QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
JERRY FOWLER: Thank you, Maggi. I think now we can open it up for questions.
I just had a very quick question, I guess, for Paul, and this reflects probably my own ignorance, but in the steps that you outlined of developing the case with the witness testimony and the expert testimony and the military testimony, is that developed by the Ministeria Publico? And if so, what is your role in helping them to develop that? How does that process work?
And then who makes the ultimate decision whether the case will go forward to prosecution, and then how is that done? Will there be a trial in an American sense, an English sense, or is it more of a civil law process?
PAUL SEILS: The background to that is really an understanding of this thing that happens in several Latin American countries called this querellante adhesivo which is sometimes translated as a court prosecutor. It’s not a civil party. It’s not unique, because there are several countries, but they’ll say it’s a rather peculiar situation whereby in Guatemala, for example, the association that Frank mentioned -- the Association for Justice and Reconciliation, which is a victims group -- is the official complainer, if you like, and this querellante, this court prosecutor, and we are the lawyers to that organization.
What being the querellante allows you to do is that it gives you a formal status both within the investigative and prosecution process. It means that you can present and suggest and insist upon lines of investigation to be followed out by the Ministeria Publico. The Ministeria Publico attorneys from the -- I don’t know what you call it, the DA’s office, I suppose -- are the only ones that can actually carry out any of the investigative processes. But both in strict legal terms, we can suggest and insist, and should the Ministeria Publico reject those suggestions of ours, we can then bring it to the judge; there’s what’s called a juez controlor, a controlling judge of the investigation.
The Guatemala procedure is a bit of a hybrid of various traditions, both civil and common law traditions, and so you still have a judge in charge of the investigative process, but the Ministeria Publico carries out that process. The judge’s role is just to make sure that whatever they do is legal, but he doesn’t direct the investigation, if you see what I mean.
So what we have is the judge, and that judge will decide whether or not all their suggestions are valid and legal and all of that and should be carried through. Besides the legal aspects, there’s a certain practical relationship that’s important that we’ve tried to develop with the special prosecutor. It’s cases like this that the attorney general will sometimes appoint a special prosecutor, and that’s what’s happened in this case. We have a very -- at least to date -- healthy relationship with this chap called Mario Leal, and it’s important to try and keep that going. It’s a very fine balancing act to have a healthy relationship, but not to compromise either yourself or him, and that’s a fairly difficult road.
But what it means is that, for example, the training that we did give to the guys over in The Hague was a very important step, because what it did was, it created a situation where the Ministeria Publico now has -- it did two things. It gives them a network of contacts of experts in The Hague who have done this kind of work for several years with some success. And it also takes away from them a pretext of ignorance. They can’t say anymore, “Well, we don’t know what we’re doing,” or “We’re not very sure if this is the right way to go.” We said, “Well, these guys, we were there, we were in the room where they said ‘phone us,’ you know.” So it was an interesting situation. So that’s kind of the nature of it, and that’s the stages of the court prosecutor within that.
It then gets to a stage where the judge makes that decision about whether or not, effectively, there’s a sufficiency of evidence and, if you like, a prima facie case to allow it go to trial, and it would be the same judge who’s controlling the investigation who would decide at that stage whether or not there’s enough evidence. And then it would go to a tribunal of fact, which consists of three judges. There’s no jury system. And that would be the court that would determine, and would then go through all the normal appeals processes, and maybe in about 4 or 5 years’ time we’ll have a solid conviction for these people.
JERRY FOWLER: Very good. Greg?
GREG ANDERSON: Yes, my name is Greg Anderson. I’m with the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh and the School of Advanced International Studies here in Washington.
First of all, I’d really like to commend you on the work you’ve done and the progress you’ve made. I think I have some idea of what you’ve been up against, because I’ve been doing much the same thing in Cambodia for the last 10 years, and it’s not easy, my work.
