As the head of state between 1982 and 1983, José Efraín Ríos Montt had a relatively brief window of power, but left an enduring impact – the UN estimates that 48% of the violence reported during the 36-year armed conflict occurred during his administration. Ríos Montt is responsible for thousands of deaths and forced disappearances. However, it was the widespread violence against women and girls—targeted specifically at indigenous communities—that was a strategic military tactic of genocide. Guatemalan journalist, Marielos Monzón, succinctly explains that targeting women was an attempt to, “remove a community at its seed.”
To prove this first in a Spanish court where Guatemalan war crimes were tried under the principle of Universal Jurisdiction (and later in a national criminal tribunal in Guatemala) Women’s Link Worldwide (WLW) employed an innovative legal strategy to ensure the justice process included gender crimes – or crimes specifically targeted at women: they utilized expert witnesses in the field of international justice and women’s rights to contextualize the issue, cite established jurisprudence that recognizes crimes against women as a tactic of war, and inform the judges’ understanding of the case.
Although the Guatemalan Constitutional Court later annulled Ríos Montt’s conviction (for the latest updates follow the Open Society’s International Justice Monitor), the court’s recognition of sexual and gender based violence as a distinct element of the genocide further cements this growing jurisprudence. Furthermore, sharing this with judicial actors worldwide can help disseminate information about the best practices for and the importance of ensuring women’s inclusion in these trials. Video renders this possible.
The eight-minute documentary informs judges and prosecutors worldwide of not only the importance of including sexual and gender based crimes in transitional justice processes but also the difficulties they face in doing so. Judicial actors often do not know how to work with the stigmatization survivors of sexual violence endure when revealing themselves as victims, facing the secondary trauma of confronting their perpetrator in court, or risking social marginalization from spouses and family members who may view the women as responsible.
We see this video as an important example of not only how women survivors can be included in the judicial process but also why their participation proves imperative. We hope this film will encourage greater use of expert testimony as well as other strategies to ensure women’s right to access justice and everyone’s right to know their history.