Obstacles to Justice: Accountability for Human Rights Violations in Guatemala

Óscar Ramírez, a 32-year-old Guatemalan living in Massachusetts, recently learned that he was a survivor of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre, in which more than 250 men, women and children were killed. Óscar was three years old at the time of the massacre and one of few survivors. He was kidnapped by one of the soldiers who murdered his mother and eight siblings, and raised as the soldier’s son. His story is part of a larger effort to uncover the truth of what happened in a bloody civil war, and to bring perpetrators to account for crimes against humanity in Guatemalan and foreign courts.

Guatemala’s 36-year internal armed conflict (1960-1996) left an estimated 200,000 dead or disappeared. Only recently has there begun to be any prosecutions of perpetrators of egregious human rights violations in Guatemala, or even the identification of graves and exhumation of victims. Recently, nearly thirty years after the crimes, Guatemalan courts convicted five former soldiers of murder and crimes against humanity for their role in the Dos Erres massacre. Guatemala is also engaged in the preliminary stages of the prosecution of José Efraín Ríos Montt, a former military dictator, and other generals for genocide and crimes against humanity.


  • Óscar Ramírez, survivor of the 1982 Dos Erres massacre. He is seeking asylum in the United States and is also involved as a witness in prosecutions of egregious human rights violations in Guatemala.
  • Fredy Peccerelli, executive director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (FAFG), has led the search for and exhumation of remains of many of the victims of atrocities, including those at Dos Erres. FAFG is working with the Guatemalan government and NGO community to build cases for extrajudicial killings, genocide and crimes against humanity against former members of the Guatemalan military.
  • Kate Doyle, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University, has led efforts to obtain the declassification of U.S. government archives in support of investigations and truth commissions in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Kate is the editor of a collection of declassified records entitled Death Squads, Guerrilla War, Covert Operations, and Genocide: Guatemala and the United States, 1954-1999, and uncovered classified U.S. government documents establishing that U.S. officials were aware that the Guatemalan Army may have committed a massacre at Dos Erres. 
  • Scott Greathead, a lawyer and human rights activist, is representing Óscar in his U.S. asylum claim and has been active in human rights work across Latin America for decades.
Date: September 26, 2012
Time: 6:008:00 p.m.

OSI-New York