My question has to do with the relationship between impunity and reconciliation. And I was particularly struck by your comments, Paul, where you said that the communities that you’re working with were unanimous in wanting to focus at the highest level of responsibility in the command structure. In the tribunals we expect to be convened in Cambodia in the not-too-distant future, it seems certain at this point that only a handful of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge will be prosecuted. And I’m concerned about the effect this is going to have on the impact of this whole process for reconciliation at the community level in Cambodia.
For most Cambodians and the top leaders, people like Pol Pot and Nuon Chea are really just abstractions, almost like gods; that’s the power of life and death, a mythical existence more than anything else. For them, the real perpetrators were the commune chiefs and the district chiefs and the local people who ordered the arrests and slaughter of their families and their own torture. In most places in Cambodia, those people still live right there in the communities; in most cases, they are of a higher economic and sociopolitical status than the average people in the community, and in many places, indeed, they still exercise formal political power.
So for these people, I think, even though the judicial processes are going to be happening in Cambodia, the villages are a long way from the capital, but that’s really another world. When these mythical gods are announced and assigned responsibility in a far-off capital, but the people who tortured them and murdered their families are still lording over the [inaudible] village, I’m not sure how much impact this process is ultimately going to have on the healing of those communities, the social-psychological healing of individuals, and the healing of social bonds in the community.
So although I understand that the structure of the situation may be slightly different in Guatemala, where the national military was more responsible, perhaps, for the local massacres than organizations in Cambodia that was everywhere, I wonder how confident you really are in your theory that, by demonstrating the strengthening of the rule of law and institutional development at the national level, what kind of impact that will have on reconciliation and community healing at the local level.
PAUL SEILS: Well, this is a life-long debate, I think.
GREG ANDERSON: Just a 2-minute answer will do.
PAUL SEILS: I think two or three things, I think.
My knowledge of the Cambodian situation, I have to say, is much more limited also than the situation in Guatemala. But I expect, going back to one of the things Maggi said, that the particular racial dimension in Guatemala, I think, changes a little bit something of the dynamics of the violence, if I understand properly what happened, obviously. Some people who talk about Cambodia sometimes refer to it as autogenocide and things like that. And I think it was a slightly different perception among the victim group in Guatemala about who was responsible, and others are saying a much clearer sense it wasn’t them between victim and perpetrator in general terms, which I think maybe makes a difference to that perception.
I think one of the things that I’m trying to say, I think, when we talk about reconciliation is to try and bring a little, I suppose, a dose of reality. There’s some what I [inaudible] sometimes this rather highflown expectations of that discourse. Once you’re talking to most of the people -- I don’t know how many victims we’ve spoken to over the years, but several hundred anyway -- and I would say that there’s not really that much of a trace of vengeance in that sense. But at the same time, the expectation of a reconciliation and a sense of are “We all going to get along together and live happily ever after” is a long, long, long way off.
And I don’t think prosecutions or non-prosecutions -- and I think this is something that is really important, that I perhaps didn’t highlight enough when I was speaking -- that it’s a huge mistake to think of prosecutions as a be-all and end-all of this process. And it’s, if anything, an integral part, I’m absolutely sure. But, I mean, I would say the truth, prosecution and justice in that sense, reparations, and all of those things are part of it.
I would suspect that the next step, and perhaps a more constructive step to that idea of reconciliations, is probably reparations. Reparations and truth perhaps go more toward that kind of reconciliation, where people can live with it in a more materially satisfied way, if you like, that they feel that, okay, there’s been some kind of concrete, not abstract, kind of justice given back to us. And I think it’s very important that we don’t see justice as -- and particularly lawyers that work in this kind of field don’t get somewhat dazzled by their own importance in these things, and that the truth and reparations side of it are absolutely vital.
And I think that in the longer term, that reparations and truth aspect, there’s a bit of a debate that goes on about this so-called tradeoff between truth and justice. I think it’s an illusion to think of that as a tradeoff. I think they are clearly mutually not compatible, but essential.
