Accepted paper:

“Testimonies of violence in post-war Guatemala”: assessing the role of the social anthropologist as an actor in the production of victims' archives


Jorge Isaac Rodriguez Herrera (Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology foundation)

Paper short abstract:

This paper investigates the epistemology that lies behind the construction of victims’ testimonies and its incorporation as “forensic evidence” from the role given to social anthropologists, as such, it addresses the dynamics by which testimonies are collected and re-interpreted for a justice setting as well as their significance in the particular context of post-war Guatemala.

Paper long abstract:

This paper aims to present two aspects of the construction of testimonial data in the Guatemalan context: firstly, the importance and role of the social anthropologist for the production of testimonial’s archives and secondly, the condition of possibility of this ‘collection’ to be used by the administration of justice, concretely, the Public Ministry of Guatemala. Departing from my work experience with several victims’ relatives, I shall explore the dynamics of what Alejandro Castillejo has named the “domestication of the testimony” furthermore I shall content that currently the production of victim’s archives disregards important information and is based on a series of structural ‘voids’, consequently constituting the weakest part of the general forensic investigation process used for the Public Ministry. The analysis of the pre-arranged interpretative frameworks to codify and classify the information of victims, demonstrates an over importance given to the production of ante-mortem material (central for the identification process) by this, other crucial testimonial aspects provided by relatives remain ‘hidden’ and left out as they are circumscribed to be used as factual references of the occurrence of an event: the what when and where the violence occurred; and who the victims were. The absences in the archive raise the question of ‘language’ (and the different processes of translation) taken place betweenthe forensic agencies in charged with the first collection of data and the apparatus for the administration of justice. What is the concrete position and function of the social anthropologist within these chains of interpretation? What constitutes a testimony? What is included and left outside the framework of reference in transitional scenarios? Would these fragmented stories of violence ever be pasted together in a criminal case against a perpetrator?

panel P064
Collaboration in criminal justice: actors, processes and translation