Former Guatemalan president Efrain Rios Montt denied on Thursday that he ordered the extermination of Ixil Mayas as he testified for the first time at his genocide trial.
The 86-year-old ex-general, who ruled Guatemala between March 1982 and August 1983 during the height of its civil war, said prosecutors had not proved his participation in the killings.
“I declare myself innocent,” Rios Montt told the three-judge tribunal as many in the audience applauded. “It was never my intention or my goal to destroy a whole ethnic group.”
“I never ordered attacks on a specific race. I never did it, and of everything they have said, there was no clear participation,” he added.
The court was packed with representatives of indigenous, human rights and student groups, as well as former soldiers and family members of victims. Ixil Indian Benjamin Geronimo, president of the Justice and Reconciliation Association, told the tribunal that he survived massacres and killings that claimed the lives of 256 members of his community.
“I saw it with my own eyes, I’m not going to lie. Children, pregnant women and the elderly were killed,” said Geronimo, who spoke on behalf of the victims.
“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a genocidist to enter the kingdom of God,” he said, sparking applause and cries of “justice” from the audience.
Rios Montt is being tried together with Jose Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez, a 68-year-old former general who was a high-ranking member of the military during Rios Montt’s administration.