And I think those three things -- truth, justice, and reparations -- together offer more hope of a kind of serious reconciliation, insofar as people accepting what happened and moving on with a sense of vindication. But to think that everyone’s going to live happily ever after is, in my view, not in the real world.
JERRY FOWLER: Frank?
FRANK LA RUE: I’d like to go back to something that Paul said. It’s that oftentimes, the topic of reconciliation is coming up in Guatemala, but when people raise the question of reconciliation, it’s always like a responsibility of the victim. It’s as if reconciliation only lies on the shoulders of the victims, and it’s the victims who have to forgive and forget in order for reconciliation.
And we believe they’re missing the main point. Because reconciliation is, first of all, the responsibility of the state, as Paul has said. I mean, the state failed its own citizens, and the state has to reconcile itself with the citizens. They have to trust the justice.
But also, in terms of communities, reconciliation is a two-way event. And we have not seen in Guatemala people coming out and recognizing their responsibility, recognizing the pain that it gives them to what they did. There has to be some form of remorse that people have to express for what they did in order to have a mutual element of reconciliation.
So we must never forget that reconciliation is a two-way road. And because I keep --
GREG ANDERSON: [inaudible] in Cambodia, too.
FRANK LA RUE: I was going to say, everyone keeps on talking on reconciliation as a one-sided thing, and it’s always the victims have to, on top of everything else -- and finally, in the case of the repression in Guatemala, there were two different forms of repression, which I think one would be similar to Cambodia.
In the case of the military, it was the army that would sweep a patrol through and would go into a village, and the officers would take off their names; they didn’t even have their names. So for the communities, the officer responsible for the massacres would normally be an unidentifiable person. They knew he was an officer, but they won’t even know his name. And it was definitely not someone from the community. And normally, officers are non-Mayans. There are a few exceptions; there have been Mayan generals. But regularly speaking, the officers are not from the Mayan community, and the victims were, although the soldiers would be Mayans because they were conscripted by force.
So if they wanted to seek justice, it would be very complicated, because you had this Mayan community challenging a non-Mayan officer who’s already a professional, normally from urban areas, not in the city, but urban areas around the country, in that rural population. So you really had an ethnical gap there.
And this is why we believe that violence -- I mean, if you read the details -- and, by the way, Maggi did bring with her a wonderful -- this is the conclusions and recommendations of the Truth Commission. It’s called “Memory of Silence” the Truth Commission report in Guatemala, which we were trying to look for the website and it’s not on it, but it’s on the web of the United Nations, and anyone can download it.
But one of the things that we’re making clear in all the horror stories they say is that the abuse, which did happen in Cambodia as well, is not only collective violence; it is the excessive force that was used. There was no need to use the level of brutality. I mean, for instance, they would slice open the bellies of pregnant women or hang women from trees and things like that. It was the sense of excessive abuse that gives you the racist connotation that they were having. I mean, these people were getting rid of others that are not necessarily human beings for them. So I think this makes it very difficult, like I said, again, for prosecution.
But the other form of violence was done by what was called civil defense patrols. Now, those people were initially forced by the army, but those were from the community, and were given authority by the army in the community, were given guns. Old, very old guns, and not powerful, but with the military behind them, most of these people did it because they were forced to, and did not like doing this, and did not commit abuses. But some of them obviously got.
FRANK LA RUE: -- most jurisdictions are different and not for the same crime. So we believe we have to be creative in that as well.
PAUL SEILS: Can I just add something to that, but two things I think that are crucial? The first reason, and above all, the reason we’re doing, first of all, in Guatemala is because that’s where the victims want it.
And, similar to what Greg was saying, similar to Cambodia, Guatemala, for many of you, I think, have probably been there, but the difference between what happens in the capital, the capital and the rural villages are centuries apart socially and politically. And very many of the victims would really have been in Guatemala City -- I think I would say of the 100 or so eyewitnesses in this case, maybe 5 of them have maybe been abroad. The idea of seeking justice -- and I think the irony of seeking it in Spain, of all places, for genocide of an indigenous population is this rather interesting idea.
