Daily Video

May 9, 2013

Science Provides Evidence in Guatemalan Genocide Trial

Watch From Guatemalan, Scientists Unearth Signs of Genocide on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Former Guatemalan leader Efrain Rios Montt is currently at the center of a groundbreaking trial in his country, where he is the first former head of state in world history to face charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. He is accused of 15 massacres during his nearly 17-month reign in 1982 and ‘83 that targeted indigenous Ixil Mayans, leaving 1,700 dead.

While Montt has long evaded court, saying all deaths were simply a side effect of the 36-year Guatemalan civil war, science has now provided enough evidence to bring a case against him.

Guatemalan forensic scientists have used bones recovered from the massacre sites to extract DNA and compare it to genes of those who lost loved ones in the slaughters. They show that boys and girls, men and women of all ages were killed in the violence, and that many of those who died were killed execution-style.

However, it’s not just bones that are revealing the past. A satellite that passed over the area in 1979 showed heavily forested areas that were barren less than ten years later. Scientists have ruled out natural causes, saying that massive man-made fires are the only possible reason for the empty swaths.

Other players, including a statistician, an archivist and a filmmaker, also provided their materials and expertise to show that Montt is likely guilty of the genocide.

Warm up questions

1. What is forensic science?

2. What do you know about Guatemala?

3. What is a civil war?

4. What is genocide? How is it different from war?

Discussion questions

1. Do you think that Montt is guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity? Why or why not?

2. What did you find most interesting about the science used in this video? Why?

3. Why do you think it is so difficult

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