Women of Guatemala give dignified burial to 172 victims of the internal armed conflict
On 21 June 2018, the national day against enforced disappearance in Guatemala, women from the National Coordinator of Widows of Guatemala (CONAVIGUA) buried the remains of 172 unidentified victims of the internal armed conflict. The Foundation of Forensic Anthropology of Guatemala (FAFG) found these remains in the old military detachment in San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango, during exhumations that took place between 2004 and 2005. In the course of the exhumations, 220 remains were found, and 48 victims of enforced disappearance were identified with DNA of families and returned to them for burial. The 172 unidentified remains have been coded for possible future identification.
The victims were buried in a place called “Landscapes of Memory”, located in the community of Palabor, San Juan Comalapa, which was part of the old military detachment. CONAVIGUA and FAFG created this centre to bury and pay tribute to the victims of the armed conflict in the indigenous region of Chimaltenango.
On 20 June 2018, the remains of the victims left FAFG’s labs in Guatemala City in a solemn procession, passing by Guatemala’s National Palace, stopping in Chimaltenango’s Governance Office, and later arrived in San Juan Comalapa. There procession walked the streets of the town, accompanied by women with censers, flowers, and chants. At the location where the wake took place, the remains were placed on a bed of pine needles. White flowers and candles were placed on top of and around them. The evening began with a Mayan ritual, and the night was filled with music and audio-visual displays, paying tribute to the remains of the disappeared.
The burials were held with great solemnity. More than 100 people walked from the wake to the “Landscapes of Memory”. Rosalina Tuyuc, founder of CONAVIGUA, said that “the victims were found with bindings and blindfolds, today they will be buried free of ties”. She added, “Today we are receiving them with the same love and care as if they were alive”. Rosalina concluded by saying, “here the bones of impunity will remain, but here will also remain the bones of hope”. To the right side of the graves, there is a path where plaques displaying the names of more than 6,000 victims of disappearances in the region. Freddy Peccerelli, FAFG’s director, stated that they will continue to look for the families of the disappeared and that in the future the 172 remains buried can be recognised with a DNA match from a family member.
Both days saw the participation of indigenous authorities, victims of the armed conflict from different regions of the country, representatives from human rights, women, peasant and international organisations; representatives from the General Attorney’s Office, as well as journalists.
This was one of the biggest and most impressive funerals in Guatemala, after more than 20 years have passed since the signing of the peace accord. It reminds us of the magnitude and gravity of the horrors lived by indigenous peoples during the 1980s. Impunity Watch recognises the strength and persistence of women of Guatemala in the search for the disappeared and justice, and FAFG’s extraordinary work on exhumations.