But above all, and this is why it is really important to take it seriously -- when we talk about it as being victim-led, that’s one of the crucial aspects of it -- it’s about them seeing justice being done and feeling that justice has been done for them in that state. And, as Frank says, it’s Guatemala that answers; Guatemala answers for itself. That’s crucial for the moral sense of justice that those people want to feel. And having other countries do it might well be an option, but I think I’m right, if I can speak on behalf of the victims group, I think it would be considered very much a second best.
I think one of the things that’s important about the universal jurisdiction question is that [inaudible] have started to use the phrase “universal jurisdiction,” forgetting the people it actually technically means, and the expectations that were created by the Pinochet case have a great knock-on effect for us, in the sense that all the people we have accused, bar one, Romeo Lucas Garcia, are living in Guatemala and will not leave Guatemala. So that’s been a very effective practical advantage that has been achieved by that initiative.
And strictly speaking, there’s an argument to say that it wasn’t actually universal jurisdiction; it was mandatory jurisdiction on the basis of the treaty against torture in Europe that dealt with that. And there was an argument to discuss whether or not that’s universal jurisdiction or it’s a mandatory treaty-based jurisdiction.
And I think those things alone -- I’m going to get [inaudible] just now -- I think it’s important for people to recognize that this idea of universal jurisdiction has got very limited political reach in practical terms. There are very few states, and the decision of the Spanish court to actually say it wasn’t an exhaustion of remedies decision, but it’s not the convenient forum decision to say that you still have to ensure that this can’t happen, because we really don’t want to touch this just now. So it’s politically an extraordinarily difficult thing. But I think it’s important to emphasize that it has been extremely beneficial to date as well.
And I think it’s clear that the U.S. position at the moment on the ICC is extremely regrettable. I think the European Union has just published a paper recommending the U.S. to change their position and seeking an about-turn so that they will come on board. Clearly, the International Criminal Court doesn’t have any retrospective force, and it can’t deal with any crimes that were committed prior to any state ratifying their own statute. But clearly, it would be a massive step forward. And the preemptive protection of communities and villages around the world should not come into being and it will be somewhat hamstrung if the U.S. doesn’t take part.
JERRY FOWLER: Yes, sir?
TERRY NELSON: I’m Terry Nelson with the [inaudible] Task Force on Central America and Mexico. I have two questions.
You mentioned that you had difficulty getting military officials and members of the military in general to testify and getting information from that. I’m wondering whether your source is legally focusing evidence of chain of command and the role of high command in individual massacres, and how much you might rely on declassified U.S. documents and other sources.
And the second question is, how are you addressing and how do you view the problem of response to the community, status, and for the possible procedures for getting on that, and what do you expect the outcome to be in that sense?
PAUL SEILS: The documentation that will be used, we have a very good and close relationship with the Archives Center with Kate Doyle, and we will make some use of the declassified documents. Some of you will know of this project whereby those declassified old U.S. intelligence documents through FOIA relative to the conflict, and some of those do give very clear indications of the planning and the knowledge that was going on behind the massacres.
There’s a slight evidential problem with that, because there’s it goes through filters; by the time it gets declassified, it’s gone through U.S. intelligence, and then it’s gone through the archives, so there’s a question about credibility and reliability. But I think we can probably get over those hurdles.
The best evidence of that, of course, would be direct evidence of the original documents which gave the orders and all of that, of which there are some that we know of. One of the military sources that we did have some connection with has given us a copy -- the Guatemala military, like most military, have documentation systems, daily orders and general orders. We have a copy of all the daily orders from 1978 until 1985. Unfortunately, the daily orders don’t give what you think they might give. What they do give us is a general movement of troops and the general time-and-place responsibility of operations in the abstract, if I can put it that way. They don’t tell you exactly who is doing what, when, and where. But it says this guy was in charge of this area at this time. So those documents are first-hand documents that we now have.
