A group of Guatemalan Indian women who were raped by army soldiers during the country's 1960-1996 civil war broke their silence Friday and with their heartrending testimony demanded justice.
“I'm an indigenous woman who was living happily with my husband and a 1-month-old baby until the day men from the army came to my house and raped me,” one of the estimated thousands of such victims in the 1980s said, choking back her sobs.
Her account was part of the Court of Conscience against the Sexual Abuse of Women during the Armed Conflict, a symbolic event held in Guatemala City and organized by humanitarian groups that for six years have been working with the survivors of these attacks.
Seen only in silhouette to protect her identity and her life, the woman told of the horrors suffered at the hands of the soldiers.
“I screamed in fear, but no one heard me – I was alone, they hit me and threw me on the floor. First one raped me and then another. They laughed while they were raping me and they left me bleeding,” she said.
The woman said that out of fear she did not tell either her husband or her family what happened, because the soldiers had threatened to kill her if she did.
“I didn't speak to anyone, I kept my mouth shut and suffered all the pain alone. I went to Mexico to escape, but today I'm here to demand justice so that people know what I suffered,” she said.
She said that because she was raped she was discriminated against in her own village, which she did not identify for security reasons, where they called her “the soldiers' woman.”
“I'm here to seek justice for all women who died during the armed conflict without ever being able to talk about it, and to make sure that what happened in the war never happens again,” she said.
Even more heartrending was the testimony of another Indian woman, whom the soldiers raped and left pregnant.
I was at home alone when the soldiers came and raped me. I didn't wake up until the next day, hurt and bleeding, thrown on the floor,” she said.
She said that the soldiers left her pregnant and she had a baby that now wants to meet his father.
“I couldn't take him to his father because I don't know who he is,” the woman sobbed. She too hid her identity behind a curtain so that only her silhouette could be seen.
“I'm not the only woman this has happened to. They killed some of the others and it grieves us, because we (Indian women) were the ones who suffered the most,” she said.
Although these woman still feel fear and shame for the abuse they were subjected to more than 20 years ago, they have broken their silence in hopes that the government will do justice.
Maya Alvarado of the National Guatemalan Women's Union, organizer of the event, told Efe that the Court of Conscience offers a kind of “symbolic and alternative justice” to encourage the victims to tell what they suffered.
With their testimony the women, mostly Indians, not only want to create awareness of their tragedy but also want the violations be judged and punished as war crimes.
The activist said they have no statistics about the women who were mistreated by soldiers, but estimates are among the “hundreds of thousands.”
Alvarado said that the governmental National Compensation Program has gathered some testimony and has begun compensating women who were raped.
The program has awarded compensation of some $500 per victim, but in most cases it is for war widows and very seldom is it for having been raped.
The war, which ended in December 1996 with the signing of peace accords by the government and the guerrillas, left more than 250,000 victims between the dead and the missing, according to a postwar truth commission, the CEH.
Up to now, Alvarado said, no case of rape during the war has been investigated, much less brought to trial, so that the outrages remain in a state of “total impunity.”