2020 Photo Contest, Long-Term Projects, 3rd Prize

Ixil Genocide


Daniele Volpe

30 November, 2017

The remains of 172 victims of state repression in Guatemala during the 1980s lie stored in boxes, after being exhumed in 2014 in Santa Avelina, Cotzál, Guatemala. Nearly half the remains corresponded to children under the age of 12.

During the 1980s, in the midst of the 1960-1996 Guatemalan Civil War, the Ixil Maya community, who live near the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes in western Guatemala, were the targets of a genocide operation. The Ixil were subject to systematic rape, forced displacement, starvation and massacre. By 1996, some 7,000 Ixil had been killed. The violence was particularly extreme from 1979-1985 as successive administrations and the military pursued a scorched-earth policy in the region. A United Nations truth commission later revealed that between 70% and 90% of Ixil villages had been burnt to the ground and some 60% of the population forced to flee to the mountains. In 2013, Jose Efraín Ríos Montt, who ruled Guatemala in 1982 and 1983, was tried for genocide and crimes against humanity, and although found guilty was aquitted at a second trial, which cited procedural errors unrelated to any of the testimony, and died unpunished five years later. Nevertheless, the trial was seen as a milestone in holding those responsible for the atrocities to account, and as a contribution to an accurate account of what happened in the civil war. Today, many survivors are still searching for the remains of their dead relatives. Exhumations play an important role in gathering evidence of civilian massacres and in reconciling survivors with their grief, as they are at last able to give their loved ones a dignified burial.


The photographer has lived in Guatemala for 13 years and worked as a volunteer with the Recuperation of Historical Memory project, listening to the stories of Guatemalan people. He sees this photo project as his contribution to fortifying the historical memory of the country, as a tool for Guatemalan people to help them not to forget.


About the photographer

Daniele Volpe

Daniele Volpe, born in Italy in 1981, is a documentary photographer based in Guatemala. Volpe’s images are chiefly aimed at exploring issues related to human rights and ...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
Nikon D3

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