The general documents we still think we can get, and they actually are probably more important, the important thing for us was to establish that those documents did exist and do exist, and they exist in various centers around the country. The Guatemalan Historical Clarification Commission, Christian Tomaschat, who spoke here last year, has commented many times since that they got pretty much no help whatsoever from the Guatemalan military. And one of the lies that the military told, even as late as the year 2000, was that these documents had all been destroyed. So it’s a significant piece of knowledge that we have now that those things still do exist, and they exist in at least 14 centers around the country, and that helps us, clearly.
What we would get is individuals coming forward, probably at this stage, to admit -- although there are one or two cases in the country where there are military witnesses who have, to an extent, plea-bargained, although it’s not being called that. Some of you know of the Dos Erres massacre where there are two ex-soldiers who have given information about the modus operandi of that massacre. That kind of thing is something that we’ll just have to see how it develops. It’s one of the things that may come out, and as I say, by going for the high command, although that’s the position, clearly the investigation is going to show up the individuals who were involved, and they will have to run a risk because there is no option of officially saying that these guys will be prosecuted. It’s more a practical non-prosecution situation. But they will have to make a decision at some stage about how much they’re going to say, and whether or not they insist on denial or, out of either moral or self-preservation perspectives, start to speak.
So those options are out there. And, as I say, what we’ll do is, in terms of the other kind of command structures and information flows, we’ll really be on the basis -- for example, in the Juan Gerardi trial, an ex-Peruvian general, Rodolfo Robles, gave expert testimony on military structures and explained something of the context of the way the Guatemala Army has operated in the past in these kinds of situations. We would seek to take a broader view of that and look at a series of counterinsurgency military structures and have them speaking. And what you’ll find is, we had spoken to three or four military sources around the world that have been involved in this so far. They have yet to commit to testifying, but they have all, to a man, said that the more intense the conflict, the more structured the whole operation becomes, to the extent that it’s simply farcical to suggest that these troops were operating without orders and without information and without response. So those guys, basically the argument is a credibility argument, if these five different counterinsurgency cultures can all say, “This is how we dealt with it; this is how it works in practice.” Guatemala is regarded as probably the most successful counterinsurgency military operation in Latin America. And if we get others coming forth to explain how they did it -- and most of them that look up, in a sense, to the Guatemalan military operation for that -- it’s clearly just a credibility question that the military high command did not know and did not take part in those operations. So that’s more or less the general structure of how that will be dealt with.
What was the other question?
TERRY NELSON: The community issue of response positions of the American congress.
PAUL SEILS: One of the reasons for -- the [inaudible] suggestion is a one-stage [inaudible] of only going against the leaders themselves, Rios Montt and Lucas Garcia. One of the very good reasons for not doing that, apart from moral reasons, politically, what it has done with Rios Montt has created a very difficult situation for him, because if and when we get to a situation of actually getting to a trial, Rios Montt will have to decide whether or not he wants to hide behind his immunity at congress and basically leave the other guys to take the rap, which will make him look politically and military particularly weak. And I think he’s going to have a difficult decision to make at that stage.
It has to be said that Rios Montt is loathed by all of his former colleagues in the high command. He sacked two of them 3 months after the coup in 1982, and he has on several occasions given the blame for the massacres to Mario Lucas Fuentes, who is a military chief of staff, and so there’s a nice vignette of divide-and-conquer going on in there.
So it will be interesting what political decision he makes. Legally, I would have to say we’re fairly confident, because the other guys are all going to have to stand trial anyway. So the court’s going to make a political decision that’s going to have to be in the context of the other guys standing trial.
MALE VOICE: You mentioned that Rios Montt is loathed by many of his former colleagues. Is there an element of religious conflict in that, Protestant evangelicalism versus Roman Catholicism?
