We first discovered this work after it was submitted to the Visual Storytelling Awards 2014. Although it was not chosen as a finalist by the jury, the editors of LensCulture were impressed and decided to publish this feature article about it. Enjoy!


Jose Efrain Rios Montt ruled Guatemala for nearly seventeen months during 1982 and 1983. In the aftermath of his rule, he was charged for genocide and crimes against humanity, in Guatemala City. The case alleged that he was the intellectual author of 1,771 deaths and the forced displacement of 29,000 people in the Ixil region. More than 30 years after the crimes took place, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison.

However, only ten days after a trial court issued its historic verdict, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overturned the verdict and restarted the trial.

Nonetheless, the trial was an important milestone in holding political and military leaders accountable for international crimes. For Guatemalans, it is hoped that this will contribute to an accurate historical account of the gross human rights violations committed during the Guatemalan Civil War, a process that will reinforce the country’s young democracy.

Still, many continue searching for the remains of their deceased relatives. Many civilians died of starvation or lack of medical care when they fled to the jungle to hide from the army. Others were killed.

With respect to massacres against civilians, exhumations make up an important part of the process of clarification and the collection of evidence. The forensic inquiry tries to reconcile the grief of survivors, who can then give a dignified burial to their loved ones.

—Daniele Volpe