Justice for Rape and Sexual Slavery in Guatemala

On the ‘Women’s rights, social inclusion and the media’ blog, the following on the judicial process regarding Zepur Zarco (Sepur Zarco), which we mentioned recently here. Thanks to Central America Women’s Network (CAWN).

by Quimy De Leon – Community Newspapers
translated by Verity Powell, CAWN

The courtroom of “Primera Instancia de Mayor Riesgo B” was full on Tuesday 24 June 2014. Present were Mayan women, human rights defenders and journalists. The courtroom is on the 14th Floor in the Tower of Courts in the centre of the capital city. The court is presided over by Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez. Today marks an historic day, as the first public hearing against army Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón and former military commissioner Heriberto Valdez Asij begins.

The two men are accused of being responsible for the rape and sexual slavery of “15 Mayan Q’eqchi women, and the disappearance of more than 20 people.” [1] They are accused of crimes against humanity. Colonel Esteelmer Reyes Girón is also accused of murder, whilst Heriberto Valdez Asij is also accused of the forced disappearance of men and women.

The majority of people in attendance at the hearing were indigenous women, representatives from women’s organizations, human rights organizations and the media. The two accused men were sat together with their legal defence. The defence expected to make their first statement to the judge, however proceedings were delayed until 3rd October, when they will continue in the same courtroom.

Justice for Rape and Sexual Slavery
Sepur Zarco is a community located in the Polochic area of Guatemala. In 1982, during the toughest years of the war and genocide [2], a military detachment was sent to this community. During a six month period the military committed a series of crimes against humanity, including rape and sexual slavery of approximately 20 women. A number of women were “disappeared” or murdered along with their husbands and relatives.

The women of the Sepur Zarco community dared to speak out and to not allow these crimes to go unpunished, despite the lengthy and cumbersome legal procedures they faced. These women provide us with an opportunity to reflect on our motivation to continue fighting for truth and justice, both for those who remain and for those who died.

The women covered themselves with coloured fabric and sat in front of their perpetrators. They were not alone, they were accompanied by other women from their community and representatives from organizations that form the Alianza Rompiendo el Silencio y la impunidad (Alliance Breaking the Silence and Impunity). It has taken a long time to get to this point, and the process has included several stages, they are [3]:

4th-5th March 2010, the Court of Conscience Against Sexual Violence During the Internal Armed Conflict convenes for the first time,

30th September 2011, a criminal complaint is presented to the justice system,

24th – -28th September 2012, the statements of 15 Q’equchi women and 4 Q’equchi men are taken in anticipation of giving evidence,

14th June 2014, two arrests are made of those in charge of the violence and sexual slavery,

23rd June 2014, the Court hears the first statement of the accused.

While Justice arrives
Entering the court building is not pleasant. The times I have done it have been to accompany high-impact cases, related to human rights and its on-going violations. To know, and understand, how power moves in the legal field of this battle is chilling. The system is so complex, and difficult to understand, especially how the same laws are applied and handled differently. When I have attended hearings I have seen that this is a system that works for the benefit of the existing power block represented in the patriarchal structures of politics, the military, society, religion and economic control.

However, I am still convinced that it is important for the many women, survivors of genocide and other crimes against humanity, to seek justice in the legal field. Because the legal field provides an important and strategic weapon to make society aware of the crimes that have occurred. Through the courage of those who dare to bring to trial the perpetrators and abusers, the responsibility to understand our history, to bring people to justice and to reconstruct a true understanding of the past, is passed onto the whole of society.

As the judicial system unfolds, evidence will be presented by expert witnesses, testimonies and documents will be presented to confirm what we as a people have always known, that these crimes occurred, that there was genocide, that there was rape and sexual slavery. As the process moves forward we hope that this will become an historical truth, proved by a court, as happened with the trail for genocide against Efraín Ríos Montt. This type of event makes a mark on history, and in the collective memory of the struggles of women and feminists.

[1] Comunicado Alianza Rompiendo el Silencio y la impunidad. 23 de junio de 2014.
[2] The detachment was closed in 1988.
[3] Ibid.

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Categories: Gender, Genocide, Guatemala

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