PAUL SEILS: One of the main reasons given for the actual coup, the ouster of Rios Montt, was the rather excessive, let’s say, religious tint to his own regime, and that has fallen through.
But I think it’s really a matter of professional and military difference. But frankly, it was one of politics [inaudible].
FRANK LA RUE: Now, in the case of the other officers, there’s a mix. You’ll find equally officers that are Catholic and officers that are Protestant, officers that are evangelicals. So I don’t think that really within the officer corps, that would be the issue.
But on the national public opinion, that is a very strong issue. You have two different things. One is what Paul was saying: Rios Montt himself made his government a very religious, fundamentalist government with evangelical principles, so to the extent that in rural areas, people had an ID that the army was forcing them to use that had religion in it, and it would say, for instance, “Catholics,” or even would say “catechist,” which is not a religion but is a function within the Catholic church that were normally being targeted, and if they were evangelicals, would not.
So this is an issue that Rios Montt made by himself. Since then, I mean, obviously he has the support of the evangelical fundamentalist churches. And I think that religious issues are still very much in the background, although in terms of this particular case, all the other officers were from different religious denominations, so it’s not going to be the key or central issue.
Now, with the murder of a bishop, clearly, after presenting the Truth Commission report, the Catholic Church still feels being confronted by the military as a whole. Not as a religious issue because, like I said, many of the officers are Catholics, but more as a political question. The Army does mistrust the church, and it still regrets the fact that the church keeps on talking about the past and bringing up the past. So all these elements are important.
Now, strictly on the legal matters, one thing to mention is that Rios Montt has lost his immunity already once in this government. Immunity can be lost by sort of an impeachment process, which in Spanish is called antejuicio. “Pre-trial” would be the literal translation. And we believe he committed a crime in the alteration of a piece of legislation. This was in August last year. There was a legislation on taxes on alcoholic beverages, and the FRG, himself and 21 more members of his party one night, after this has been voted in congress, struck some deal with the business sector of the breweries and decided to alter it, and just by hand, they altered the percentage. And a week later when it was published, everyone noticed the difference, because everyone had voted and they thought it was going to go unnoticed.
Now, because of this, all of those members of congress had immunity, so all of them went to a process at a level of the Supreme Court called antiquisio, the impeachment, and the Supreme Court eventually found enough evidence to lift their immunity and to prosecute them. And it included Rios Montt. Once the case went to the court, to the criminal court, tragically, the judge interviewed every one of them. He found no evidence to continue the case against Rios Montt and sent him back to congress. He regained his immunity, but all the other 21 members of the party are still being prosecuted and still have lost their immunity.
So the interesting thing is, this normally didn’t happen, but adding present issues to this past case, this government has been so scandalously corrupt in this party that it is no strange factor that the Supreme Court is willing to withdraw their immunity. Now, there is a tension, obviously, between the Supreme Court and the legislature on this, but we believe --
FEMALE VOICE: Is it constitutional court or the Supreme Court?
PAUL SEILS: No, the Supreme Court. And we believe we have a fair chance on Rios Montt losing his immunity on this one as well.
Lifting his immunity does not at all have any incidence on whether he is considered guilty or not. I mean, he still has the constitutional right of being considered innocent until he’s proven otherwise. So lifting the immunity only means that there is enough evidence to show that there is a need for prosecution. But everyone always says that the Supreme Court is not making a decision on the substantive part of the process; they should not endanger it in sort of an integral, independent trial, right?
JERRY FOWLER: We have time for about two more questions. Before we take those, though, Paul mentioned Kate Doyle of the National Security Archive, and it reminded me that I was neglectful in saying that she moderated our panel when we did “Memory and Truth After Genocide.” And so if Kate reads the transcript of these proceedings, I hope she gets through to here, so that she knows she was duly recognized for the great contribution she made.
So we have time for two more. Did you have a question, ma’am?
