Forensic Injustice: Human Rights, Archival Science and Racialized Feminicide in Guatemala
Vargas, Maria Elena
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The call to access and preserve the state records that document crimes committed by the state during Guatemala’s civil war has become an archival imperative entangled with neoliberal human rights discourses of “truth, justice, and memory.” 200,000 people were killed and disappeared in Guatemala’s civil war including acts of genocide in which 85% of massacres involved sexual violence committed against Mayan women. This dissertation argues that in an attempt to tell the official story of the civil war, American Human Rights organizations and academic institutions have constructed a normative identity whose humanity is attached to a scientific and evidentiary value as well as an archival status representing the materiality and institutionality of the record. Consequently, Human Rights discourses grounded in Western knowledges, in particular archival science and law, which prioritize the appearance of truth erase the material and epistemological experience of indigenous women during wartimes. As a result, the subjectivity that has surfaced on the record as most legible has mostly pertained to non-indigenous, middle class, urban, leftist men who were victims of enforced disappearance not genocide. This dissertation investigates this conflicting narrative that remembers a non-indigenous revolutionary masculine hero and grants him justice in human rights courtrooms simply because of a document attesting to his death. A main research question addressed in this project is why the promise of "truth and justice" under the name of human rights becomes a contentious site for gendered indigenous bodies? I conduct a discursive and rhetorical analysis of documentary film, declassified Guatemalan police and military records such as Operation Sofia, a military log known for “documenting the genocide” during rural counterinsurgencies executed by the military. I interrogate the ways in which racialized feminicides or the hyper-sexualized racial violence that has historically dehumanized indigenous women falls outside of discourses of vision constructed by Western positivist knowledges to reinscribe the ideal human right subject. I argue for alternative epistemological frames that recognize genocide as sexualized and gendered structures that have simultaneously produced racialized feminicides in order to disrupt the colonial structures of capitalism, patriarchy and heterosexuality. Ironically, these structures of power remain untouched by the dominant human rights discourse and its academic, NGO, and state collaborators that seek "truth and justice" in post-conflict Guatemala.