability in Guatemala. Montt is the first ex-head of state to be charged with genocide by a Latin American court.

Colombia: FARC assassinate indigenous leader

Charging a "Plan of Extermination" by all actors in Colombia's armed conflict, traditional indigenous authorities in southwest Cauca region on Jan. 22 protested the "assassination" two days earlier of Nasa indigenous leader Rafael Mauricio Girón Ulchur at the village of Jámbalo. The statement said Girón had been ambushed while riding his motorcycle, and that the gunmen were FARC guerillas who fled into the bush after the slaying. The statement charged that he had been targeted for advocating a "Plan of Life" based on indigenous territorial rights, self-determination and protection of natural resources as an alternative to the peace plan being worked out by FARC and government negotiators in Havana, Cuba. It noted that the assassination came the same day that the FARC officially declared an end to the unilateral ceasefire instated for the Havana talks. (ACIN, Jan. 22)

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