FEMALE VOICE: Yes, I have.
JERRY FOWLER: And then Greg. Okay.
FEMALE VOICE: I’ll just mention a couple of them. I’m a member of [inaudible] Unitarian church in the area, and we’re very interested in these human rights [inaudible]. And I wonder, in all of this, what is the role of [inaudible] and concerned church or civil society or NGO or group -- what is their role in assisting you in promoting responsibility? That’s one question.
And I’m clearly interested in the fact that this man Wolfensohn -- he runs the World Bank, okay? -- who actually has written an apology for the World Bank role in the Rio Negro case. And I wonder if that has any effect on [inaudible] do folks know of that? And if so, what effect has that had on anything?
And I wondered, do we have access to the information that’s given out here today? How would we do that, and what is your website?
PAUL SEILS: Well, I’ll answer the last part, frankly. There will be these documents and I’ll leave things to you guys. I’ve got three documents here that I think are probably enough to go around. One is an update on where the cases are just now, a brief thing, about five pages. This is a document that we distributed mainly last year, so it’s slightly outdated. But it explains a little bit the kind of logic and the strategy behind the prosecutions of Rios Montt, and I think I have a page with the website. This is the website for the cases themselves, and there’s another website that will give you a connection to that for CALDH. CALDH’s general website is www.CALDH.org -- C-A-L-D-H -- and this is the genocide cases. I’ll leave these out for you to pick up, if anyone is interested.
Your other questions, I think Maggi and Frank are better placed to answer them.
FRANK LA RUE: Well, on Wolfensohn, I mean, basically you’re right. What happened, just to explain to everyone else, is that this massacre that occurred that we had mentioned done by civil defense patrollers also occurred on a village that was going to be flooded by a huge hydroelectric project called the Chixoy project.
Now, obviously, this was pushed and promoted by the World Bank. It’s an irony, because Guatemala has, because of its geography, an enormous hydroelectric potential. But the best solution for the country would be to engage in the small hydroelectric projects, instead of this huge megaplant. This would also strengthen the municipal role and municipal sort of administration of these initiatives.
But in those days -- this was in the ’60s, ’70s, when the project began -- the idea was to have these megaprojects where they would flood a huge region of the country, and this took away this village. And by the way, several archeological sites are now under water.
Now, of course, no one is saying that the Bank had anything to do directly with the massacres, nor that the massacres were committed under connection or contact with the Bank. But what is true is that a huge -- I don’t remember how many million dollars -- a project was being connected to a repressive policy of the military in that region that we believe was very much connected to pushing out the population, to displacing the population from the region for the purposes of the hydroelectric project. It also coincided with the war, the increase in the ’80s of the war, and the counterinsurgency activities of the army. So the army could disguise it as a counterinsurgency, but in reality, many of the acts of violence were done for economic reasons, either for taking over the land of the peasants, usurpation of land, or in this case, for the repression.
Anyway, this is the background. This is why 20 years later, the World Bank recognizes that, oops, they made a mistake, and Mr. Wolfensohn, the president of the Bank, proposes an apology. But I have never asked, to tell you the truth, but we should go back and I’ll try to do that to the village of Rio Negro and find out whether the people of Rio Negro have ever heard of Mr. Wolfensohn at all, or of his apology, because I doubt that this has reached that far.
Now, the World Bank has a procedural sort of committee on redress of these issues. We have been pushing the fact that these people suffered this massacre. Many of them were killed, have been displaced. They live in an area that was not there, that between the World Bank and the Guatemalan government, there should be a process of reparation for all the harm caused to them. This is, again, this whole question of reparation that we keep on talking about.
JERRY FOWLER: Did you want to talk about the role of civil society?
PAUL SEILS: I’ll say two words and then I’ll leave it to Maggi.
We believe that justice is the responsibility of everyone. We often think of justice as the responsibility of the justice system, of the judicial authorities, and that’s not true. I mean, if we left justice only to the judiciary, we would be in deep trouble, especially in the case of Guatemala.
