Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

John T. Way

Second Advisor

H. Robert Baker

Third Advisor

Joe Perry


On 10 May2013, decades of grassroots activism culminated in the conviction of Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide, the first former head of state to be found guilty of this crime by his own country. Through the grassroots effort to see Ríos Montt held accountable for genocide, indigenous Guatemalans not only found justice, they also took control of their own historical memory. This dissertation examines how various constituencies used the law to facilitate genocide, then peace, and ultimately justice. A close reading of the varied legal arguments, decisions, dissents, and commentary produced as a result of the Guatemalan Maya and grassroots social movements’ steadfast pursuit of justice in Guatemala, the US, Spain, and the Inter-American system of human rights reveals gaps, defects, and contradictions in international law. By both resisting and deploying various aspects of the law, indigenous Guatemalans shaped the transnational legal order. Through dialogical and multifaceted processes of resistance and acquiescence, this dissertation argues, indigenous Guatemalans reframed the power dynamics between the Global South and the Global North—by forcing the world to recognize the acts of genocide committed against them by internationally-supported forces in the Guatemalan civil war—and redefined accepted truths on the law of genocide to include the possible prosecution of “ideological genocide.”


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Available for download on Wednesday, July 23, 2025