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The Guatemala Evidence Project

Proving Command Responsibility in the Guatemalan Civil War

The Guatemala Evidence Project

Proving Command Responsibility in the Guatemalan Civil War


Conceived and launched by CJA and by Professor Naomi Roht-Arriaza, this project aims to develop evidence to support litigation involving the Guatemalan genocide in Guatemalan and Spanish courts and before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Our principal collaborators are the National Security Archive, the Myrna Mack Foundation and Impunity Watch. The project is an investigative effort aimed at consolidating and indexing documentation on the Guatemalan army and security forces in an authoritative computer database and narrative report for use in the genocide case and future human rights legal actions.

In April 2009, the Guatemala Evidence Project completed the first phase of analyzing all available military and police documents. Investigator Fernando Triana from the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia collaborated with the Project to compile and organize U.S. and Guatemalan military records into a comprehensive chronology relevant to the conflict in Guatemala.  

Piecing Together a Genocide, Document by Document

The project reviewed all of the U.S. declassified documents in the National Security Archive’s possession that fall within the period 1978-86: 582 documents from our published collection, and several hundred more that were not published.  It also examined 50 records of the Guatemalan Armed Forces (including plans, decrees, laws, internal military publications, and published writings by military officers), and 165 of the Army’s General Orders.  The project created a database, incorporating 542 U.S. and Guatemalan records related to the period covering the governments of Fernando Romeo Lucas García, Efraín Rios Montt, and Oscar Mejía Victores.  The records were indexed according to title, document type and origin, names of military units and officials, and key terms taken from the records such as “Government-sponsored violence,” “Human rights violations,” “Death squads,” “Political Violence,” and “Massacres.”  The database facilitated the analysis by narrowing the universe of Guatemala-related records held by the National Security Archive (over 10,000) to those directly relevant to the cases.

Fernando Triana then conducted a closer examination of the records, and created a chronology of events with annexed documents specifically tailored to support the Spanish charges in the Genocide Case.  On the basis of the guidelines provided by the Project’s Steering Committee, he searched the documents relevant to human rights violations that took place in the Ixil Triangle formed by the municipalities of Nebaj, Chajul and Cotzal, as well as the municipalities of Sacapulas and Ixcán and the towns  of Santa María Tzejá and San Andrés Salcabajá in the department of El Quiché; Rabinal, Río Negro and Plan de Sánchez in the department of Baja Verapaz; municipalities of Nentón and Santa Cruz de Barillas in the department of Huehuetenango; and the municipality of San José Poaquil in the department of Chimaltenango.  

In addition, a search was carried out of all documents that in any way linked Fernando Romeo Lucas García, Benedicto Lucas García, Ángel Anibal Guevara Rodríguez, José Efraín Ríos Montt, Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores, Germán Chapina Barahona, Donaldo Alvarez Ruiz and Pedro García Arredondo to human rights violations in the geographic locations previously mentioned.  The final product of the analyst’s work was the chronology with entries linked to PDF versions of 220 of the most relevant U.S. and Guatemalan files.  Each chronology entry was linked to a scanned image of the original document used. An archive researcher made the universe of documents accessible by entering them into a simple database and indexing them according to names, organizations and key terms.

Final Report

The documents were then analyzed with respect to the criminal responsibility of the named defendants.  A summary of the analysis and a formal report was presented to the Spanish National Court in the Guatemalan Genocide Case in February 2009 and soon will be made publicly available.