So yes, we’re trying to strengthen the judiciary to see a better justice system, but we think it’s the responsibility of the state as a whole -- not only the judiciary, but also the executive branch. In this case, that means instead of [inaudible] prosecutor’s office, the police, in terms of protection of witnesses and plaintiffs. So we believe it is the responsibility of everyone, but in particular, of civil society.
The reason we’re doing all these trainings -- and Jerry had asked before whether this is similar to going into a trial like here -- Guatemala established oral trial for criminal cases in 1994. So it’s relatively recent, that we don’t have that long; less than 10 years’ experience in oral trials. We’ve had, actually, rather few. But we think it’s very important, because the importance of oral trials is the fact that it’s open not only to the press, but to all society.
So it is true that civil society nationally -- but civil society abroad or just different groups abroad -- have an impact on the justice system. Obviously, we believe in independence of the judiciary. We don’t believe that the courts should operate by pressure under pressure. But we do believe that there should be a monitoring and a systematic sort of auditing of legal systems, and in this case Guatemala.
So the answer is yes. And we have had several letters of concern from members of congress expressing concern for the peace process in Guatemala, for the recommendations of the Truth Commission, and within the recommendations of the Truth Commission, for breaking the issue of impunity. There are several cases coming up. The Gerardi case just passed; the Mernimac (phonetic) case is coming up pretty soon, in October. The two genocide cases that have been presented -- and we believe all these cases are symbolic of whether we can truly believe that impunity is breaking apart in Guatemala or not. And I think moving your members of congress, for instance, or your press here, your media, is key for the success of these cases.
FRANK LA RUE: Did you have anything else?
MAGGI POPKIN: No.
JERRY FOWLER: Okay. Greg, we kind of have run over. Is it a quick question?
GREG ANDERSON: Yes, it is, thank you. It’s simply to ask you if you think that within Guatemala, you have the political support of -- especially in the prosecutor’s office and so forth -- to, in fact, carry forward far enough to get high enough with your prosecutions, or if that political report will be withdrawn at the final moment, since law and politics are so closely related in all societies?
PAUL SEILS: Absolutely.
GREG ANDERSON: And so that your last comment, in fact, is very important for that, because having political support from us, from our country, is of course also part of this process. It’s not just in Guatemala that we’re talking about.
FRANK LA RUE: Let me say that we have no support whatsoever from the establishment. You must remember, the DFRG is the party government. The secretary-general of the party is Rios Montt, General Rios Montt. So obviously we have no sympathy in the party for what we’re doing. They hold an absolute majority in congress. The party alone has more than 50 percent of the members of congress, so they can basically veto all decisions the executive does and say. The executive is a member of the party as well, and this government is very much subservient to what’s being decided by General Rios Montt in Congress. So we don’t have any illusions of any support from them at all whatsoever.
But what you were saying is that the dimension of this case is based on the public support in Guatemala, what the public opinion feels, and the fact that these communities feel very strongly about the case, and we want to build that even more; the fact that they recognize there has to be some accountability for the transition in the peace process and improvement; but also the fact that they’re being watched internationally.
And I think here is very key, the fact that the peace process existed in a way, because it was being supported by the international community. And as a followup to the peace process, we believe these cases should continue having some degree of attention from the international community.
It also has to do with what Paul was saying before, with the individual security of the victims and the witnesses in the case. We believe that the more attention there is internationally, the safer they will be in Guatemala. So I also think it’s a humanitarian question as well.
JERRY FOWLER: Very good. Well, I’d like to express my great thanks to our panelists for coming today, and thank you to all of you. If I have the consent of the panelists, we’ll post the transcript of this proceeding on our website. We also have on our website a listserv that you can sign up for and get notice of events like this, although you apparently got notice this time, but to make things more efficient. So thank you very much for coming, and I hope to see you again.