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The USC Shoah Foundation’s Center for Advanced Genocide Research is making final preparations to host what’s billed as the first-ever international conference on the genocide that ravaged Guatemala at the height of the Cold War in the early 1980s.

The four-day event, which begins Sunday at USC, will be simulcast in English and Spanish.

“Los Angeles is home to one of the world’s largest concentrations of families who fled the Guatemalan genocide, making it an ideal host for an event of this magnitude,” said conference co-organizer Wolf Gruner, founding director of the Center for Advanced Genocide Research.

“This conference will generate dialog about a chapter of world history that is too often overlooked: the systematic massacre of indigenous people by their own government, while the U.S. government was a close ally,” Gruner said.

The conference will delve into the systematic mass violence that left 200,000 mostly Mayan Guatemalans dead and more than 1.5 million displaced without basic resources during the early 1980s, he said. The genocide was hidden under the cover of a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996 with a peace accord.

Panels will also address current trials that have begun to hold perpetrators to account for crimes against humanity committed decades ago, according to Gruner, who is organizing the event with Victoria Sanford, founding director of the Center for Human Rights and Peace Studies at Lehman College, City University of New York.

The conference, titled “A Conflict? Genocide and Resistance in Guatemala,” will officially kick off on Sept. 11 with a preview screening of “Finding Oscar,” a documentary that tells the story of the search for Oscar Ramirez, a living witness to the military massacre committed at the village of Dos Erres.

A series of public panels on Sept. 12 will feature scholars from a variety of disciplines and an evening keynote speech by Rosalina Tuyuc, who became a human rights activist after her father and husband were kidnapped and murdered by the Guatemalan military during the war.

In 1988, Tuyuc founded the National Association of Guatemalan Widows, which remains one of that country’s leading human-rights organizations. She was also elected in 1995 to the Guatemalan Congress, where she fought to extend rights to the country’s marginalized indigenous population.

The evening of Sept. 13, a free concert at USC’s Bovard Auditorium will feature Rebeca Lane, a Latin American feminist rapper who named herself after an aunt who’d been “forcibly disappeared by the military during the atrocities.”

–City News Service

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