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New Details Emerge About Atrocities in Guatemala

We often hear about genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia, but how much do you know about the acts of genocide that occurred in Guatemala? Thanks to recently released documents, which reveal new details about government-perpetrated atrocities against Mayan communities in the 1980s, we now have an opportunity to learn more.

Guatemala's 36-year civil war claimed over 200,000 lives. Between 1981 and 1983, the violence intensified, when the Guatemalan army carried out a counterinsurgency campaign deliberately aimed at massacring thousands of Mayan civilians. A UN-sponsored truth commission, the Historical Clarification Commission, created after the war ended in 1996, documented horrifying atrocities, which included murder, mutilation, rape, and torture. The Commission held the Guatemalan state responsible for acts of genocide against Mayan communities.

For the first time, Guatemalan military documents that detail the precise nature and intent of these officially-sanctioned massacres have become publicly available through the National Security Archive, an independent non-governmental research institute and library. Having obtained the documents from military intelligence sources in Guatemala, the National Security Archive presented them in testimony before the National Court of Spain, which is investigating the Guatemala genocide case.

According to the National Security Archive, these documents "contain explicit references to the killing of unarmed men, women, and children, the burning of homes, destruction of crops, slaughter of animals and indiscriminate aerial bombing of refugees trying to escape the violence."